Academic journal article Rural Society

Conflicting Messages: Sustainability and Education for Rural-Regional Sustainability

Academic journal article Rural Society

Conflicting Messages: Sustainability and Education for Rural-Regional Sustainability

Article excerpt

Introduction and literature review

As long ago as 1964, Marshall McLuhan famously pronounced that "the medium is the message". In this article we borrow McLuhan's sentiment to draw attention to the present-day importance of school education in rural areas, arguing that what it values is important to community sustainability and rural communities' futures. Referencing the irony of sustainability, we develop this argument through examples of the meaning of sustainability in rural communities of the MurrayDarling Basin (MDB) and MDB rural school curriculum to encourage broader engagement with these ideas in the rural social sciences and humanities. The article begins with a theoretical and philosophical discussion before drawing on a recent study to illustrate practical implications.

Although education is becoming more considered in Rural Society over the last few years, with a special edition (see Rural Society, 19(2), 2009) and a few related articles, much of this engagement, including the special edition, discusses postcompulsory education and issues of aspirations, barriers and partnerships. Such arguments are couched in terms of community sustainability aimed at developing the human capital of rural communities and enabling community members to flourish. In this context, sustainability is used colloquially to suggest the maintenance and survival of communities where it is recognized meaningful community engagement is essential for successful partnerships between post-compulsory education providers and the community to overcome barriers, raise aspirations and build community social and economic well-being (Johnson, Thompson, & Naugle, 2009; Mlcek, 2009; Townsend & Delves, 2009). While such partnerships often seep beyond their initial scope, it is these unintended engagements that often have broad-ranging community benefits (Kinash & Hoffman, 2009).

Rural students often being apprehensive about life beyond what they currently know is an enduring problem identified in many of these studies (Alloway & Dalley-Trim, 2009), which may prevent acting upon aspirations. Stevens (2009) attributes this apprehension to rural students' perceptions of a world outside their local one. From where do such perceptions and potential apprehension originate? In answering this question, we turn our attention to school education, encouraging readers to consider the role of the school curriculum in discussions of rural community sustainability, while not discounting popular culture, other aspects of schooling or post-compulsory education. Given school attendance is essentially compulsory until the final year of high school, amounting to 13 years wrapped in educational values and meanings, we suggest that exploring the message systems of schooling in relation to sustainability is timely.

Curriculum and the rural

We apply a holistic understanding of curriculum from the academic field of curriculum inquiry. From this perspective, the medium of the curriculum is a representation of the nation (Green, 2010b) and an important part of nation-building (Green, 2003); it represents what a nation values and what a nation imagines its future to be. As such, curriculum embodies the values, character and aspirations of a nation through the stories it tells, the knowledge it values and the skills it sees as important for the future. This idea is broader than the perspective dominant in much public discourse of curriculum, where it is often characterized as a list of knowledge, skills and competencies to be mastered and regurgitated in exams for the purpose of ranking and accessing post-compulsory educational pathways. As a value system, curriculum is also implicated in many of the political and social debates of our time, including issues of class, gender, race and ideology. For example, recent Australian debates about the place of Indigenous Australians and a Judeo-Christian heritage in the Australian Curriculum strongly echo the traditional curriculum inquiry engagement with questions of what, and whose, knowledge is of most worth and whose version of the national story should be told (Apple, 2004; Pinar, 2012). …

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