For a summer non-fiction read, it's hard to beat Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging, by Sebastian Junger. Mr. Junger is the author of several books, perhaps most notably The Perfect Storm. He writes often of war and combat. Here is the Amazon link. The book is only 168 pages, including reference notes at the end. Some passages are truly brilliant and the entire volume provokes thought on many levels.
At first blush, the book has nothing to do with community colleges or education. However, one pertinent connection is the author's discussion of returning veterans and their difficulties adjusting to our present society. We have all had veterans in our classes. Often they are troubled. It's not just that they suffered or witnessed violence, since those from non-combat sectors of military life also have a hard time fitting in when they are civilians again. Soldiers are willing to die for our country, but can't seem to live in it, the author observes. Why? Mr. Junger believes we, not the vets, are the problem.
The author cites observations from early America, when settlers noticed that many individuals captured by Indians who became part of native society didn't want to return to "civilization" when given the chance, despite the obvious advantages of being reunited with family and friends. But take an Indian and put him into colonial society, for instance, and he goes insane.
Mr. Junger examines evidence from anthropology, psychology, and history, writing that, in previous societies and in the military today, membership in a tribe is terribly important. He says we are wired to make sacrifices and be part of a team that cares about each other. When veterans return home, they miss this sense of belonging, and can't contend with our fractious, individualistic, materialistic, divided society. The current culture wars are not helpful. In a military unit, race, religion, gender, and economic class are sublimated, the author observes.
Mr. Junger says veterans don't want to be seen as victims. They want to be part of something important. Therefore, to the degree that colleges can foster volunteer involvement of veterans on campus, it might be enormously beneficial to everyone.
The other connection to higher education may be a stretch. However, many of us have noticed that faculty morale often seems higher at small colleges, even though these schools may not be able to pay the best salaries or provide extra financial support. Big schools may possess material advantages, but leaders often can't get employees at all levels to work as a unit. Bureaucracy fosters indifference, sometimes even contempt.
At a small school (no, not all of them) it is easier to feel as if you are part of the same tribe. It's a good feeling—one sought since we were hominids. When times are hard we stick together and work it out. At least that's the idea.
Obviously there is no cure for bigness, absent catastrophe. (One is reminded of Steve Martin's album, "Let's Get Small.") And we must be careful not to romanticize early societies. Mr. Junger states this a few times in the book, but the point needs emphasis. (If you think you would like to get in a time machine and hang out with Comanches in the 19th century, please read the first four chapters of Empire of the Summer Moon, by S.C. Gwynne.)
But it's worth wondering if modern society places way too much emphasis on the individual. Perhaps contemporary alienation is rooted in our denial of the tribe's importance.