Rural Space as Teaching Tool

ReservoirOne of the key identifiers a rural area the space. Just as cities are identifiable by their buildings–height, proximity, style, etc., rural areas are identifiable by their landscapes, farmlands, and manufacturing plants.

The image is of the Clear Creek Access to South Mountains State Park. It’s a little hard to find and often empty when I visit. However, it is worth the trip. Orginally it was the reservoir for Broughton Hospital, the state psychiatric hospital, located in Morganton. The presence of the dam, various small buildings, and the old water line pipes add to the history of the place. I often go there for short hikes with my dogs. We walk up the dam, sit for a few minutes (well I sit, the dogs sniff everything) and then head up the one trail. It is currently the only trail, as this is a new acquisition for the state parks system. My hope is that more trails appear in the future.

This space is full of teachable ideas. First, I call up Michael Corbett’s three rural virtues found in Dynamics of Social Class, Race, and Place in Rural Education.[1] The virtues are stewardship, making do as one sees fit on known land and sea, and a deep place sensitive knowledge. Learning about both the natural aspects and the historical aspects of this place provides a sense of how the space is experienced within these values. Learning the connection to the greater history of Morganton creates historic and place based connections. Learning the native plants and animals which live and thrive there provide an understanding of the natural world. Questions such as why this dam was built on Clear Creek, why it is preserved by the state, and even learning who are the primary groups which use this space now, provide the opportunity for lifting up the history and present of this space.

Then, a dreaming about the potential for this space within the historical and natural realities of Burke County creates new futures connected to the realities of the present world. Perhaps, since this was a space for nourishment for the state psychiatric hospital, a program for natural and environmental immersion could become a reality. Food security is an issue for parts of the county, and while there are state regulations on fishing, fishing clinics and cooking classes for fishing might be a possibility.

Finally, as a rural theologian and educator, I would want to consider theological and spiritual possibilities, including environmental interpretation and the spiritual realities of this space. Asking the ethics questions of who has knowledge and access to this place as well as what this space could be used for in the future. Environmental education and Christian Formation allow for connection with the place to deepen connections with the divine and the local.

These are some ideas about this small place, this could be used in cities, but the rural virtues I list are for many, distinctly rural ways of encountering the world. Rural exploration can occur in any rural space, including empty or still functioning factories, farm land, historic sites, and more. This is just a small exploration.

[1] Michael Corbett, “Social Class, The Commodification of Education, and Space Through a Rural Lens,” in Dynamics of Social Class, Race, and Place in Rural Education, eds. Craig B. Howley, Aimee Howley, and Jerry D. Johnson (Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing, 2014) 35.



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