Productive Confrontations: School-Community Work in the Rural Rust Belt

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Objectives This paper has three objectives: 1) describe longitudinal public scholarship in the rural rustbelt, high poverty county of Stewartsville, Midwest in a postcritical ethnographer’s work with schools, teachers, and community-based organizations over four years; 2) offer examples of practices of teachers engaged in development of school-community partnerships; 3) reflexively engage the affective intensities of doing work at the intersection of public education and community engagement within this locale. Perspectives Central to framing this project are theories of spatialities – entwined social and spatial practices (Jones, Thiel, et al, 2016) –and feminist geographies that argue for contingent and infinite understanding of spaces people, alongside discursive and material mobilizations, produce (Massey, 2005). I connect these ideas to postcritical ethnographies, which are sensitive to histories of othering participants and recognize complicity within researching alongside participants and our converging/diverging responsibilities to the world (Noblit, Murillo & Flores, 2004). With these perspectives, I consider my work with teachers and community members in a (discursively constructed) neoconservative (Author, 2016; Shannon, 2014) geography and the challenges this produces when working to move beyond re-producing damaged communities (Tuck, 2009). Methods Traditional ethnographic tools and methods (e.g., field notes, interviews, observation) collide with researcher support/organization of teacher study groups, facilitation of professional development, and membership on school and community-based committees on food insecurity, literacy, and school-community partnerships. Events were documented through artifact collection, audio/video recording, and reflective journaling. Data Data includes audio/video-recorded school and community-based meetings focused on teacher work on school-community partnerships. Data also include researcher’s reflective journals and artifacts from meetings collected from 2014 to 2017. Results & Significance School-University-Community partnerships are often based on shared and horizontal orientations to social justice and human rights (Campano et al, 2010 ; Larson, 2014). The language of such goals cannot be directly translated when spatialities mobilize/are mobilized by entangled histories and inequities particular to/produced by majority white, geographically rural, and postindustrial locales (Isenberg, 2016) such as Stewartsville. Over time, the building of relationships among stakeholders point to confrontation(s) and shared goals as productive in these particular attempts at partnership. Teacher practices included individuated and shared goals for community engagement (e.g., focuses that include social justice goals such as food insecurity and character building curriculum more indicative of neoconservative agendas; reliance on church leaders and Christian narratives of philanthropy) as well as confrontations with neoliberal/accountability discourses and material expectations for teacher labor (e.g., character building as against traditional narratives of success; removing ‘teacher’ from the center of classrooms in favor of community leaders). As researcher, attending to affective intensities (Kuby, 2013) meant opportunities to move toward confrontation and coordination to support, challenge, and follow emerging partnerships with community organizations/members. For teachers and researcher, these practices were pedagogical, moral, ethical, and material, built on histories and emotional mobilizations of geography, class, and whiteness – all of which are entangled in working at the intersection of public education and community-based organizations in Stewartsville at this historical moment.

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Presented at the American Education Research Association Annual Convention on April 9, 2019 in Toronto, Canada