9/13/09

Place Conscious Teaching Musings

I intended to be in bed by 8:00 tonight, but here I am...sitting up in bed at 10:00, blogging while listening to Wilco (I swear, EVERYTHING is better with Wilco).

I started on my reading assignments for my Place Conscious Teaching course tonight; I read "Place Conscious Education, Rural Schools, and the Nebraska Writing Project's Rural Voices, Country Schools Team" by Dr. Robert Brooke (my prof. for this course). After reading through it, I have so many thoughts running through my head. So I'm going to try and get them all out in hopes that I can sleep a bit:

1. As a teacher I have a strong desire for my students to be engaged and motivated to succeed in my class--I want them to want to succeed. I want them to think critically and to not be passive learners. I want to captivate them...Dr. Brooke writes, "Learning and writing and citizenship are richer when they are tied to and flow from local culture." Based on this quote, I think this place conscious thing is my ticket to engaging my students. I am convinced that, in order to make my class (which is a required class) relevant to my students, it must be tied to the local.

2. Curriculum is "ideas and practices that the learner retains and can use (Brooke 6)" and "[u]nless acquired information is used by students to construct understanding about the world as it currently exists for them, the time spent in acquisition will have been wasted (Theobald)." Wouldn't it be nice if every teacher/administrator/curriculum coordinator had this notion of curriculum?

3. Since I've started this class a few weeks ago I've been pondering what I could do in my classroom with place conscious education, but I've had a tough time identifying anything because I haven't been quite clear on what place conscious education is or what it looks like. Well folks, Dr. Brooke has saved the day. In his introduction to Rural Voices he points out five issues (as identified by Toni Haas and Paul Nachtigal in their pamphlet Place Value) that a place conscious curriculum should address:

(*I say students just because I am thinking of the classes I teach, but I see a place conscious approach to education helping me understand the community I live in as well).
  • Ecology- In order to live well in a community, students* must have an understanding of the biology of our region. Students must understand how that biology connects to other facets of the community (local industry, agriculture, and other bio. issues that concern our community).
  • Government- Participating in a community requires students to have an understanding of the local government and the ways our community makes decisions (city council, school board, economic development committees, etc). This understanding is best gained by participating in local government; by being invested in local issues.
  • Livelihood- Students need to have an understanding of what people "do" in our community. They need to be aware of what career options are available and what experience is necessary in order to make a sustainable livelihood out of these careers.
  • Spirituality- According to Haas and Nachtigal, this refers to "a person's way of understanding the connections and relationships that form a life, whether or not that understanding is based in any given institutionalized religion" (Brooke 12). Students should have an understanding of how people in our community have formed and continue to form connections. This could lead to studies of heritage or to connections people have with the land...this concept is still difficult for me to comprehend.
  • Community values- This could take many forms. Basically, from Dr. Brooke's introduction I have gathered that students need to understand "who their community is and why it is that way" (12) which would require a study on heritage, values, history, and contemporary culture as well as encouraging a vision for the future that includes the community. Encouraging an investment in community values will teach students to be able to "act effectively in and with the community" (12).
Though this is all appealing to me, it is also a bit frightening. Embracing a curriculum like this would require me to make a commitment to the community of Ogallala. I have not been one who favors "settling down" and for the past five years I have been migrating. I've lived in Columbus, Kearney, Lincoln, and Ogallala and have worked in all of the communities previously listed as well as Gibbon, Holdrege, Elm Creek, and Grant. My adult life has not required me to put down roots. However, if I am going to incorporate place conscious teaching into my classes then I will need to be invested in my community. I think it is a step I am willing to take, but I am quite certain it will be a bit of an emotional struggle for my nomadic personality.

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