Education in Appalachia: The Complexities

First, it seems that many can acknowledge the frustrating and, at times, inadequate history of education in Appalachia. Source after source bemoans the lack of cultural awareness found in classrooms throughout the past and present. Second, educators are moving towards an understanding that each region, classroom, and student requires something different to encourage engagement. Third, educators can see the value of teaching students using familiar ideas. Utilizing place based learning and Appalachian literature, educators are equipped to inspire students to see their region in a way outside of the long held stereotypical images on the news and in the movies. Outmigration is not just an issue of the past. Young bright individuals from Appalachia still move away upon graduating. They seek opportunity far from home. Families still fear that success in education means losing their child to a city far away. If Appalachia has even a semblance of a chance of competing economically, it must find a way to encourage the innovative and valuable young people to stay.

​Education may just be the way. Utilizing regional literature as a means to change students’ views of home may help. Educating educators to understand and empathise with the cultural complexities of Appalachia should become a priority. Changing the rhetoric used when discussing continued education is necessary. The sources reviewed on this site are all pointing towards change. It will take all community members’ participation to enact the necessary changes in Appalachia. Policy makers, school officials, teachers, students, and families must all seek improvement together. And the implications of such action go beyond just benefiting the student. By creating informed and thoughtful students, society is propelled forward, not just economically, but culturally. Educators can be encouraged by the success of their students. Policy makers and school officials can be supported by an improved economy. Families will, hopefully, encourage education no longer fearing the loss of children to far off cities. By pouring energy and study into improving education in the region, it will benefit the entire community.

Hendrickson studies the current attitude towards education in Appalachia:
“The success of students in rural areas is vital to the success of the region, as these students will make up the community of the future. Resistant students in rural areas can be engaged in conversations and critical thinking about their resistance and the factors that prevent them from engaging with school. These students can then develop a voice for change, challenging the dichotomies of higher education and rural values. By voicing their concerns about inter-sections [sic] of school values, home values, and future opportunities, these students can become change agents for their communities. Ultimately, resistant students can be key to the evolution of rural communities.” (48)

Of course this is a proposal filled with hope. It will take much more than ideas to move Appalachia forward. 

Many questions remain:

  • Should students be encouraged to stay within the region?
  • What can teachers and other educators do to encourage students to build a regional identity?
  • Does there need to be more communication and collaboration between educators, parents, and students?
  • What would a beneficial relationship between families and educational institutions do to improve learning outcomes in Appalachia?
  • Does studying Appalachian literature make a statistical difference when it comes to engaging students in the region?
  • What is the best way to bring regional literature into the classroom?
  • What moves can communities make to enhance postgraduate opportunities for young people?
  • What other methods can be used to encourage reinvestment in Appalachia?

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