Things I Know 204 of 365: I went to a rural school

I think maybe the rural influence in my life helped me in a sense, of knowing how to get close to people and talk to them and get my work done.

– Gordon Parks

Somewhere between eighth and ninth grade, they tore down a portion of my high school. It was the oldest part of the building, and a local bond had passed for the construction of a new wing.

As it turned out, my grandfather had attended classes in the old wing.

After it was torn down and the new edifice was erected, I was invited, as a student council representative, to the installation of the commemorative stone denoting all the school board members of the time.

This was nothing compared to the excitement surrounding the opening of the Casey’s General Store. We could walk their after school, before practices.

You could buy pizza there.

Up until that point, you could only really buy food from the IGA, and that was at least six blocks away.

Casey’s was more convenient. It sat directly across from the bus barn.

Well, it did until someone burned the bus barn down.

My bus was driven by a man named Charlie who farmed when he wasn’t driving his route.

Since I’ve been gone, I’m told my alma mater’s archery team has taken the state championships a few times.

When I was in school, our claim to fame was being home to the FFA National Meat Judging Champion. I’m pretty sure that kid won the title more than once.

I drove by my old high school today. Consequently, the building also houses my old middle school.

Earlier this summer, I’d happened by and noted the school sign’s recognition of students’ placement in the state bass fishing tournament.

I was hoping to snap a picture, but the sign had been changed in the intervening months.

It struck me, as I turned the car around in the old bus loop, that my old school, and other rural schools like it, aren’t what we’re talking about when we talk about school reform. At least, I’m fairly certain their not the schools people are picturing when they make decrees or talk about the future of education. The voices of teachers from small schools in small towns aren’t the ones being featured in EdWeek or the New York Times education section.

What a shame. Many of those voices are the ones that helped me learn some of the most treasured pieces of information I carry around with me.

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, in the 2007-08 school year, approximately 23 percent of U.S. public school students were enrolled in a rural school. Include students enrolled in towns and the percent moves to almost 36 percents.

One in three public school students was enrolled in a town or rural school.

Look at the news coverage of education at the time, and it read as though every student America educated or teacher who led a classroom was located in the heart of an urban environment.

I realize the numbers are nothing when compared the monolithic concentrations of students in urban and suburban public schools, but that doesn’t mean they have any less stake in the game when talking about what it means to teach the students they serve.

It’s also precisely what makes the drafting of a standardized test such a ridiculous endeavor. By the time you’ve written a test item that lowers the cultural threshold sufficiently enough to allow students from all environments access, you end up with an item no one would have any interest in answering. (I’d imagine you’d be hard-pressed to find someone with much intrinsic motivation for writing such an item in the first place.)

The national educational landscape is as varied as the actual national landscape.

As I pulled out of the bus loop today, I realized exactly how much we’re not talking about when we talk about teaching and learning in America.

One thought on “Things I Know 204 of 365: I went to a rural school

  1. Thanks for posting this, Zach. I teach in a rural school (last year we graduated 22; our claim to fame is our nationally-ranked FFA team). We get so frustrated because the ideas people tout for school reform just don't make sense for us. School choice? There's only one school in town; if you want to drive to the next town over, you sure can. Firing teachers and principals? No one else wants to live here. Who will you hire? We don't have enough people to implement many of the reforms that are suggested. And our small numbers make NCLB particularly problematic. Right now, if we have two kids not pass the state assessment, we're in AYP trouble. One kid not graduating on time gets us in trouble for our graduation rate. Several years ago our 8th graders bombed one section of the state assessment that had to do elevators—our kids think an elevator is where you store wheat. Some of them have never been in a building with more than one story.

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