Sunday, June 04, 2006

As an assignment for class we have to read a paper authored by a second-year member of the Corps and write a reaction to it. The paper I have selected is by my summer teaching mentor, Joel Hebert and is entitled “Rural Schools: Definite Problems and Possible Solutions.” I selected Joel’s paper because I believe him to be an excellent mentor; I have learned something about teaching from every interaction I have had with him. True to its title, Joel’s paper systematically examines the issues currently facing rural schools and the various opportunities to remedy those poor situations. He lists a number of obstacles that need to be overcome in order to improve rural schools, including general poverty, lack of parental education, smaller tax bases, declining populations, low teacher salaries, and transportation difficulties.

While Joel is extremely perceptive in determining the current issues, his diagnosis fails to consider numerous underlying issues that are central to the failure of rural schools. As a result, Joel’s plan for improving rural schools seems to fall short, particularly in its usage of and reliance on technology. Specifically troublesome is Joel’s misguided endorsement of distance-based learning (“A student in rural Mississippi can receive instruction from a teacher in Boston, Massachusetts”), a development that would only highlight the disconnect between student and teacher. During these students’ developmental years, true learning can only occur when students can witness excellent teaching firsthand. Additionally, good teachers will also serve as positive role models for their students (I remember first realizing this aspect of teacher-as-role-model when I watched Sidney Poitier in “To Sir With Love”).

That said, technology does have a place in the rural classroom and should be used to bring the resources of major institutions of research – such as internationally-renowned museums and research facilities – to the rural student. To facilitate this connection, public schools should be partnered with local public universities (Delta schools with Ole Miss, Gulf Coast schools with Southern Miss, etc.) to facilitate the sharing of academic materials. Where distance learning does have value is in its ability to educate rural teachers, who do not commonly have the monetary or geographic access to top-notch graduate programs, conferences, and seminars. A similar pairing of public schools and public universities could serve to improve the quality of rural teachers, a development which would exponentially better student academic life.

I will be teaching in a rural area next year, a position I hoped for when I applied to the Teacher Corps. I think that rural poverty in the United States is a largely ignored plight, as both the government and private citizens seem to focus largely on urban poverty. This disparity in attention is particularly highlighted in regards to education; the vast majority of Teach for America teachers are placed in urban areas and the other major alternate-route teaching programs are based in large cities (such as New York and Washington). What is additionally troubling to me is the fact that children in rural areas are so intellectually and socially isolated. They do not have the myriad influences and daily interactions that their urban peers enjoy; this isolationism quite often allows prejudice and general ignorance to thrive. Earlier in this post, I critiqued Joel’s paper for not coming up with a solid plan to end rural educational inequality. The truth is, nobody knows what to do about this problem. In a country as wealthy as ours, if a solution could have been found it would have been implemented. All I can do is offer my time, experience, and sweat. I don’t know how my students will turn out in the end, but I do know that I will do all I can to expose them to a world that is beyond their own. That is the best strategy that any teacher/parent/mentor can have.


Blogger Joel Hebert said...

I'm glad you read my article. I've attended rural schools my whole life, and there are huge problems that apply specifically to these schools. My biggest beef with rural schools is the lack of course offerings--my high school had only one A.P. class offering, the school I work at now has zero. Long-distance learning labs, though flawed, was the only way I could think of to remedy this problem. I agree with you that role models are much more valuable when they are in person and not in a video screen though. Also, "To Sir With Love" is one of my dad's favorite movies. For another great teacher flick, check out "Conrack" starring Jon Voight. It's a little known classic about a man who teaches on a little island off the coast of South Carolina. Hilarious!


8:11 PM  
Blogger Sinister Mr. A said...

The best solution is for more excellent teachers to make the sacrifice: Move in and stay for a while. You up for it?

7:44 PM  

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