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Why Rural Schools Matter

Why Rural Schools Matter

Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 246
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  • Book Info
    Why Rural Schools Matter
    Book Description:

    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 Mattershares 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.

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1850-0
    Subjects: Education, Sociology

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. CHAPTER ONE The Meaning of a School
    (pp. 1-9)

    The drive to school was quick, just fourteen miles—U.S. Route 70 to Yellow Creek, a right onto Tennessee State Route 235, and then a left at the small red barn with the single cow at its fence. A couple of miles down on the right—after the green road sign marking the Vanleer town line, a string of apartments patrolled by cats, and a few closed shops, furniture piled in their dusty windows—was Vanleer Elementary School, an old wooden schoolhouse surrounded by a handful of trailers and a cinderblock gym. The drive from home to school was quick...

  5. CHAPTER TWO Rural Histories
    (pp. 10-28)

    In a small town in the hills of Tennessee, a few miles past a strong-limbed tree with a dark southern legacy, on a night momentarily free from the anxieties of state tests and school closures, cars fill a usually empty road, mountains of turnip greens steam on a serving line, and families crowd long cafeteria tables—all for a small, rural elementary school. The complex relationship shared by rural school and rural community is a particular relationship, a relationship necessarily written by local context and local history. But a wider context also patterns this particular relationship; this relationship is located...

  6. CHAPTER THREE Researching Rural
    (pp. 29-47)

    After I left teaching in Vanleer, I’d think about that beans and greens supper often—about an entire community crowded shoulder to shoulder over steaming Styrofoam trays, over decades of classroom lessons and consolidation threats, over demographic and economic change and a slowly simmering anxiety. I thought about that supper when I saw reruns ofThe Beverly HillbilliesorThe Andy Griffith Showor heard news reports about the rural meth epidemic and ballooning farm subsidies and backwoods antigovernment extremists. I thought about it when I drove past a boarded-up schoolhouse way off the highway, miles from anything and empty...

  7. CHAPTER FOUR Where the Heart Is: School, Relationships, and the Delight Community
    (pp. 48-84)

    In the darkness I can’t make out any of the Delight school’s thirteen buildings. The three or four streetlights lining the narrow road separating the superintendent’s office and the principal’s house from the campus create only small globes of white light that hover below the pines. The town’s few shops, just a block away, are all closed, and, even if open, wouldn’t cast enough light to differentiate the Agri Building or the Home Ec Building from the blackness surrounding them. The night is still and quiet—though I know that its darkness hides a gym and Delight’s Friday night basketball...

  8. CHAPTER FIVE The Ties That Bind: Schools, Stories, and the Black Community of Earle
    (pp. 85-116)

    A couple of miles outside of Earle is a large white house. It’s set back from Route 149, startling in its abrupt rise from the dry November fields. Six white columns stand at its wide front, sentries guarding tall, shuttered windows and a heavy door, and a circular drive wraps around a green lawn. A single-file line of pecan trees flanks the road, each with a metal rectangle nailed to its trunk: “No Trespassing,” “No pecan picking.” An elderly white man crouches under the reach of the trees’ branches, gathering his pecans.

    But the man, the trees, the stately white...

  9. CHAPTER SIX The Topography of Race
    (pp. 117-139)

    Delight and Earle—and the thousands of other rural schools serving millions of other rural children and families—sit on the fringes of today’s public school debates, relegated to a lonely location past all of the worry and argument about city schools, beyond all of the anticipation and hope for urban education. Their stories—their rural stories—typically go unheard, and the worries and arguments and anticipation and hope they provoke go unrecognized. The few rural stories that bubble to the surface of public consciousness are often stories of rural backwardness or tales of an idealized rural past that never...

  10. CHAPTER SEVEN The Substance of Community
    (pp. 140-159)

    The school is like a big stadium.

    It’s like a family.

    Our center.


    Bulldogs … they stand their ground.

    A safe haven.

    I just wish that there was some way that you could see how a school has just been the heart of a community, you know?

    I write these metaphors in the margins of my notebook, a catalog of schools articulated through image—stadiums and families, bulldogs and hearts. The list grows over the months, and the metaphors crowd into long, vivid inventories of meaning and relevance, as children and adults grope for the right image, one with...

  11. CHAPTER EIGHT Our Only Hope
    (pp. 160-175)

    If there is a road sign, there is a school … or there was. Every road sign standing at a town’s edge, every green rectangle with a town name and a population number, also means a schoolhouse, a school noisy with the growl of buses and shouts of children or a school closed, an empty building silent in a weed-covered lot.

    It is only after several years of driving through rural Arkansas that I finally realize this. The road signs for the big towns, the towns where I see people and a hum of activity, towns like Delight and Earle,...

  12. CHAPTER NINE The Possibility of Public Education
    (pp. 176-188)

    Should our investment in public schools be about communities or students?

    Senator Jim Argue asks me this as we sit in his office, a large, comfortable room in the back corner of the United Methodist Foundation. The foundation, a barely marked building in a leafy Little Rock neighborhood, seems more house than headquarters, and the three-term state senator—president of the foundation and a former banker—is a tall man with casually professional clothing and a firm handshake, a friendly man who uses your name when he speaks.

    Even after only one trip to Delight, I know who Senator Argue...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 189-190)

    The decision was final in March 2010, just as I was finishing my last trips to Arkansas. Delight would be consolidated. When the school year began in the new South Pike County School District, nothing was too different, from what I heard—the Delight school opened its doors, just like any August, and buses snaked through familiar routes, children filled familiar classrooms, and families crowded a familiar gym. By September, though, word got out: this would be the high school’s last year. Next August, all of the seventh through twelfth grade students, all of their teachers and their parents, all...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 191-206)
  15. Bibliography
    (pp. 207-222)
  16. Index
    (pp. 223-236)