Bob Cornett, a former state budget director for Kentucky, describes himself as a "retired bureaucrat." But as a parent, grandparent, and a person who has been involved in education reform for more than 20 years, he's come to understand that, if public education policies are to be corrected, the impetus has to come from the citizenry.
In this report, Cornett describes his journey to this realization, formed in part by observing how the small communities in Eastern Kentucky learn and educate. In Linefork, Kentucky, for example, an intergenerational community project aims to restore the American chestnut tree to the surrounding forests and has allowed the older community members to share their cultural legacy with the young people growing up there.
Bob and his family have put on the Festival of the Bluegrass in Lexington, Kentucky, for more than 40 years, and he writes of the opportunities such festivals can provide by making use of traditional music in the education of young people. The Wise Village Pickers, from Stanton, Kentucky, is a bluegrass group made up of school children, from kindergarten to fifth grade. Every year, the group performs at the festival. Cornett writes, "Our rural musical legacy can be a powerful tool for strengthening communities. . . . young people learn much better when they are active participants in things that matter in their communities."
Seeing the failure of top-down approaches to education reform, Cornett advises, "We citizens need to do everything we can at the community level to encourage and support professional educators who are committed to making students active partners in learning. . . . with our support, those educators will be better able to resist the pressures from the top-down hierarchies. But there is another reason for citizens to work hard to connect with educators. The field of education, at its best, has much to offer to the learning that communities need to do. The Linefork community, to use my favorite example once again, is being educated. It is learning about itself. The best of our nation's educators have know-how that can contribute to a community's learning about itself."