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120 4 Beyond Agrarianism Toward a Critical Pedagogy of Place Charlotte Hogg Chapter 2 of this book traces the history of stereotyping that stigmatizes rural literacies and analyzes the ways literacies within the context of stigmatization are negotiated between rural people and those who sponsor their literacy. Chapter 3 analyzes the ways in which agricultural literacies are misunderstood, or even absent, in the dominant narratives of our culture and argues for an alternative agrarian literacy rooted in discourses of rural sustainability. In this chapter, I examine how particular discourses of agrarian life may undermine sustainable rural literacies by overshadowing other gendered, “ordinary,” and social literacies of rural life that are often unseen or dismissed. Chapters 2 and 3 demonstrate the ways broader discourses of stereotyping , stigmatization, and traditional rural literacies that overlook the agricultural realities in the United States—discourses laden with preservation, abandonment, and modernization metaphors—affect the ways rural people negotiate their literate lives. With such analyses in mind, I shift the lens here to consider not how rural women have been affected by such systemic forces but to ask how their literacies might influence others in their own communities and beyond. In short: what opportunities for understanding and complicating rural literacies already exist in rural places? There is much to learn from rural women about the ways literacy is produced and shared in a rural community. In my hometown of Paxton, Nebraska, for example, older women have used writing to create and sustain clubs ranging from the Garden Club to Friends of the Library, to historicize the town, to decide what books will be in the town library, and more. In performing these literate acts, they both provide important local resources and information for the town and model ways to sustain a rural place through creating and affirming social spaces. Within this local space, literacies are transgenerational, Beyond Agrarianism 121 in which older women teach younger residents and vice versa, so social activities such as giving a lesson at the Garden Club become a space for meaning-making activities that can potentially give rise to sustaining the community. And yet the literate acts and documents from these women—conceived as “only” women’s work—have not been valued as they could be (by the women themselves and by others) and thus not considered tools for a critical, public pedagogy toward sustainability. Instead, dominant discourses on rural identity and education rely heavily on ideologies akin to male agrarianist scholarship originally inspired by Thomas Jefferson. The texture of rural women’s lives and contributions to the social good of their communities are often less visible to outsiders because community work operates on microlevels and because it is unpaid labor—it is “women’s work,” the work of supporting the lives and actions of others. Yet it is the crucial work of cultural production and should be seen as an integral part of a critical, public pedagogy fostering literacies that connect the local, national, and global for a more synergistic relationship. In the first section of this chapter, I examine the ways agrarianist scholarship and literature often reinforce masculinist narratives of rural life and overlook social realities in a community (even while the term “community” is ubiquitous in the scholarship), leading to depictions of rural life that are celebratory and preservationist in nature . To complicate such representations, I offer educational theorist David Gruenewald’s “critical pedagogy of place” as an alternative to agrarianist discourses that dominate rural education. His term blends place-based education and critical pedagogy (usually focused on urban contexts, despite its Freirean influence) in order to address critically and comprehensively ecological, social, economic, and cultural issues that face rural areas. Using Gruenewald’s critical pedagogy of place as a framework, I describe the rich, everyday literacy practices that demonstrate how Paxton women contribute to the sustenance of rural spaces. I posit that one way to achieve a critical pedagogy of place is to put their literacies in the context of public memory, described by Henry Giroux as “critically examining one’s own historical location amid relations of power, privilege, or subordination (“Cultural Studies” Beyond Agrarianism 122 68). Through performing literacy work that both contributes to and disrupts public memory—compiling histories, writing memoirs, and working to preserve records and places—the Paxton women enact a multifaceted notion of rural literacy that has preservationist qualities but also gives an alternative understanding of rural community largely absent in much scholarship on rural life, providing tools to forward a critical...


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