Local Matters, EcoJustice, and Community
It is often assumed and reported that students from rural schools do not achieve as well as students from urban areas; and research often appears to overlook the special needs and opportunities that arise for science teaching and learning, in particular, from a rural setting (Tippins and Mueller 2009). Having taught science in rural schools for more than a decade and in different areas of Canada, I have experienced firsthand how there are special opportunities for teaching science that come with a rural context. For example, science can be taught so that local people, local places, and local knowledge matter, allowing students who often do not do well in school, to find themselves and their local environment validated and to excel. This includes students who are treated differently because of a “learning disability” that they come to be stuck with despite the fact that they demonstrably make great contributions not only to their own learning but also to the learning of others. Rural settings provide particular opportunities for implementing the idea of “learning communities,” where the term “community” goes beyond denoting classrooms or school and extends to the entire village or municipality. That is, because of the size of the rural setting, greater permeability between school and everyday life is a possibility and students, rather than producing tests and assignments actually contribute to village life and as a consequence, learn in the process of contributing to the social fabric of their setting. This includes coming to understand ecojustice, because natural environments perhaps more so than the manufactured urban environments allow us to understand the connection between the totality of life generally and human life more specifically. Thus, learning science in rural schools is special because students may not only draw on their local knowledge to make sense of more school-based (book) knowledge but also because their engagement is situated in village life and what they produce and learn enhances the amount of knowledge already available in and to the collective. In the process, the students’ own local knowledge expands and their action possibilities increase, including those for pursuing academic studies that take them away from their rural setting. But for some – including myself, who, first as a teacher then as a professor – rural life remains so attractive and the preferred lifestyle that they return to it after studies and getting settled in a career. That is, teaching science in a place-based manner, in ways that make local people and places matter, and toward ecojustice, actually produces and reproduces a stronger social fabric in rural areas than exists in many urban environments. In fact, there is evidence from big cities that the introduction of urban gardens fundamentally changes life, including substantial decreases in crime and violence. Teaching so that the local matters and for ecojustice, therefore, may contribute to work against the current movement of people toward urban areas, which has become not only a “brain drain” but also a problem for maintaining the social fabric in rural areas. In this chapter, I provide an extended case study of science teaching and learning in one rural community, where I worked with teachers to draw on the opportunities that a rural area provides for teaching science.
KeywordsRural Community Rural Setting Rural School Ninth Grade Cane Toad
The research for this article was funded by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.
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