In an article I shared two years ago on Facebook, Yes! Magazine writes about seven ways we already live more locally. I love Yes! because the focus is on solutions. It is too easy to sink into a sad state considering the challenges we have been put in. Here are the 7 ways:
1.Community cooperative utilities
2. An electric bicycle commute
3. Perennial grains
4. In Alaska, its fish for lunch
5. Bringing young people back to the city
6. Linking affordability with access to transit
7. Putting down roots
These are all excellent solutions that people are already enacting. I'll focus on number seven, since my own work has been about uprootedness. As the Yes Staff writes: "Moving away from your hometown widens your carbon footprint—most notably by setting you and family members up for frequent travel. It also separates you from the support of friends and relatives." And here is the challenge for music education and many other professions. When we become music teachers, we have a good chance of becoming uprooted. After I became a music teacher, two of my brothers became music teachers. There was never a possibility, at the moment we chose our professions, that all three of us would attain employment in our hometowns, and keep those roots--those intergenerational, place-infused, webs of meaning.
"Staying put is an easy decision if you’re from a thriving city where employers and amenities abound. But what if your hometown isn’t thriving?" Here is the challenge of living in rural America. Our rural economies have been decimated by each president since FDR. Rural Democrats know this instinctively, and both Democrats and Republicans pretend to be FDR (or at least JFK, who put forth more left-ward, class-based programs than other Democrats) when campaigning here. At the national level, our focus has been on urban renewal, and even while that has failed due to lack of vision (but not lack of throwing money toward urban neighborhoods--almost always through devious billionaires) small-towns have been robbed of their material resources and people with no major renewal policy. Since FDR we've seen the removal of mass transit (trolleys and light rail) that linked up most of the small towns here in Central PA (including people in need to services in bigger towns), the removal of manufacturing jobs through free trade agreements, and new economic rhetoric of college-for-all instead of good wages and working conditions. Well, until we fix rural economies, college-for-all tears rural places apart. It is a privilege to be able to earn a college degree and make the low wages degrees garner in rural places; a privilege many poor, rural people don't have after going into debt for a college education. Many towns have put their hope in tourism (if they have a State Park like Patton) or Natural Gas industry (which imports laborers so it doesn't actually hire rural Pennsylvanians). But these hopes are fruitless without fixing the underlying problem. Many people stereotype rural people as hicks, hillbillies, and red necks and then suggest that their poverty is their own fault. They even laud the authors who suggest it, even while they'd recognize the same arguments as severely problematic if they were about other oppressed groups. Often ex-rural people living in their suburban utopias are the strongest voices of blame, but those neoliberlists don't lack for solidarity in soft-left Academia, which is far too quick to throw poor, rural people in the trash with their bottled water.
Vincent Bates tells us, "teacher educators have a responsibility to encourage and guide critical thinking and to deconstruct deficit ideologies." But do they want to? And why is Bates the only voice with a tenure-line in our field (in the U.S.) that recognizes this need for poor, White "trash"? If you grew up in poor, urban communities, especially those that are more ethically or racially diverse, critical teacher educators help you to recognize the failing of your poor relatives even while raising up their dignity--recognizing how sexism, racism, ableism and other intersections don't invalidate their real experience of oppression. That they grow by recognizing their own oppression. A pedagogy OF the oppressed. But with poor, rural communities, especially those seen as less diverse than the big city (even while there's diversity in many rural places), many professors who laud themselves as critical teacher educators fail. They fail often as they're the oppressors, and the pedagogy they try to teach is OF the oppressed. They tell poor student to recognize how their poor uncle (who's trying to make bills while borrow a car to make the drive to pay for his insurance while dealing with undiagnosed mental illness) is actually the real oppressor. These teacher educators transfer their experiences in suburbs, with sexist, racist, ableist privileged Whites, onto poor rural Whites who don't have the (academic) language to express their actual, lived oppression; when middle class Whites experience of race has few links to that of poor Whites. They commute to work further decimating rural places around the globe; and live in solidarity with the global suburban middle class--and join them in destruction. Place matters when considering race, gender, ability, and class. And very often, with our society's neglect of rural places during the last 70 years, rural peoples suffer more than they need to.
I've never been surprised by President Trump's voters who were poor White people. These people have been failed by policy after policy since their grandparents were children. Of course, they made up only 25% of his voters. But I'm also not surprised by the rich suburbanite Whites who make up Trump's majority and made him president. I hear their Marcellus Shale, Texas accents in Waffle Shop every week; and they throw their MAGA hats on as soon as they see my family of color. Their well-off children are the few people still getting tenure lines at Penn State. They know how to talk WASP and seem enough not-racist. What surprises me, though, is that push from the same rich suburbanite Whites to always blame their poor, rural White people they exploit and mock, all the while tapping themselves on the backs for being more "woke." They read Pedagogy of the Oppressed, and didn't see that it IS an indictment of themselves! They've chosen to forget that Freire couldn't stand his time in the U.S. He hated being around the rich, White suburbanite class of teacher educators. Lets try to accomplish Yes! Magazine's suggestion number five, and help the rich White suburbanites return to their cities, where they might work to make their own homes better rather than decimating mine.