This paper argues that community education in Scotland is an instrument of social policy and illustrates how the type and degree of intervention in people's lives depends on the prevailing ideology of practice. It explores the concept of ‘the underclass’ and identifies how the term has come to be used by both the Right and Left to describe unemployed people living in poverty. It examines how the ideology of blaming individuals for the poverty they experience has come to prevail through the imposition of a discourse of derision which silences marginalised communities. Finally, it suggests that community education can work in ways which, at the extremes, either emphasize social control or liberation. It argues that only if responses to social initiatives targeted at those living in poverty are subjected :o a critical analysis can community educators help to develop an alternative discourse in which communities can break their silence and assert their culture of difference.