This excerpt from the book, Survival of Rural America: Small Victories and Bitter Harvests by Richard Wood really spoke to me and I wanted to share some thoughts with you. Jackson refers to Wes Jackson of the Land Institute outside of Salina.
"The universities now offer only one serious major: upward mobility. Little attention is paid to educating the young to return home and contribute to their communities. There is no such thing as a 'homecoming' major," by which Jackson means "home" in at least two contexts: the rural communities from which many people come - and to which most never return, and home as a "coherent community that is in turn embedded in the ecological realities of its surrounding landscape." "We educate kids to take tests," Jackson says, but "teachers don't even know how to talk about community responsibility.."
As many of you know this has been the plight of small towns for decades and something as a sophomore in high school I set out to reverse. There has been this mindset that educated people don't return to small towns, and my question is why the hell not? As I near the end of my education at the University of Kansas, and I'm not bashing my beloved almost alma mater at all, but I've recognized the lack of promotion there is for the rural lifestyle. Yes, a majority of the students are from and will return to the big city after graduation, but as Jackson says, it seems there is nothing much being done to promote returning to rural America. I've been a believer that this idea of returning home needs to start at home in the community, in your family when the person is younger, however, why not educate more students on the importance of the rural way of life. I'm utterly disappointed that the University of Kansas, to my knowledge does not offer a rural socialogy class or major. And for that fact, I'm not even sure that KSU does either. Luckily in the past year, I've been able to share my rural insights and passions with a few of my professors and they clearly see the benefits of helping rural communities. They've begun working on projects and encouraging any other students from rural communities to consider returning there. However, these are just two people that are working on this...there needs to be a much bigger focus than that.
I'm thankful that my "return home education" started years ago and is now coming full circle. It frustrates me that those "city kids" I've had in classes and as friends do not understand why I want to return to a small town. I've tried many times to explain and demonstrate the numerous benefits to rural America's way of life, while understanding it may not be for everyone. True, I will not be returning home to Atwood, but I will be returning home to Western Kansas. After 7 years of working with people in Rawlins County, we have seen an increase in former AHS graduates returning home and it delights me. It's often of their own accord, but changing the mindsets of people both in universities and communities to encourage rural returns I believe will increase this trend. One of things I'm most excited to try and implement in my new position in Wichita County is to work to bring young people home. Get the young people involved while in high school and educate them on the opportunities that are theirs, if they want to return home.
I hope that if you call a rural community home you will seriously consider returning there someday and bringing your talents and knowledge you gain from the rest of the world home with you. And my dear city friends, please come visit me and I'll do my best to demonstrate the beautiful and sacred way of life that rural communities offer. I promise you just because the way of life is slower does not mean that we are any less educated than any of you.