ERIC Identifier: ED308057
Publication Date: 1989-03-00
Author: Olmstead, Kathryn
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on
Rural Education and Small Schools Charleston WV.
Touching the Past, Enroute to the Future: Cultural Journalism
in the Curriculum of Rural Schools. ERIC Digest.
A growing number of publications today identify
the significance of cultural heritage in our lives. Perhaps their concern is for
vanishing traditions, skills, or views of the world. Perhaps their concern is
more for where modern humans, both as individuals and collective beings, are
headed. Most likely, understanding our cultural heritage addresses both
concerns. In any case, concern for these issues is widespread. For example: The
Christian Science Monitor routinely augments world news with articles that
examine the diverse cultures touched on by the news. In a new book,
correspondent Nicholas Daniloff writes of his Russian heritage and compares his
experiences as a prisoner in the USSR to those of his great-great-grandfather.
Around the nation, magazines inspired by Foxfire combine the techniques of oral
history and photography to portray cultures that are unique and values that are
universal. All of these publications use cultural journalism. In cultural
journalism authors chronicle the traditional skills and values of many different
groups, defined perhaps by ethnic origin, occupation, or environment (as, for
example, people living in remote rural or wilderness areas). Whether in
community-based publications for specific audiences or in widely circulated
books, newspapers, and magazines, cultural journalists examine the ways of
living that make a region or cultural group unique. Perhaps most significantly,
cultural journalists are apt to find in their examinations ideas relevant to the
present and the future.
WHY CULTURAL JOURNALISM?
As the world grows smaller, the
mutual understanding of diverse groups of people becomes more important to peace
and cooperation. Cultural journalism is a vehicle to promote such understanding.
Eliot Wigginton (1985, p. 75) asks, "If [students] could be brought to a genuine
understanding of their own culture and race and background, would they then be
in a position to be more curious about--and understanding and sympathetic
toward--other races and cultures and backgrounds?"
Wigginton clearly believes this is the case. As a microcosm of world
cultures, the United States is a unique resource for cultural journalists who
can begin with their own families and communities to interpret the significance
of the diverse origins of cultures and peoples.
HOW DID CULTURAL JOURNALISM ORIGINATE AND EVOLVE?
though the process is not new, the term--cultural journalism-- was first used to
describe publications inspired by FOXFIRE, a quarterly magazine produced by high
school students in rural Georgia (Wood, 1975).
Conceived in 1966 by teacher Eliot Wigginton, FOXFIRE became a diversified
project, rooted in a magazine that publishes interviews with older people in the
community. The project began as a way to breathe life into the language arts
curriculum but--in addition to teaching the skills of interviewing, writing, and
editing--has taught photography, design, and business management. As FOXFIRE
revealed more and more about traditional music, food, medicine, religion,
farming, folklore, and rural skills, Rabun County High School added courses
about the cultural heritage of the region to the curriculum, funded in part, by
Foxfire achieved national circulation late in the 1960s, and teachers
throughout the nation--and even outside it--adapted the concept embodied by the
magazine to their own students and communities. More than 150 publications had
begun by 1979 (Durst, 1980). These student publications have shown what it means
to be Puerto Rican in New York City, Black in Texas, Inuit in Alaska, Navajo in
New Mexico, French in Louisiana; what it means to live in a village or a city,
in a community of fishing or of mining families, or to live on the Great Plains
or on the ocean coast. Student-produced publications continue in at least 109
schools (Bennett, 1988), and similar projects exist outside the schools as well.
A park historian and historical society president published a pictorial history
of the Smoky Mountains (Trout & Watson, 1985) and the annual ISLAND JOURNAL,
published in Maine, portrays the essence and traditions of island life. Even in
the mass media, articles and broadcasts have increasingly documented the
influence of culture on relationships between countries as well as on groups
within countries. Perhaps the efforts of students' cultural journalism has had
WHAT FORMS CAN CULTURAL JOURNALISM TAKE IN
Cultural journalism can be produced in schools in a variety of
forms: courses, magazines, newspapers, anthologies, and various nonprint forms.
Courses. School cultural journalism can be a separate course, a component of an
existing course (typically English or Social Studies). It can encompass a
curriculum of several courses and extracurricular activities as well. The
direction and duration usually depends on the projects' teachers and advisors.
