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1 Cultural Obstacles on the Road to Rural Educational Renewal Paul Theobald and Ann Alsmeyer While many rural communities consider themselves a part of something other than an agriculturally-oriented economy, most are nevertheless deeply affected by agricultural policy and practice. Other long-standing rural occupations , such as logging, mining, and fishing, share with agriculture the finite nature of the resource base involved. Historically, this circumstance led to the development of resource stewardship in rural communities and to the resulting evolution of cultural practices tending to sustain the extractive nature of these occupations. In this regard, all of these types of communities are similar. They are similar, too, in that during this century, all have witnessed the distant corporate takeover of their local economies, resulting in the gradual loss of local stewardly wisdom and a clear trend toward unsustainable production practices. Although we focus on agriculture in this essay, by far the most prevalent economic orientation for rural communities in this country, the dynamics discussed are readily transferable to other types of communities. We will be operating on an important premise that already may be apparent from what has been said; that is, we believe it is impossible to separate the concerns of rural schools from their larger social, economic, and political milieu. Because we believe this is the case, it seems that questions concerning rural education must go hand-in-hand with questions about rural community. The goal of this essay, therefore, is to identify contextual obstacles that inhibit both rural school and community renewal and to begin to chart a course others may find useful in their attempts to maneuver around these obstacles. Obstacle #1: The Ascendant Definition of Community Development Most rural communities can dust off at least one ill-fated "community development" plan. At some point folks joined together to consider the negative circumstances affecting their towns and neighborhoods and thereafter resolved they would try to do something about them. Over the course of a few years they likely contacted hundreds of business owners to sell them on how much their community could offer anyone willing to build a branch plant in their town. Earlier in this century there were enough successes with this approach to keep the hopes of everyone high, at least at the start. The vast majority of those who got in this game, however, eventually failed. There were simply not enough branch plants to go around, and thus enthusiasm and energy waned. Many communities picked themselves up to try again, however, for in the 1980s and 1990s the economy shifted to a "service" orientation, which seemed to create new possibilities for rural places. For example, the telecommunications industry, by its very nature, removed location from the list of variables to consider in the decision of whether or not to establish a light assembly plant for high tech equipment or perhaps a receiving center for purchase orders, product assistance, or hotel reservations. These kinds of operations, in fact, moved quickly to the countryside. Many communities offered the use of a building or built one to the specifications of an interested company. With the promise of tax breaks for several years, these communities were able to land jobs for their residents. They were low-wage jobs, however, and typically targeted for local women as "second income." The benefits, often, were practically non-existent. Sometimes, when the tax break period ended, the company simply unplugged its equipment and moved to another eager rural community. The telecommunications industry, thus far, has proved to be no economic panacea for rural America. Why have traditional community development plans been a predictable part of small town life in this country? The reason, of course, is that the vast majority of rural communities were established to facilitate the profession of agriculture in their vicinity. These places slowly discovered that as agriculture industrialized they, as a community, became superfluous . To make up for this, community development plans offered hope and another economic reason for being: the home of a manufacturing plant, perhaps, or possibly some kind of tourist center. It is important to understand this community development agenda as a reaction to the circumstances in which rural communities found themselves in...


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