Globally, rural regions have been at the center of national development initiatives that promise increased agricultural productivity. These development programs are often embedded with implicit assumptions of so-called modernization, in which rural communities are assumed to disappear as countries become more urbanized and technological innovations allow for a transition to large-scale industrial agricultural production—with subsequently less need for rural workers. Rural schooling has generally reinforced this vision, with inferior infrastructure, limited funding, and curriculums transplanted from cities to the countryside with little consideration for rural livelihoods. Rural schooling has become synonymous with a means for local youth to leave their rural communities and pursue urban dreams.

Nonetheless, this vision of rural communities as a remnant of the past has also been fiercely contested, by indigenous groups, agrarian movements, peasants, farmers, migrant workers, and other rural populations through Latin America, Africa, Asia, Europe, and North America. Furthermore, the disastrous effects of climate change have put into the question the sustainability of interminable urbanization, industrialization, and economic growth. Some rural communities have proposed alternative rural development paradigms, including agro-ecology, food sovereignty, small-family farming, agricultural cooperatives, fair trade coffee, organic farming, sustainable fisheries, and much more. Rural schooling is directly implicated in these processes of agrarian change and rural development.

In some countries, such as Brazil, governments have passed laws that acknowledge the interconnection between rural education and rural development. In this case, over the past thirty years, agrarian movements have pressured the government to defend rural communities’ right to schools located in their communities that promote sustainable rural futures, an educational approach known as Education of the Countryside. One document written by leaders of a large peasant movement to stimulate debate about this topic, states: “There is a dominant tendency in our country, due to exclusion and inequality, to consider the majority of the population in rural areas as backwards and outside of the project of modernity” (Kolling et al., 1999, p. 21). In contrast, Education of the Countryside supports a new vision of rural development encompassing agrarian reform, family-led agriculture, agroecology, agrarian cooperatives, food sovereignty, and the commercialization of local produce (p. 22). “It is only possible to work towards a basic education of the countryside if it is connected to the process of constructing a popular project for Brazil, which necessarily includes a new development proposal for the countryside and the guarantee of educational access for all populations in the countryside (Kolling et al., 1999, pp. 77). In 2001, the Brazilian government passed legislation defending this agrarian and educational vision. Thus, in Brazil, the government has publically acknowledged the relationship between rural schooling and an alternative development proposal for rural communities. Nonetheless, the implementation of these educational policies varies widely throughout the country and is often contested by agrarian elites who have their own vision of Brazil’s agrarian future—and schools’ role in achieving that vision. 

This CREC initiative will explore the implicit and explicit connections between rural schooling and rural development, in diverse agrarian regions throughout the world. The initiative will bring together scholars who are studying the intersection of rural schooling and development, from Pennsylvania to Croatia, to Brazil.


Kolling, E. J., Nery, I., & Molina, M. C. (Eds.). (1999). Por Uma Educação Básica do Campo.Brasília: Fundação Universidade de Brasília.

 Relevant Publications from CREC associates include:

Tarlau, R. Occupying Schools, Occupying Land: How the Landless Workers Movement Transformed Brazilian Education (forthcoming at Oxford University Press in the Global and Comparative Ethnography series).

Tarlau R., & Pahnke, A. (Co-editors). (2015), Special issue on “Rural Social Movements in Brazil,” Journal of Peasant Studies.

Tarlau, R. (2015). Education of the countryside at a crossroads: Rural social movements and national policy reform in Brazil. Journal of Peasant Studies, 42(6), 1157-1177.

Meek, D. K., Bradley, B., Ferguson, L., Hoey, H., Morales, P. Rosset, & Tarlau, R. (2017). Food sovereignty education across the Americas: Multiple origins, converging movements. Agriculture and Human Values.

Mariano, A., Hilário, E., & Tarlau. R. (2016). Pedagogies of struggle and collective organization: Educational practices of the Brazilian landless workers movement. Interface, 8(2): 211-242.

Pahnke, A., Tarlau, R., & Wolford, W. (2015). Understanding rural resistance: Contemporary mobilization in the Brazilian countryside. Journal of Peasant Studies, 42(6): 1069-1185.

Meek, D., & Tarlau, R. (2015). Critical food systems education and the question of race. Journal of Agriculture, Food Systems, and Community Development, 5(4), 131–135.