Why Rural Schools Matter

Why Rural Schools Matter

Why Rural Schools Matter

Why Rural Schools Matter

Synopsis

From headlines to documentaries, urban schools are at the center of current debates about education. From these accounts, one would never know that 51 million Americans live in rural communities and depend on their public schools to meet not only educational but also social and economic needs. For many communities, these schools are the ties that bind. Why Rural Schools Matter shares the untold story of rural education. Drawing upon extensive research in two southern towns, Mara Tieken exposes the complicated ways in which schools shape the racial dynamics of their towns and sustain the communities that surround them. The growing power of the state, however, brings the threat of rural school closure, which jeopardizes the education of children and the future of communities. With a nuanced understanding of the complicated relationship between communities and schools, Tieken warns us that current education policies--which narrow schools' purpose to academic achievement alone--endanger rural America and undermine the potential of a school, whether rural or urban, to sustain a community. Vividly demonstrating the effects of constricted definitions of public education in an era of economic turmoil and widening inequality, Tieken calls for a more contextual approach to education policymaking, involving both state and community.

Excerpt

But, before all the interviews and observations could begin, I had to find two rural communities. I needed two sites—both readily self-identifying as “rural”—that were willing to engage these questions and open themselves to me and my scrutiny. I wanted southern towns—a rural context I knew, a rural context with a long legacy of racial exclusion—and I wanted locales with demographics and histories that complemented one another, that could offer different narratives of rural schools and communities. This search was neither short nor simple—it was more complicated than my hunt for a rural job several years earlier. As a graduate student living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, I was now far removed from rural places and lives spent in and around public schools. And so I spent long, frustrating years meeting people and making contacts, chasing leads and searching maps, researching specific communities and parsing demographics, and, once again, questioning definitions of rurality.

Finally, a cold call to the Rural School and Community Trust yielded a name: Dorothy Singleton, an African American organizer working in Arkansas, helping communities fight to keep their schools—and aiding those that had recently lost them. I called her and arranged to fly down, meet her, and tag along with her while she worked. For two days we drove in and out of rural communities, passing shuttered school buildings and small active campuses, large consolidated facilities and buildings with dark windows and weed-covered parking lots. We started in the northeast corner of the state, in the Delta, and made our way southwest, to the hills, attending community gatherings and school meetings and a football game—Dorothy doing the networking and the morale boosting and the planning of her job, and me looking for a research site, a rural community that would tolerate a graduate student with questions, a rural community that still had its school. Our tour ended in Delight, a town with a school . . .

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