"We Are Mountain": Appalachian
Educators' Responses to the
Challenge of Systemic Reform
The Kentucky Education Reform Act of 1990 (KERA) rolled into the mountains of southeastern Kentucky like an ominous, churning thunderstorm. It brought with it a sudden change in pressure systems and let loose a torrent of new programs, funds, and requirements. Residents of the Appalachian counties in the state looked on this storm cloud with a mixture of relief and apprehension. For at the same time that it promised a windfall of resources on an unprecedented scale, the dark cloud of increased governmental control would also hang over them. Would this latest apparition be all noise and no action? Would the benefits trickle down to the neediest of children and school districts? Reform on such a large scale was an unknown. Mountaineers waited skeptically to see what it would mean for them and their homeplaces.
While policies may be written at a state level, actual reform is radically local. Negotiations about proposed changes are enmeshed in local webs of personalized relationships, power hierarchies, and long-standing paradoxes about the very meaning of education itself. These webs have repeatedly ensnared those officials who, expecting to see systemic reform proceed in a rational, impersonal manner, misjudge how strong local cultural frames of reference can be. Policymakers need a more effective, grounded understanding of the role that these resilient strands of culture play in framing local debates.
This is particularly apparent in the debate that arose over what it means to teach and learn in the mountains. The southeastern, Appalachian part of Ken-