One of the greatest advantages/positives/joys about teaching in small rural communities is the sense of community. Of course, one could argue that community can be found anywhere, not just in rural places. And, that is true. However . . . if we follow one of the founders of sociology, Ferdinand Tönnies’ definition of community, rural places do tend to have a greater sense of community than do urban places. According to Tönnies, community (Gemeinschaft) is a familial-type of social arrangement consisting of necessary relationships within a specific place. Put more simply, when we interact with the same group of people daily and over extended periods of time, we simply have to learn to get along. Especially when the group is small, we can’t just limit our associations to those with whom we might naturally agree. Understandably, close-knit communities maintain common traditions and values. For example, in Eureka, Utah where I taught music for 12 years, the Christmas Operatta was one such tradition. Each Christmas the sixth graders would put on a musical play in which each elementary grade K-5 performed a song and dance. The parents association made costumes, I taught the songs, and the classroom teachers taught the dances. For quite a few years the first grade teacher, Linda Stout, and I wrote the Operatta together–she wrote the script and lyrics and I put the songs to music. When I was teaching in the 1990?s this tradition of a Christmas Operetta was already about 100 years old. And, it was the most well-attended community event in Eureka.
The advantage of community or Gemeinschaft is that it is very effective at satisfying human needs for love and belonging. The opposite of Gemeinschaft if Gesellschaft usually translated as “society” or “civic society”and is “characterized by a high degree of individualism, impersonality, contractualism, and proceeding from volition or sheer interest rather than from the complex of affective states, habits, and traditions that underliesGemeinschaft” (Robert Nisbet, The Sociological Tradition, Basic Books, 1966). This contrast helps explain how it’s possible to feel alienated in a large city. In actuality, of course, Gemeinschaft is not strictly rural and Gesellschafturban. However, many (if not most) rural places do still tend towards community and, in my experience, and when I speak with other rural music teachers, community is usually given as one of the greatest advantages of teaching music in small rural schools.