Apr. 11, 2013
Hope for a brighter rural future lies at the intersection of assumptions and evidence, said Dr. Paul Theobald, author of Education Now: How Rethinking America's Past Can Change Its Future and keynote speaker at the 39th annual Center for Great Plains Studies symposium in Kearney, Neb.
Theobald, dean of the School of Education at Buena Vista University, spoke Friday, April 5, at the "Gains and Losses from School Consolidation in the Great Plains" symposium.
As part of Rural Schools Week in Nebraska, the Center for Great Plains Studies at the University of Nebraska conducted the symposium Friday and Saturday at the University of Nebraska at Kearney and the Younes Conference Center.
Theobald has published widely on the topic of community and place-based education, the idea that learning through the outdoor environment and a student's community is a key component of a strong education.
His topic was "Rural Schools and Communities at the Intersection of Assumptions and Evidence."
Theobald argued that rural school consolidation is perceived to be a cost saving measure.
"One of the mysteries of the human condition is that we possess the ability to fervently believe what we choose to believe in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary," he said.
Hope for a brighter rural future, he said, lies at the intersection of assumptions and evidence.
"If we lack the wherewithal to discern the difference there's no hope to stopping the forces that created rural decline and no reason to bother envisioning a new rural future," he said.
The rural-urban divide is to blame for the decline of rural communities, Theobald said.
"Why is it that rural areas have the highest percentage of Americans living in poverty? Why is it that we consistently see vacant businesses and abandoned homes and empty schools in the nation's smallest towns and villages?" he asked.
"For most of the 20th century we generally believed that our future would be an urban world," he said. "And this made it somewhat easier to swallow when it came to be the popular answer for why rural America seemed to be perpetually in a state of decline."
Theobald argued that creating a brighter rural future could be achieved by eliminating corporate campaign donations, offering free health care coverage to entrepreneurs, leveling the playing field by standing up for small town merchants, making standardized testing in schools optional, and offering annual awards or grants to rural villages.
The symposium, which was open to the public, addressed the causes and consequences of school consolidation, the politics of school consolidation, school consolidation trends across the country, its effects on students, how to sustain the vitality of rural schools and rural communities, and how to support rural math teachers.
University of Nebraska chancellors spoke about the connection between the university and rural schools.
The symposium featured more than two dozen speakers, including Gov. Dave Heineman, Marty Strange and several school district superintendents and university deans.
At MONA, photographer Charles Guildner's photographs were on display in the exhibit, "Rural Schools of Nebraska: Photographs by Charles Guildner."