Reconnecting Roots: Rory Feek's School of Community
Mar. 21, 2019
Written by: Ryan Estabrooks
Rory Feek: songwriter, performer, author, movie director. He’s built a career working across many different art forms. But lately, he’s been building something entirely different - a one-room schoolhouse. Of course, we had to wonder, why build your own school in this day and age?
We caught up with Rory at his famous barn, which sits right across the street from his new schoolhouse. In fact, the barn can be seen as a bit of a test run, being built years before the schoolhouse.
Many fans came to know Rory Feek as part of the country music duo, Joey + Rory. They starred in “The Joey + Rory Show”, which was a variety TV series that brought people closer to them for several seasons.
(Fun fact: Gabe, who hosts “Reconnecting Roots”, also hosted “The Joey + Rory Show”)
Fans got to watch them perform live, catch a glimpse of their life touring the world and even learned a few new recipes. And a big part of it was filmed at their barn, which was recently renovated.
“I’m just starting to do more concerts,” Rory said. “And so we took about two years off, not doing anything in here, and now we’re doing concerts about one weekend a month.”
After showing us the new lobby and stages areas, Rory walked us over to his schoolhouse so we could get a peek into what one of these traditional buildings looks like in 2019. Part of the reason as to why he wanted to construct his own school comes from memories of his childhood experiences.
“For me personally, we moved around a lot when I was a kid,” Rory explained. “So we went to some schools that were small, some that were huge. And I pretty much stayed lost the whole time.”
Getting “lost” in the school system is a fear pretty common to both parents and students. As education budgets get cut, class sizes tend to expand. Personalized education becomes harder and it's easy to understand how students can feel looked over.
“There was one season of my life when we lived in a small town [outside of Kansas],” said Rory. “And there were only about 17 kids in the class. It’s the best experience that I had in school.”
Rory talked about how his two older daughters went to their schools simply because they were the schools “that the bus took them to”. But now, with a younger daughter gearing up for a life of learning, he feels like he can play more of a role in her education. Hence, a new schoolhouse that not only his daughter can attend, but also children of like-minded parents in the community.
“Community” is a big part of the one-room schoolhouse experience. When the United States of America was still in its infancy, small towns were cropping up everywhere. And the first building that was developed tended to be the one-room schoolhouse. This naturally meant that parents and many local citizens were involved in the creation and use of the buildings along with the education of the children.
For Rory’s schoolhouse, he plans to involve members of his community to share their unique knowledge with the students. He told us about a neighbor who can teach the kids how to crochet and quilt, another neighbor who happens to be a cowboy who can teach them to rope, and a local beekeeper who can teach them how to raise bees and harvest honey.
Having members of the town/city help with their children’s education is one way Rory’s schoolhouse is following the model of America’s classic one-room schools. These schools usually had a class size smaller than most. You can find entire grades containing 80-100 students at a given public elementary school - sometimes even more. But in one room schoolhouses, you typically count no more than 80 kids for the ENTIRE school. On top of that, all grade levels are usually taught by just one teacher, although older students are expected to help teach the younger ones.
So what does a typical day look like at Rory’s one-room school?
“I think they’re going to have a garden here,” he says. “So I think they’re going to raise their own food. There’s a kitchen in there, I think they’re going to cook their own food. We get a chance to do things here that you wouldn’t get to do in a lot of schools. Which is gardening, sheep, chickens, and horses.”
Rory’s vision for his school is one that teaches components of a core education - reading, writing, and arithmetic - but goes beyond, teaching core values that exist in their local community. It’s a way for new generations to connect with the older ones, soaking up knowledge and experience that you can’t always find in books.
At their peak in 1919, one-room schoolhouses numbered close to 200,000 in America. As of now, there are roughly 200 of them...but you can add one more to that list, which Rory hopes will continue to grow.