Studying the Rural in Education


  • Craig B. Howley Appalachia Educational Laboratory



Developing Nations, Disadvantaged Youth, Educational Change, Educational Improvement, Elementary Secondary Education, Global Approach, Rural Schools


This essay maintains that nation-building, partly through systems of schooling, has served rather more to debase than improve the rural circumstance. It suggests that a different logic of improvement is needed in rural education, but refrains from prescriptions. Instead, it focuses its attention on the sort of questions that researchers (and school improvers, for that matter) might ask to discover or invent that logic variously. It draws a distinction between cosmopolitan and local interests and provides examples of issues that exhibit the distinction. Finally, it suggests and provides hypertext links to sources in sociology, literature, philosophy, and education that might help educational researchers (and anyone else with an interest in "the rural") ground their studies and their actions in issues that honor rural interests. I remind readers that the very word "essay" means "tentative."


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Author Biography

Craig B. Howley, Appalachia Educational Laboratory

I've written about, studied, and lived in rural places. (It's debatable whether or not I still live in a rural place, but the local chamber of commerce says I do, given that our house sits 2 miles north of I-64). Culture, politics, economics, and history concern me. I wish schools were better at promoting 'the life of the mind' (whatever that is; finding out is part of the adventure) among everyone. And I think there are reasons they don't, but these reasons constitute more than just inattention or foolishness. Culture, politics, economics, and history suggest reasons. Literature (fiction) may be a much better guide to true education in rural places than the sorts of poor studies we educationists sponsor. Check out Wendell Stegner's Second Growth (circa 1950) or Annie Proulx's The Shipping News (circa 1990) and even E.M. Forster's Howards End (circa 1920). These folks have preserved something we have tried desperately to abandon, but can't actually escape. The wonder is that, though these books (and many more) treat the dilemmas of rural life, they also deal with the idea of a true education more universally. Now, that's fun because it's not easy. In particular, novels don't lend themselves to translations as cookbooks. Teaching well is the most difficult work in the world. We make a great mistake with attempts to make it easy or happy. Happiness is not a worthy aim for education, nor is getting and holding a good job.




How to Cite

Howley, C. B. (1997). Studying the Rural in Education. Education Policy Analysis Archives, 5, 12.