February 10, 2024
I completed this study of the Pine Plains Central School District in 1974, exactly fifty years ago. I had taken graduate courses in both anthropology and education, written a master’s thesis on a bilingual elementary school in Manhattan, and taken a series of “comprehensive exams.” This was the last requirement for my doctorate at Columbia University. The study reflected a year spent with teachers, students, and staff in Pine Plains Senior High School and the surrounding community. (It took me several hours every evening to type up my notes on what I had observed.) Since most of the one-room schools, though no longer used, were still visible, I photographed them and curated a small exhibition as a way to thank the community. Throughout, my goal was to move forward our understanding of such important educational issues as school centralization and changing theories of teaching and learning.
Stan Hirson is a filmmaker and a longtime resident of many talents, who hosts a lively website on Pine Plains. Several months ago, he heard about my study and thought it might be interesting to people currently living and working in Pine Plains. With the thought of posting the study on Stan’s website, we began discussing what needed to be done to make the world I had depicted fifty years ago easy to enter and read about.
As you will likely have noticed, both my name and the name of the school district are different on the cover and within the study. Like many women, my name in the text is the name resulting from an early marriage; however, Ascher is the name I have used for the past forty years. As for Green Valley, I followed the general rule of academic studies in changing both Pine Plains and the names of everyone I mentioned in my study. It was thought then, and is still generally believed, that this protects study participants from unwanted exposure and turns what might seem idiosyncratic to a town or school district into an analysis that might be applicable under similar conditions anywhere.
To acquire a doctoral degree, the candidate must contribute to the topic under study. My study aimed to show how school centralization had brought with it a decline in the authority of both principals and teachers. However, reading a literature review can be a heavy slog, and I encourage any reader who wishes to skip either or both of the literature reviews: the first from page 16 to the bottom of page 20, and the second from page 248 to the middle of 276.