By Dillon Johnson
Growing up locally, I was excited and nervous to discover where I’d be placed for my teaching residency. There are many things you may think that you know about a place until you actually spend significant time in it. Sadly, the reputation of Oroville I conceived as a child revolved around crime, drugs and poverty. To this day, when someone says they live in Oroville to someone who lives outside the area there seems to be undertone of shame or embarrassment because of this reputation. But when I found I was placed at Oroville I was thrilled because my personal opinion of Oroville has gradually changed over time, I no longer view it as the same place as I did growing up. As an aspiring educator, Oroville has everything I’m looking for in refining my teaching praxis.
My dad, brother, and I spent a lot of time hunting, fishing, and golfing growing up. Locally, the best place to do that was in the Oroville area, as it is home to the approximately 12,000 acre Oroville Wildlife Refuge near the Feather River and Thermalito Afterbay, the second largest reservoir in California, Lake Oroville, and our favorite golf course located on Kelly Ridge, which overlooks the lake. Much of the time I saw the absolute beauty of the areas immediately surrounding Oroville area, without spending much time in the actual town. These experiences will live with me forever and I owe that to Oroville. Unfortunately, it still took me some time to realize that Oroville truly had an undeserving bad reputation.
A year ago I had the opportunity to work in downtown Oroville. Much of the poor reputation that I still held regarding Oroville was washed away at this time. I was the market manager for the Wednesday Night Farmers Market that took place in the middle of historic downtown Oroville. I met so many people with such genuine belief in their community. A farmers market is an absolutely amazing opportunity to learn about community members. Many small businesses and organizations volunteered time helping promote and facilitate the market. I found many people were dedicated to their community and took pride in the place they called home.
I recently had the opportunity to meet with Wilma Compton, the interim president of the Oroville Chamber of Commerce (OCC). She enlightened me to many aspects of the Oroville area. The main goal of the OCC is to advocate for business and promote economic vitality. This doesn’t directly align with promoting education, but many of the businesses work with students and youth to build community ties. One of the most interesting things she mentioned aligned with my newfound notion of Oroville, she claimed that “Oroville does an amazing job at hiding all of its cool stuff” (W. Compton, personal communication, June 21, 2018). I couldn’t agree more, the small city has a lot to offer. She believes the “heartbeat” of the community lies in its physical beauty, access to the outdoors and the area’s overall livability.
Oroville isn’t without its problems. It faces many similar issues that rural communities face regarding poverty and education. Less than 10% of the population holds a college degree, and over 25% of the population lives in poverty. This is significant in comparison to California average of over 30% and under 15%, respectively. In addition, the median household income in Oroville is extremely low in comparison to the rest of California, at $35,457 and $63,783, respectively (Untied States Census, 2018). Oroville also has a significant amount of welfare recipients, which isn’t uncommon in rural area that has economic fluctuation due to the influx and outflow of skilled workers because of large projects or opportunities such as the Oroville dam.
I understand that rural communities like Oroville are faced with some obstacles, are victims of oppression, and lack some of the perspective that is gained in larger communities. I also believe that due to the nature of rural life, there are many positive aspects that people fail to notice. Ultimately, my hope for rural education is to identify and build upon what I view as natural strengths and mitigate the natural weaknesses.
One of the natural strengths of a rural community is the potential for place-based education (PBE). Smith (2002) argues that PBE is a possible remedy to the problems rural education faces, as it provides insight to local employment opportunities and grants students a greater sense of purpose in their community and education. Woodhouse and Knapp (2000) elaborate, “…one of the most compelling reasons to adopt place-based education is to provide students with the knowledge and experiences needed to actively participate in the democratic process” (p. 4). Ultimately, PBE allows students to promote their own curiosity and become educated about the natural world, which Smith (2002) states all children have an innate interest in.
Oroville is an absolutely amazing area to practice place-based education, and science is an excellent subject area to effectively do so. The Feather River supports a rich biodiversity of native flora and fauna, and provides a perfect backdrop for an ecology course. The Oroville Dam is a wonderful location to learn about hydropower, natural resource economics, and human impact. Oroville is also home to the Feather River Fish Hatchery, which allows students to explore ecosystems and reproduction biology.
Edmondson and Butler (2010) state “…the statistics and problems that urban and rural communities face share many similarities” (p. 151).I feel that those “problems” are actually easier to resolve in a rural environment. Much of rural America is working class. I believe with that comes the lack of overentitlement and privilege that seems to be all too common in modern America. I believe growing up in a rural community organically fosters resilience and appreciation for aspects in life such as relationships, not assets. Theobald and Wickencamp (2017) claim that “we’ve made the economic question primary in this country, and that represents an obstacle to anyone attempting to engender deep level thinking about the educational enterprise” (p. 136). I view rural education as the easier avenue to advocate for this concept along with social justice by the natural amicability that exists in rural communities. There are deep-rooted values in rural areas, some families never plan to leave rural America, others have consciously moved from urban areas to obtain a greater sense of community and relation to these values - although they are knowingly sacrificing a higher income.
Upon reading into how educational philosophers and practitioners view rural America, it bothers me that they don’t seem to mention any of its strengths. I want to teach in a rural community. I grew up in one and have always valued that. It is part of my identity and I believe many people underestimate the advantages of the strong sense of community a rural area has the ability to develop. My positive outlook on rural communities mainly is founded upon the potential to make a meaningful difference. It may be selfish of me, but in urban areas I feel an overwhelming sense of insignificance and lack of purpose. In a rural community, there is often a shared sense of struggle, as well as common goals, and with that more meaningful relationships are created. I look forward to taking on the challenges of rural education faces and bring to light some of the benefits that I think are overlooked all too often.
California Department of Fish and Wildlife: Oroville Wildlife Area. (2017, July 20). Retrieved from https://www.wildlife.ca.gov/Lands/Places-to-Visit/...
City of Oroville: Quick Facts. (2018). Retrieved from http://www.cityoforoville.org/about-us/city-quick-...
Edmondson, J. & Butler, T. (2010).Teaching school in rural America: Toward an educated hope. In K. Schafft & A. Youngblood Jackson (Eds.) Rural education for the twenty-first century: Identity, place, and community in a globalizing world (150-172). University Park, PA: Penn State Press.
Smith, G. (2002). Place-based education: Learning to be where we are. Phi Delta Kappan 83 (8). Retrieved from http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/003172...
Theobald, P. & Wickencamp G. (2017). Everyday practices of social justice and education: An interview with Dr. Paul Theobald. Journal of Critical Thought and Praxis, 6 (2), 136-139.
Woodhouse, J., & Knapp, C. (2000). Place-based curriculum and instruction: Outdoor and environmental education approaches. ERIC Digest.
United States Census Bureau: Quick Facts: Oroville City, California. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.census.gov/quickfacts/fact/table/ca,or...