This post originally appeared on So Educated.
What do you think of when I say that I am currently living in rural Kentucky, in the Appalachian mountains, not far from West Virginia? Do you hear banjos and think of Deliverance? So you hear a thick Southern drawl? Do you picture mega-Churches and born-again Christians? Be honest. And when you hear that I am teaching students from this area, do you applaud my efforts or feel sorry for me?
One of the biggest hurdles that we have to overcome in order to improve rural schools is people's attitude towards rural populations. Teaching underprivileged children in an urban environment is heroic, and you get to live in or near the big city. Moving out to the country, to the middle of nowhere, to teach a bunch of hicks? More of a punishment to most people.
Big cities offer a lot of advantages, I'm not going to lie. But one of the scariest things for parents and future parents who are thinking of moving to a rural area is that their kids will be going to the same school as everyone else. In urban areas, you usually don't live in the underprivileged area where you are working, and you certainly don't send your kids to school there. You live in the nicer neighborhood with the better schools. Out here, there's one school. There is no better school district or area to escape to. The kids you teach are the same kids your kids will be going to school with.
This, of course, is a major issue when it comes to convincing people to move out to rural areas to help failing schools. Another obstacle is the idea that the rural areas aren't worth the trouble. Making it in America used to mean conquering the frontier, but now it means conquering the big city. How many narratives do we read or see where the small-town, rural person moves to the big city in order to "make it." Or, to put it differently, we believe in the phenomenon that the best and the brightest leave their rural homes for the larger centers, leaving behind...the dumbest and least motivated?
There are so many stereotypes of rural people that essentially excuse not doing more to help them and their education system. Why bother, right? They don't value education, they're not interested in a "better life," and they are unwilling to learn what we want to teach them. You might try to say it in more politically correct terms, but think about your attitudes towards people who still live in small, rural towns and isolated farms, trailer parks and mobile homes.
I'm not saying it's perfect out here; far from it. There is drug addiction, racial tension, crippling poverty, and a lack of resources to provide effective services, including education. But before you dismiss rural education reform, ask yourself if you really think urban kids are more deserving of a quality education than their rural counterparts.