BOOK REVIEW: THE DIFFERENT DRUM: Community-Making and Peace by M. Scott Peck (Simon & Shuster, 1987)

The Different Drum by M. Scott Peck explores in depth the concept of building community.  In the first section of the book called “The Foundation,” Peck writes about how as a younger man he had been involved in very few true communities in his life.  But when he was a member of a true community, it had great impact on his life.  He goes on to explain the concept of genuine community and how a community is formed. Peck defines “true community” as a group of people who have developed these characteristics: inclusivity, commitment, and consensus; a sense of realism; the ability to be contemplative and self-aware; feelings of safety in all members; the ability for members to experiment with new types of behaviors; the ability to fight gracefully; a place where all members are leaders; and a spirit of peace.  Peck then outlines the stages that a group needs to go through to become a true community and identifies how a community is then maintained.

The second section of the book, “The Bridge,” discusses issues surrounding Peck’s desire to build true community on a larger scale.  In this section, he discusses different myths about human nature that can keep us from building nation-wide and world-wide community.  He also takes the reader into deeper discussions of the issues of larger community:  transformation, emptiness, vulnerability, and integration and integrity. 

In the last section of the book, “The Solution,” Peck tries to show his readers how the concepts of genuine community can help us solve the problems of poor communication on the world level, the arms race, the Christian Church and the United States Government.  Any reader who has fears about how the United States spends an inordinate amount of money and energy on preparing for and making war will gain great insight from this book.

In education these days we talk about building community in the classroom, but I didn’t know exactly what that meant before.  I have spent many years using cooperative learning strategies in my classroom, thinking that I was creating community.  My students seemed as if they were friends and they enjoyed working with each other.  Yet the way that M. Scott Peck describes community in The Different Drum suggests to me that not only have I been dancing around the idea of community in my classroom, but I have never experienced genuine community in my life.  So for those educators who are interested in true community experiences, I would suggest you read this book.  It will help you to understand the nature of the task you would need to take on if you would like to develop true community in your classroom.

The Different Drum is written for anyone interested in building community, not just educators. Consequently, you won’t open this book and find teaching strategies to use in building community in a classroom.  However, for educators who want to build a solid community in their classes, Peck does outline the four stages of developing a true community. These stages are pseudo-community, chaos, emptiness and community. Just as they sound, the stages of chaos and emptiness are rather emotional times within the formation of a community. As a teacher, I would be quite nervous to embark on this journey in my classes without some practice. But for teachers who are determined, I found a way, perhaps, that they could gain some practice at building community before they tried what Peck advocates in their classes. At the end of his book, Peck gives his reader a way to practice when he calls for his readers to “start your own community.” I thought perhaps teachers who would like to try their hand at community building before they bring it to their classes could start a community of teachers who discuss issues of teaching.  Here they would get the practice of building a true community, and would reap the benefits that Peck so clearly says will happen.  He states at one point, “Joy is an uncapturable yet utterly predictable side effect of genuine community.” Then, after teachers actually went through the stages of building genuine community, they might try them in their classrooms.  It would be utterly joyful for teachers to see students experiencing joy in their classes. Therefore, for teachers who want to build a genuine community in their classes, this book will not only help them understand what genuine community is but also provide them with information on how community is created.

Though I found the first two thirds of this book both intriguing and challenging, I found the last section of it even more challenging.  In this section, however, I did not think about my classroom at all.  Instead, I thought about myself as a citizen of this country.  Peck is indeed challenging his reader to take a stand to force change within the institutions of this country.  I totally agreed with everything that Peck says, but I can see that many people might not; instead, they might think Peck is a radical fanatic because he advocates, basically, the complete overhaul of this country, the presidency, and the Christian Church.  He states in his introduction, “In these pages I am highly critical of many aspects of both my country and my Church, and that may offend [my readers].”  And truly he is critical; he calls his Church blasphemous and heretical and the government power hungry and arrogant. But he discusses what he means by these criticisms, suggesting that these problems have developed because we lack community and no longer strive for peace.  He provides solutions by calling for building community in each and every facet of our nation. He advocates a grass roots effort: that each individual person starts a community, in church, school or neighborhood.  He believes if individuals build and thrive in community, they will expect community rules from the government.  If the government acts within community rules, then it will approach other cultures with community building in mind.  And he believes that the rules of community building are the rules of peacemaking.  He suggests that if we don’t work toward community and peace as individuals and as a nation, we will face more war and devastation. I myself heard the call to work within my small sphere for peace and community.  As Peck said in his last chapter, “We are all called to be peacemakers, whether we like it or not.  And as peacemakers, we are called to community.  Finally, out of the strength of community, we are all called to be individuals of integrity.”  M. Scott Peck has certainly challenged and intrigued me.

Because the book is challenging and inspirational, but not in its entirety useful for educators, I award this book…

Rating: 4 Stars (out of possible 5)  

–Reviewed by Janice Mettauer, Faculty, English, Madison Area Technical College, WI

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