An Appalachian Spring: Teaching, Learning, Bridging Gaps

In spring 2017, I taught three Appalachian-themed courses at Otterbein University, a small comprehensive institution near Columbus, OH, and coordinated a festival with a “Roots: Where I’m From” theme, an explicit nod to George Ella Lyon’s poem. The courses all explored place/region and its effect on identity, but they served different populations (general education students of all majors and English majors) and different levels (first-year students, sophomores & juniors, and seniors), and they had different goals (writing competence, literary interpretation, and action, reflection, and transition skills). Few students identified as Appalachian, though some discovered Appalachian roots, but I hoped students would learn that where people are from, no matter how defined, influences who they are. True for them. True for others. At the festival, the audience saw presentations by students and faculty/staff from, among others, Greek, Somalian, Hispanic, African-American, and Appalachian backgrounds. George Ella Lyon and Pauletta Hansel gave readings and visited classes.

As we studied place, identity, writing, literature, migration, and urban Appalachians, we also dug into stereotypes, pride, adaptation, culture, community, and interactions – among Appalachians of different generations, races, classes, and backgrounds, particularly rural and urban, and between Appalachians and others. It was a rich and heady experience for this southeastern OH girl become almost-ready-to-retire professor.

In this experiential presentation, I will describe the courses (briefly!), identify methods used to help students explore their own roots and acknowledge the roots of others, and discuss what I learned about promoting understanding of Appalachians and bridging gaps between Appalachians and others.