Regionalism and the Classroom

By O'Hara, Hunter | Multicultural Education, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Regionalism and the Classroom

O'Hara, Hunter, Multicultural Education

I am a native Appalachian. My roots are in southern West Virginia, near Charleston. When I left West Virginia in 1994, I encountered regionalism in Maryland and later in Florida. I define regionalism as a belief that one's region of origin is a primary determinant of the quality of one's standards of living, social forms, customary beliefs, levels of sophistication, and intellect and aesthetic development, and that regional differences produce an inherent superiority of persons from particular regions.

In particular, I noticed regionalism directed at West Virginia, i.e., WV trailer jokes, a WV Governor's Mansion with axels joke, WV poverty jokes, WV incest jokes, and on and on. On occasion, when I mentioned my state of origin, comments such as "bet you're glad you're out of there" and "oh, I'm sorry" were made.

The except that follows is from an article I wrote on this topic for The University of Tampa Minaret.

Recently, one of my UT colleagues make a West Virginia incest comment. I never understood how the incest stereotype emerged. What is the source of claims that West Virginians have higher incest rates than individuals in other states. I have wondered. Do researchers really study and document such things, and if so, how? "Excuse me. We're conducting a study: are you molesting or have you impregnated your daughter? Thank you. I'll be sure to mark you in the 'yes' column."

Seriously, what valid measure of incest rates could possibly exist? If valid measures do not exist, who creates such stereotypes, and for what purpose? It is clear that some enjoy any situation in which they elevate themselves over large populations of people. Hitler made a career out of the elitist predilections of some of his people (we see such phenomena today in the United States). Some individuals would surely be disappointed that I was not molested by a parent or other family member. It is interesting to note that in recent years incest, in other states, is referred to as child abuse.

I am amazed at how tenaciously people cling to derogatory stereotypical information about others but how correspondingly irresponsible they are about confirming the data.

One of my students asked why I dropped my West Virginia accent. Was it so that I could be given opportunity? I noted that my objective was not to be given opportunity but rather to avoid being denied opportunity by narrow-minded individuals who would judge my intellect or competence by the way I pronounced my vowels. One of my African American students nodded in agreement. In the past I had used the dialect gear shift when I sensed a particular tone in a gatekeeper's manner.

Consider: Mississippi, Arkansas, Alabama, Kentucky, Montana, and some other states-what images come to mind, and what are their sources? Are those images from our own experience or have we willingly accepted the negative portrayals and images seen on television and film and in literature as factual? How many stereotypes were reinforced by the Beverly Hillbillies series alone? Who stands to gain from such large-scale stereotyping? Someone must.

One thing is for certain: Americans are too willing to allow the media to dictate to them their opinions, tastes, preferences, and biases. When people buy into and perpetuate myths, such as when they disparage West Virginia, they belittle themselves and my family.

During the course of the 20th Century, expressions of prejudice in public and private forums, against African Americans, certain religions, the disabled, for example, have become less acceptable. Other groups have not fared as well, however. The expression of region-related, age-related, and size-related bigotry is common. It occurs frequently and without apology. The dilemma of coping with bigotry and all of its negative consequences remains.


In my role as a teacher preparer, first at Towson University in Baltimore and now at The University of Tampa, I teach a course called "Learner Diversity and Cross Cultural Understanding" in which future teachers explore primary source documents about broadly inclusive diversity topics that include racism, ethnicity, religion, regionalism, and sexual orientation. …

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