Urban Vs. Rural Education

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After reading Hallway Hangers, a sense of the complex relationship between poverty and education is gained: it a dualistic one. In some views, education is a means out of poverty, yet those who grow up poor often have different opportunities, hopes, and experiences in their school years. During my time thus far at Colgate, I have participated and watched many sporting events on campus, and found that local families attend and cheer with as much enthusiasm as the students. Similarly, on National Athletes appreciation Day last year the Student Athletic Advisory Committee (SAAC) ran a program at both the elementary and high schools in Hamilton, providing question and answer periods for the students and giving them skills clinics. The tremendous respect that I felt that the students gave me was overwhelming, not because I was just an athlete, but because I attended Colgate University. While observing the sporting events and the community outreach programs I realized then that Colgate is a virtual mecca for this area. So a double standard is evident: the presence of a relatively prestigious college is no doubt an inspiration to local students; but the reality of the matter is - how many of these youths could, and would, achieve a college diploma?

     And so for the research paper, my selected topic would explore the relationship between the rural poor and education. But more specifically, having read the Hallway Hangers, how do poor, rural youths differ in their educational goals and achievements than poor, urban youths? It is evident that rural poor are at a disadvantage educationally, socially, and economically compared to the urban poor. Rural youths’ chances of employment (whether in agriculture or in other areas), are weaker than their urban counterparts. The paper would set out to provide hard facts exploring this contrast, and the reasons and trends behind it.

     As I started out researching for the paper, I realized that most importantly, data would need to be collected comparing the educational opportunities and achievement of the rural youth and those of urban youth. For instance, high school grades and SAT scores could be compared, as well as college applications and attendance. Beyond this, the actual school systems of rural and urban areas would be compared - the differences in funding, ideology, resources, etc., would grant insight into the students’ experiences and goals there.

     The collection of scholarly essays, Rural Education and Training in the New Economy: the Myth of the Rural Skills Gap, was the single most useful and relevant resource I came upon.

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Each chapter provided statistics that allowed unbiased comparison of the two social structures, both rural and urban. For example, “Rural Teachers and Schools”, by Dale Ballou and Michael Podgursky, provided statistical charts comparing ratios of students to teachers, teacher pay, characteristics of full-time teachers, and teacher assessment of school problems and organization, for rural and urban schools. Another essay provided comparisons of achievements scores for both math and reading, and grades of twelfth-graders enrolled in advanced curricula, for both urban and rural students. The third essay revealed dropout rates of urban, suburban, and rural students; the fourth essay compared college completion rates. By far, this was the single most powerful resource I came upon.

     But while the hard facts are unbiased and revealing, it helps to understand what influences these circumstances. I would want to present a more personal and human angle as evidence for my paper. West Haven: Classroom Culture and Society in a Rural Elementary School, is a firsthand account of the almost minute-by-minute activities of a rural school. Along with the description of each day, are side-notes analyzing the events and happenings, putting into context and to some extent, explaining the behavior of not only the students but also the teachers. Johnson, in his own words, said he intended to discover the values and habits of mind the children in the school were initiated and conditioned to, and the social relationships, behaviors, ideas and objects of classroom life (Johnson: 7).

     Using J-STOR, I uncovered an article called “Achievement Orientation and Career Patterns of Rural Youth”, from Sociology of Education. In it, Glen H. Elder provides a comparison of the academic progress of rural and urban youth at a large state university; the findings substantiated the point of my paper in that the rural youth were less adequately prepared for college. The article further reveals that the number of career opportunities in agriculture is decreasing, and the skill level necessary to be a successful farmer are increasing; yet the educational opportunities for the rural poor are significantly less than even the urban poor (Elder, 1963). The article reviewed relevant studies comparing educational achievement and occupational mobility of the two groups.

     I found an article from the Boston Globe headlined “Untapped No Longer”, in which Diane E. Lewis stated that due to the low unemployment rates, employers are “turning to a long overlooked and largely untapped labor source: the urban and rural poor” (Lewis: 1999, 1). That the article discussed both groups together, and their recent increase of employment seems to contrast with the evidence that rural and urban youth do not nave to the same opportunities. This article focused more specifically on a given region (Boston) and the employment trends there; it would be an interesting insight for my paper, but I think I would want to find more general articles, perhaps in a national newspaper or magazine, directly comparing the two groups.

     A number of websites would be useful for this research project, including recent government data on the educational trends of rural and urban poor, and the funding of the relative school systems. One website, called ERIC: Rural Education Directory, provided brief summaries of recent literature on rural education. The articles included such titles as “A Practical Look at Comprehensive School Reform for Rural Schools” and “Sociodemographic Changes: Promises and Problems for Rural Education”. The articles are only a small facet of the directory - no doubt it could lead me down many alternative paths. I noticed that there was a link to information regarding current government policies on the issue of education for the rural poor; however, most of the information pertained only to the rural communities, and did not lend space to urban development and education.

     Comparing the sources I found, the most useful was the volume of essays Rural Education and Training in the New Economy. It presented the most hard facts and statistical data with which to form the foundation of my paper. Each chapter added a new dimension to the question, and provided graphs and comparison charts, to make the data more digestible. Furthermore, the bibliographies at the end of each chapter pointed me in the direction of other useful sources. The journal article would be perhaps the next most useful item, as it presented clearly the issues at hand and the ideologies behind them. West Haven added a new dimension to the paper, but a relatively small one. The primary goal of the paper being sociological research, the personal experiences in a rural school could only play a small role in the larger context of the paper. The particular newspaper article I found would be of relatively small value for my project; however, as I said it would be beneficial to find an article on the topic in a more national newspaper or in a popular magazine like Time or Newsweek. The website, also, presented a one-dimensional aspect to the issue; perhaps a government website on recent trends and data would be of more use.

     Obviously, the question of education and opportunities, and the differences therein, between the urban and rural poor can be explored. An ideal source of information for my paper would come from local sources: the state of the school systems in Madison county, the average test scores, college attendance, etc., would provide the personally meaningful backbone of the project. It would only be a small aspect of the paper, but it would present the human angle to the paper, and give flesh to all the data. It is the humanness, the meaning at the core of the research that inspires such a study. What are the actual conditions of the people living around me, what matters and issues do they face, and how do they compare with my suburban upbringing? To find out about that would make the paper that much more valuable.

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