Work & (Un)Learning (Some) Rural Values

Lately I’ve been thinking not only about the things I learn from my work but also what I realize I need to unlearn. I have started to notice things and ask questions about certain ideologies and behaviors that I don’t think I would’ve otherwise. Why I do what I do? And is it good?

A lot of my work on this site seeks to provide stories that recognize and honor the beauty of rural experiences because there’s already plenty out there that positions rural communities and people at a deficit. But I know that there are some very real issues that face people who live in rural areas. I don’t mean for this to be a rose-colored glasses situation, so I wanted to think through something I’ve been working to (un)learn. 

Growing up at the intersection of rural and working-class, self-sufficiency and pride in it was something that was deeply instilled in me. There was strength in doing something myself, and it meant knowing it got done right. Even if we didn’t have much, we had our reputation and folks knew we were hard workers. Afterall, what is life if not a state of constantly bustin’ your ass? And there was definitely the belief in meritocracy—that working hard could/would get us ahead. We too could be Horatio Alger. 

Some examples: 

  • When the machine broke down at the factory, my Grandpa Bob continued to lift the parts himself to maintain his productivity. This resulted in severe back injuries and chronic pain that he actually went to special classes to learn how to manage with his mind rather than medication because the meds didn’t help. 
  • When his car was broken down and needed work, Grandpa Bob fixed it himself, lying on his back and holding a 150 lb transmission with one hand, using the other to screw it into place. 
  • Clearing a treeline, my (great) Grandpa Adam was reaching for a branch using the chainsaw one-handed when it kicked back and caught him in the neck. He clamped one hand down on the bleeding and climbed down with the other one. My (great) Uncle Dave found him and got him to the hospital where they proclaimed he saved his own life. Afterward, he refused the insurance money from the farmer he worked for until they threatened to camp out in his house until he took it. He was in his 70s. 
  • After getting his leg caught in a cornhead in November and having his lower left leg amputated, Papaw was up on a ladder clearing gutters in February. He too was in his 70s. 
  • When I started working as a pollinator at a research facility when I was 13, my Papaw worked there too. He made it very clear that I’d be in big trouble if he heard from any of the breeders or crew bosses that I was being lazy or doing a bad job. I understood the assignment and ended up suffering from heat exhaustion one day. I told no one I wasn’t feeling good and ended up passing out in the middle of a range. 

There are so many reasons for these beliefs and values that I definitely don’t have time to dig into as deeply as I’d like—perhaps a post for a different time. So, rather than talk about the various systemic, political and economic movements that led to those beliefs and values, I want to talk about how I’m learning to unlearn and nuance them.

On the surface, they don’t seem so bad, right? I mean, hard work is necessary and important, especially for folks who have and continue to occupy my family’s class position and overwhelming occupations as farmers and factory workers. I am grateful that I learned how to work hard and be proud of that work. But there’s another side to it that I’m just now beginning to think about, which is how those values have shaped the way I do(n’t) ask for support and help. 

It’s funny because I’m pretty sure my Mamaw and Papaw have both told me that there is no shame in asking for help. But if there really wasn’t then there’d be no need to say that. The idea that we can make it as individuals divorced from a collective feels like a cornerstone of the American ideal which is amplified in rural places where folks still do the kind of work the nation was built on. 

So, despite their words, I grew up knowing that asking for help was a sign of weakness, and to save others from the indignity of having to ask for help, I have learned to anticipate where someone might need help and just do whatever it looks like they’ll need done without asking. 

There are a lot of different problems with this. But for this post I wanna focus on the not asking part. 

I started this blog and the Literacy In Place website during the height of the pandemic while cobbling together a very meager salary as an adjunct professor. I thought that the market would improve and before long I’d have a tenure track position somewhere, but alas I still don’t. 

The work that I’m doing (I think and hope) provides a useful service to both teachers and teacher educators. I spend a lot of time doing it. And I enjoy doing it. My husband has been harping on me about monetizing the site to help supplement our income and I’ve been resistant to it. 


Because it feels like asking for help. 

Because since I enjoy doing the work and it provides a service to folks who don’t get paid very much in the first place, it feels wrong somehow. 

But it’s still labor that someone else will make use of, and in this capitalist society that’s just how things work. 

So, I created a “Support Us” page. I want to keep the site free and free of pesky ads that make other blogs I’ve seen unreadable, so this is my compromise. In an Amanda Palmer-esque move, I’ve decided to ask folks to contribute what they can and want to. I set up a Ko-fi account so that folks who find what I’m doing useful and want it to support monetarily can do so in any increment at any time they feel so led. 

I’ve also set up an affiliate account and storefront (which is still somewhat under construction) where folks can go to buy the books I recommend so that Literacy In Place will get a small portion of the proceeds. 

If you don’t have the means to support the site monetarily, that’s totally understandable. It’d mean an awful lot if you’d just spread the word about the work we’re doing here at Literacy In Place by engaging with our social media, following our accounts, liking, commenting, subscribing, reviewing the Reading Rural YAL podcast We have a lot of cool things going on and lots of resources to support rural teachers and students, and I hope it reaches all the people we’re making them for. 

I’ve also been partnering with other teacher-preneurs to learn more about how to earn an income while supporting teachers in classrooms and making their jobs (and hopefully lives) easier by writing curriculum that is ready to use. You can check out my latest project with reThink ELA here.

Welp, that was hard to write. So, anyway thanks for reading and being on this journey with me. 

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