MAGAZINES. Most student projects produce magazines similar to Foxfire. They
contain articles, photographs, and drawings based on taped interviews. Formats
include 8 1/2" x 11", 7" x 10", and 6" x 9" page sizes. Typesetting may be done
by school graphic arts classes or professionals. Frequency of publication
varies. Newspapers. Some schools create a tabloid publication (for example,
MOSAIC). The advantage of this format is that it can be produced as an
independently circulated publication or as a supplement inserted in a commercial
newspaper. Anthologies. Semester- or year-long cultural journalism courses
generally have one publication as a product. Magazines published periodically
also have compiled articles into hardbound and paperback books (for example,
Wigginton & Bennett, 1986; Wood, 1988). Beyond Print. Videos, tapes,
records, radio, and television all have been used by cultural journalism
students to convey their messages. In addition, students have learned and taught
folk dances, developed the art of story-telling, and gathered for conferences on
WHAT IS THE SCOPE OF CULTURAL JOURNALISM?
Age. School projects have been effective at all levels, from fourth grade
through college. Teachers of even younger students have also been adapting the
methods of cultural journalism to their classrooms. Community groups, like
historical societies, also include all ages in cultural journalism projects, and
older people are often active in these projects. Audience. Cultural journalism
may be community-based, prepared by and for members of a community; or it may
portray a culture for a general audience. Publications sometimes, like FOXFIRE,
develop a national appeal and circulation from an original base in a local
community. Subject. Projects range from individual family histories written by
elementary school students to an eight-state study by 23 researchers on one-room
frontier schools in the Plains states (Rankin, 1981). Projects focus on schools,
towns, communities, native tribes, ethnic and national groups, entire states,
multi-state regions, and regions within a state.
WHAT ARE SOME EFFECTS OF CULTURAL JOURNALISM?
magazine provides a practical, tangible reason for students to do academic work.
Because, under skilled leadership, students enjoy the difficult work of
producing a publication, they take seriously the task of using language
effectively and correctly (Wood, 1975). Cultural journalism also has been used
with similar effect in social studies, history, business, graphic arts, and
subjects in the elementary curriculum as well.
Some teachers, like Wigginton, however, claim that the process of cultural
journalism is its educationally most important feature. This view might be
called "progressive" in accord with John Dewey's use of the term (see, for
example, Wigginton, 1985). In this view, the interaction of students with people
in the community and with each other to produce tangible evidence of their
experience together teaches students the most important lessons (thereby
enhancing, not diminishing, the importance of the skills they learn). It
involves many people--young and old together--in an affirmation of community and
Cultural journalism, then, can help nurture the mutual appreciation of
schools and communities (Howard, 1981). The publications of cultural journalism
often become sources of pride and identity for the communities they describe.
Interaction between students and their sources creates understanding that
bridges generations and, in a larger sense, different cultures. Whether produced
by students or by adults, by amateurs or professionals, cultural journalism
tries to capture in sufficient detail meaningful characteristics of a past that
might otherwise be lost.
Bennett, M. (Ed.). (1988). Updated list of
magazine projects. HANDS ON: A JOURNAL FOR TEACHERS, (31), 90-96.
Durst, M. (1980). A look back: The history of the cultural journalism
movement. JOURNAL OF EXPERIENTIAL EDUCATION, 3(1), 40-42.
Howard, L. (1981). JOURNALISM IN THE COMMUNITY CLASSROOM: A CURRICULUM MODEL
FOR CULTURAL JOURNALISM IN OKLAHOMA. Unpublished master's thesis, University of
Oklahoma, Norman, OK. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 213 018)
Rankin, D. (1981). COUNTRY SCHOOL LEGACY: HUMANITIES ON THE FRONTIER. SILT,
CO: Mountain Plains Library Association. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No.
ED 211 243)
Singer, K. (Ed.). (1988). MOSAIC: MY GRANDMOTHER'S STORIES ARE MY OWN. South
Boston, MA: Mosaic.
Trout, E., & Watson, O. (Eds.). (1985). A PIECE OF THE SMOKIES.
Maryville, TN: Smoky Mountain Historical Society.
Wigginton, E., & Bennett, M. (Eds.). (1986). FOXFIRE 9. New York: Anchor.
Wigginton, E. (1985). SOMETIMES A SHINING MOMENT. New York: Anchor.
Wood, P. (1975). YOU AND AUNT ARIE: A GUIDE TO CULTURAL JOURNALISM BASED ON
FOXFIRE AND ITS DESCENDANTS. Washington, DC: Institutional Development and
Economic Affairs Service. (ERIC Document Reproduction Service No. ED 120 090)
Cultural Journalism Publications Cited Above:
SALT is published in Kennebunkport, Maine, by Salt, Inc., and edited by P.
ISLAND JOURNAL is published in Rockland, Maine, by the Island Institute, and
edited by P. Conkling. Prepared by Kathryn Olmstead, assistant professor of
journalism, University of Maine, Orono, ME.