Small Town America and 21st Century Learning

Walking through the streets of small town, midwestern America, I’m reminded again of perspective. This year, I’ve been reading, discussing, tweeting, blogging about 21st century learning. I’m reading Ken Robin’s book now, Out of Our Minds, about creativity and how that’s what direly needed in today’s education because the world is changing. Fast.

Broken Bow, Nebraska

But, I’m walking through a small town in Nebraska named Broken Bow. It’s a friendly town. On the town square, they’re selling fireworks from a trailer run by the BBVFD (Broken Bow Volunteer Fire Department). We buy some because they’re cheap and look like fun. A kid there offers to loan us 4 cents if we need more money.

This is a town of old, rambling house with wraparound porches and wooden stairs that sag from humidity and heat. In a town of  3,600, there are 19 churches of all denominations. Bikes are scattered throughout yards–signs of children running off to video games, dinner, ice cream trucks. Pigeons coo from rooftops. Pickup trucks line the town, large oak trees shade green lawns. God Bless America signs, flags waving for the 4th of July. Plastic lawn furniture, set with plastic plates for a family of four. As I walk around in the already sweltering morning humidity, old men with bellies hanging over their belt buckles, say good morning. It’s a quiet Friday morning.

House in Broken Bow, Nebraska

I walk past storefronts of insurance agencies, lawyers, plumbers, a mortuary. A man this morning is driving around town in a small cart with a paint sprayer. He’s fixing up the lines on crosswalks–repainting them. Construction workers in hard hats are sitting in their pickup drinking coffee before they head off to their site.

School’s out for summer. They’ve been out since May 29th. Kids come in gangs to buy homemade cinnamon rolls from the local bakery. Are they thinking about 21st century learning? Is anyone here thinking about it. Are they thinking we need a revolution in education? I honestly have no idea. Are they preparing for new jobs? Is everything changing?

Home in Broken Bow, Nebraska

Things here seem the same as they did in the small towns in Iowa that I’ve visited with my husband’s family for the last 20 years. On the surface, everything seems the same. It’s harder to see the radical changes that are going on here than they are in Tokyo.

I’ve got family who work as plumbers, welders, in construction, at pork processing plants. Have those jobs changed radically? Won’t we still need all of those jobs? Does everyone need a revolution?


2 thoughts on “Small Town America and 21st Century Learning

  1. Great point. Here in Boise, you might do the same walk and think the same thing depending on where you chose to walk. This past year, we have had the ED Sessions – three talks on the education revolution by three different people: Sir Ken Robinson talked about the need to creatively engage students through passionate learning experiences and how the need for engaging all students in education was our biggest priority. This was followed up by Mike Rowe of “Dirty Jobs” who talked about skills. His pet peeve was that people described the acquisition of plumbing, welding, construction and pork processing skills as “an alternative education” – alternative to what? He described himself as an addict – addicted to electricity, running water – and probably processed pork! He described people in his family who did these jobs and how passionate they were about doing them.
    The “revolution” is that as institutions, schools need to recognize that passion comes in all shapes and sizes and that education is education – wether Ivy League or Pork Processing 101 is where it’s at. As Mike described it, by “pushing” college education to those kids who dont have a passion for it, we are doing everyone a disservice – which is evident when you hear the stats about the desperate need for skilled ‘blue collar’ workers.

  2. I’ve run across your blog a couple of times, but this post stuck out. You were in Broken Bow Nebraska? However you teach in Japan. How did that happen? The culture difference couldn’t be more distinct.

    Many people in the United States, and internationally are surprised, and culturally jolted, when they visit the Midwest. They expect the US to be cities, urban sprawl, bustling with business and commuter traffic.

    What is actually true is the vast majority of land in the US is rural. The neighborhoods you walked through could be any neighborhood in just about any state in the country. But we’re not vocal about it.

    This week will be the 4th of July Independence Day celebrations in Murdock Nebraska. For two hours the town will triple in size and an hour long parade will pass down a three block long Main Street. If you’re still in the state Wednesday and don’t have plans head south of I-80. I’ll show you another small town with big town pride.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s