Brenda and I are rolling down the rails on the Silver Star, bound for New York City, where I’ll be speaking at the ERB conference tomorrow (pdf). It’s relaxing and romantic, and aside from rail work being done north of Raleigh, necessitating a bus ride for about 30 people from the city to the train station in Rocky Mount (and the fact that the bus driver got lost twice), it has been a trip without adventure — and this is a good thing right now.
What’s gotten me thinking and wanting to blog is the many small towns that we are riding through, beautifully picturesque small towns, and the sadness of seeing boarded up storefronts. Some of the towns are just next to completely abandoned. It reminds me of the town I grew up in. When I graduated, a majority of my classmates were going right into the sixteen mills in that town, destined for 35 years as lint-heads, not a bad life, and retiring with a pension and lots of grand children. All of those mills are gone now, as well as the trucking company that was headquartered there. The town continues to thrive, but its years are numbered as its children leave. It is a beautiful town, exactly what the new style of open mall is trying to emulate.
This is the issue that Richard Florida talked about here in Raleigh about a year ago, and the topic of his latest book, The Flight of the Creative Class. The children of these towns leave because they see no future there. If they see no future there, then we are not doing our jobs. The fact is that there is almost nothing that I do professionally in Raleigh that I could not do as easily in my home town. The only disadvantage would be a farther drive to the airport — and proximity to an airport is a unique condition of how I make a living.
First of all, we should be teaching our children that because of the revolution in information and communication technologies, they can be creative contributors to their communities, local and global, from their small towns. Many people do it. We should be teaching this.
Secondly, Florida discussed two aspects of where creative people live that were not intuitive, but surfaced to the top of his research into why the creative class is gravitating to certainly places (NYC and San Francisco, to mention only two in my country). One of those was aesthetic appeal. San Francisco is a beautiful city, as is New York. But so is my own home town. It is in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains, and from certain spots you can see them, purple in the distance. There was also a rich musical heritage in my town, where a giant blue-grass music festival was held for decades, talked about all over western North Carolina. It was long gone by the time I was born, but it was a heritage that should have been celebrated as part of the aesthetic appeal of the community. Are we teaching the beauty of where we live in our schools? Are we using our schooling to help make our communities more beautiful. Is this seen as a problem that we have any influence over? I think that we do. It’s why music and art must be seen as basics in our children’s education experience, not secondary to the workbot curriculum.
Third, and this is the real toughie. Florida says that the other factor that seems to draw creative people is openness, a freedom to express yourself, to be yourself. I’m not sure how to teach tolerance, how to include it in your curriculum. But I suspect that those teachers who are willing and able to give their students the opportunities to express their ideas and to engage in conversations about their experiences, their desires, their impressions and insights, withing and beyond their classrooms are possibly trail-blazing a path for us.
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