My Attempt to Plug The Rural Brain Drain

As mentioned in a previous post, for a little over a week I've been reading Patrick Carr and Maria Kefalas's book Hollowing Out the Middle: The Rural Brian Drain and What It Means for America, hoping to find inspiration for my thesis. And guess what? I found it today...at about 1:00 this afternoon when I finished the book.

My guiding question for my thesis has emerged as: How does social action develop deeper connections to community for rural students? I'm aware that to most, this is dreary material. As I've grown to kind of like living and teaching in a small town (shhh....don't tell!) though, this question has become increasingly important to me. Until this year, I've basically treated activism and place consciousness as two separate units within my curriculum. Last year I listened to kids (particularly my seniors) lament about our town wishing they lived somewhere more exciting making declarations that they will probably never come back to Ogallala because A) it's boring and B) there are no jobs here for them. While I believe these claims are due in part to the natural longing to experience the world, when I prodded them about their civic involvement, I discovered that these experiences were few and far between. My seniors really didn't have a clue as to how decisions about the community were made and lacked involvement with the community. Many of these students were bright and involved heavily in extracurricular activities and most would likely fit into Carr and Kefalas's category of Achievers (students bound for college, destined to move away and never come back). So I began to wonder: would more civic involvement help students consider the possibilities of eventually returning to our small town?

Over the past four years, enrollment at our high school has dropped, and we've gone from a class B school to a class C school. My music teacher husband and I have sat on edge as discussions of RIFfing swirled around the district resulting in just a few (luckily) positions eliminated. Each year when contracts are issued I grow a little nervous thinking about the possibility that either me or my husband could be issued the dreaded pink slip due to declining numbers in enrollment. I haven't done any deep census studies, but from listening to locals chat, I hear worry and concern in voices as they talk about how Ogallala once was compared to its state now. And as I listen to my students' state that Ogallala is fine to grow up in, but not fine to move back to--my concern for the town's well-being is growing.

So, this year I've decided to merge activism and place consciousness in my curriculum; I guess it's my own little attempt to plug the rural brain drain....

In my next post I'll include some of Carr and Kefalas's findings and ideas that support what I'm doing in my own classroom...bear with me as I work through research and try to navigate my way back on track for my thesis. I promise to try and post something this weekend that is non-thesis related :)

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