Posted in Undoubtedly

Developing a Place-Conscious Education Teaching Model

This week’s readings as well as the Web Tour left me with a lot to think about, and I found myself making lots of notes while reading, so I am going to start by discussing the sections that particularly stuck out to me.

Upon beginning Rural Voices, I immediately felt a connection to the Wallace Stegner quote at the start of the introduction. I recognized the work because it was the first piece we read in my place course last semester at Alabama, and perhaps the first place-based piece I had ever read. Regardless, the section I most agreed with here was the idea of the “displaced American” (Brooke 2). Like Dr. Brooke, I went away to college like all of the “best” students in my high school and then went away again for graduate school to a place that gave me a good scholarship. I can definitely identify as an “academic transient,” and feel I am “acquainted with many places,” but “rooted in none,” but I am still growing.

When it comes to Paul Theobald’s idea of intradependence, I found this idea a little confusing, but this confusion probably stems from the “market-driven educational system” I have spent most of my life in (Brooke 6). David Grunewald and Gregory Smith also bring up similar notion that “public education has become the business of training children and youth to enter the global marketplace as consumers and workers.”  I do believe that students often will “inevitably have to go back to studying de-contextualized ‘stuff,’ stuff they ‘need to know’ or ‘have to have’ for some future date with destiny” (6). I will admit that in the past, I have definitely approached some of my classes this way, and I think this type of thinking can, unfortunately, be very difficult to avoid with the pressure of state/school exams and expectations.

While I agree it can be possible to change this attitude towards learning through place-conscious education, it may be difficult. As a future college professor, I also feel it may not always be possible. In Dr. Brooke’s three guiding principles, he says that place-conscious education requires active students (13). While I believe a teacher can shape students and potentially change them for the better, I think the students have to be willing and open to the learning to fully understand and develop. Though I don’t have any college teaching experience, I have been in dozens of college classes and know that professors have to deal with a variety of different students. While this diversity is important to the learning environment and should definitely exist, it can be a challenge in that each student comes from a different background and may not be as committed as another student. This commitment is where I am skeptical in thinking students won’t revert to simply just learning what they need to know to pass the course, because I have met many students in past classes that I was passionate about that did not share my passion, which leads me to another quote that shone to me from Rural Voices:

“Serious writing takes thought and time.”

I agree with this thought, but also appreciate that this form of writing is labeled as “serious.” This label makes me think of photography today. Because of all the technology and social media we have today, almost everyone thinks they are a “photographer,” because they can create images that look as though they are of high quality, when in actuality, they simply apply filters from apps on their phone or use Photoshop to make their pictures appear “fancy.” Like writing, I think serious photography takes a lot of skill, thought, and time. Thankfully, they have not created the filter for writing, but there are people who think they are a natural Hemingway that do not need to devote time in their writing, but I digress.

In “What We Teach Rural Children,” I found Gruchow’s description of “cultural isolation” relatable. Like Gruchow, I was raised in a form of cultural isolation. Because my parents are not native to America and were raised in a different country, they had different ideas for how their children (me and my brother) should be raised. Until around 8th grade (age 14 or so), I had only seen one movie in theaters. I had also never been allowed to spend the night with any of my friends, or really even go to most of their homes. My parents always felt my time was better spent at home, doing schoolwork, reading books, watching television, and being safe under their watch. I never once thought about rebelling. Things changed as I grew, especially when I got my driver’s license and a car. My freedom and path towards discovering the world and area around me began to take shape then. I don’t regret the “sheltered” upbringing I had, and I don’t think my parents really kept me from many experiences (they probably saved money from not allowing me to go out and spend it), but I do think “what if” now and then and know I will probably raise my own future children differently.

I also found Gruchow’s story about “where good people are from” a sad truth. While many people may say otherwise, we all judge. When someone tells us where there are from, we have certain associations that immediately come to mind. Unfortunately, certain types of people and expectations are part of these immediate associations and part of that might make us think a person is “good’ or “bad’ though I don’t necessarily think a place defines this as much as a person’s individual actions. I think one of the benefits of place-conscious education is it’s repercussions. If students can become more aware of their community and make positive contributions, places may not be so “bad” and associations can become positive, but I also feel this process could take decades since so many people are not open to changing their perceptions.

I also found Deborah Mutnick’s discussion of place-conscious education in relationship to 9/11 very relatable. As I’ve said before, I was born in and spent most of my childhood in New York; however, 9/11 occurred almost a year after I had moved to Alabama. My primary impact here came in the form of watching my parents deal with racist and other negative remarks from some of their more ignorant customers. Until I read Mutnick’s piece, I had never thought about the way a location changes over time and how that effects a person connection that place. Places are like people in that regard in that people change over time and our connection to them can grow or weaken as a result.

The stories from the Web Tour not only gave me ideas for my own potential place-conscious teaching, but also opened my eyes to many elements of Nebraska I had never heard of before. Perhaps the most eye-opening was the group of 5th graders from Aurora, Nebraska. I was impressed and a little envious of their sense of community, a feeling I don’t feel I’ve ever had with a city I’ve lived in (at least not yet). The children were able to clearly communicate their feelings and knowledge of Aurora and how they relate to it.

In terms of my own place-conscious teaching ideas, I found the questions Sharon Bishop asks at the beginning of the Web Tour as a good beginning guide for future students and their perceptions of place:

“What is good and what might be fixed? How can we be a part of that?”

If students can begin by trying to answer those questions about their place, I think they can begin to work on the problems, because as Bishop said, “there is always room for improvement.” From here, I would like to have students explore their place through a similar project to the one I mentioned in my last post. I think students would benefit greatly from conducting their own oral history interviews like I did, and from constructing a series of papers of even a multimedia component about a specific place. Oral histories are one-of-a-kind ways to learn about a place, because each person who has lived in that place has a different perception. By gathering different viewpoints, one can see how a place has changed over time and assess whether these changes are positive and negative. A student can also learn what works and what doesn’t in terms of how they might be able to give back to the community in their own work. I’m not sure if this idea is clear in my mind just yet, but I feel I would try to approach teaching through work that requires active involvement and engagement with the community.

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3 thoughts on “Developing a Place-Conscious Education Teaching Model

  1. Ashanka,

    Thanks for sharing this week. You have touched on many big ideas that I am also thinking about.

    I would agree with Dr. Brooke’s comment that if we want active students, we need to change something about the way we’re doing things. I think this change needs to happen earlier on, so that when (or if) students do go on to college, they already know how to learn (which is active, where “regurgitation” might be used to explain its passive counterpart).

    Your last paragraph is what inspires me the most. I love that you are thinking about the ways we can solve the issue of disconnect you describe above. As I mentioned in a reply to Biz’s post this week, advanced senior English students each randomly select a local place to research and write a “descriptive research paper” over. But I’m now wondering how this this experience might be expanded to involve a school-wide communication piece. Seniors in “regular” English will complete a community interview in the next couple of weeks to demonstrate a mastery of “local and global perspective”– with this, I am emphasizing a need for understanding the local before you are able to understand the global… I’ll have to report back to let everyone know how this goes.

    Thanks for the thoughts you’ve shared above! Until next time…
    -Maggie

    1. Thanks for your thoughtful response. I think it is definitely important to understand some aspects of the local before trying to venture into the global, so I think you’re approach is good. I wish my high school classes had done some work on focusing on local aspects. I feel like most of my place knowledge is scattered. Best of luck — looking forward to hearing about how it goes!

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