Five students traveled to the Clearfork Valley of Tennessee to live and learn at the Clearfork Community Institute as part the course LBAR 3910: Practicum in Liberal Arts. Zoe Davis, Gabrielle Lamplugh, Lindsay Steelman, Donna Tosh, and Taryn Wilson share a desire for adventure and an openness for experiencing rural life in former coal-mining communities that stretch along the border of East Tennessee and Kentucky.
By Dr. Mark Wilson, Director of Civic Learning Initiatives and van driver
The College of Liberal Arts at Auburn University and the Clearfork Community Institute have something very important in common: We believe that a broad education with an emphasis on the human experience is imperative for the development of ourselves as individuals and citizens. Universities place a great deal of emphasis on “texts;” communities place emphasis on place, and the lived experiences of people—especially in the rural “hinterlands”—are living texts that convey meanings that may or may not need interpretation. Take these examples from this week, some from today:
Intentional Conversations: Marie Cirillo is interested in young people in the community sharing their stories with others, so she invited some volunteers to pair up for conversation before the day began in full force. She believes local young people often feel that they don’t have something important to share with visitors, but they do, and a little prompt now and then is helpful. Student Lindsey left the conversation with Tiffany and Sam with a page full of notes. In many ways, the lives of Auburn students and the lives of CCI VIPs (Volunteers in Partnership) could not be more different. But in many ways they are the same, and discovering the commonalities can be exciting and fulfilling.
Eagan Mountain Cemetery: This afternoon student Gabby and I ventured out with three Notre Dame students up Eagan mountain to the cemetery. The drive up the mountain is astonishing, not only for the beauty, but because it lies in the midst of a a strip mine, ground zero for mountaintop removal. The area around the cemetery was once a coal camp, but now a tattered United States flag flaps in the wind over the graves of the men, women, and children who lived close to the land for so many decades. Notre Dame students performed a beautiful gravestone rubbing on Leither Herron’s headstone (1887-1922), and we will present it to someone at our potluck supper on Thursday night.
Planting a Tree: We purchased a pink dogwood tree in Middlesboro on Saturday, and students situated it in the ground near the front parking of the CCI building. As we witness so much devastation and destruction in the mountains this week, it’s nice to know we have contributed something to the Earth that will likely thrive, provide color when in bloom, and grow as strong and tall as it possibly can.
Church: We traveled down the road to Fonde, Kentucky to the Wednesday night service at the Fonde Church of God. We passed the spot where a car wreck occurred yesterday morning, killing one person on impact and injuring another. The men were heading to work, and the sharp turn at the bottom of the mountain where they flipped their car has taken the lives of many people over the years. At the service, we were welcomed with a level of hospitality reserved by most folk only for family, and we appreciated the singing, preaching, hugs, and handshakes.
The Hallway at CCI: Students who visit and work at CCI can’t help but stop and see the photography of photojournalist Jack Corn, former director of photography at the Chicago Tribune and The Tennessean. Corn is known for his work telling the stories of coal miners and coal mining communities. Students can quickly recognize people, names, and places from the area, and hopefully they can begin to see the same kind of beauty in life’s everyday experiences. The CCI building itself—one of the last of the old coal camp schools in the county—is an artifact of history, and a tool for education, young and old, residents and visitors alike.