Rural Futures Institute at the University of Nebraska


Date of this Version


Document Type



Jeanne L. Surface (2014) Introduction to Rural Educational Leadership, Peabody Journal of Education, 89:5, 567-569

DOI: 10.1080/0161956X.2014.955752


Copyright © 2014 Taylor & Francis Group, LLC. Used by permission.


Change generally emerges when the status quo no longer serves most people. It is at that point that different ideas take root and begin to direct the process of change. And where do the different ideas come from? Wendell Berry (1987) argued that they come from the periphery, which in the context of the 21st century, is the countryside. America’s educational system is not improving, and hasn’t been for decades. Despite the fact that the system flatlined with the advent of the standards and testing movement, the creation of standards and tests has reached a kind of fever pitch—with few stopping to question whether teaching to standards—teaching the same material to all students everywhere—makes any kind of sense from a learning standpoint. The fallout from our standards/testing fetish has been welldocumented: a narrowing of curriculum, inhibited curricular imagination among teachers, and a deadening drill/kill experience for youth that has contributed to a spiking drop-out rate. And there is even more insidious fallout, because a standards/testing milieu enables those interested in privatizing and corporatizing America’s educational efforts to use predictable test failures to squeeze their way into the educational arena, putting the very concept of “public” schools at risk. In short, schools are not serving most students well. Where are the ideas that will replace those that drive the status quo? Where will they come from? This issue of the Peabody Journal of Education will argue that Wendell Berry was right, that change in the educational system will come from the countryside, from rural educational leaders with a deep commitment to true education in their particular place on earth. In this issue we will highlight the critical needs and special conditions that affect rural education and we will highlight the possibilities that exist for improving the conditions that exist in all schools. Rural school leaders need to decide when to exercise their voice, and be bold and confident in the face of cultural and stereotypical characterizations of rural life and living and therefore, by extension, cultural and stereotypical characterizations regarding the worth and quality of rural education.