A Frustrated High School Teacher and Disinterested Students Created a Legacy

A frustrated high school teacher and disinterested students created a legacy. He asked them what would make his English class interesting. They decided to create a magazine. They planned to gather stories from their families and neighbors. They’d improve their writing skills by writing articles about what they learned. They called the magazine Foxfire. Foxfire is the name of the glowing fungus on rotted wood in their area.

Foxfire has been in continuous production since 1967. Students at Rabun County High School produce two double-issues each school year. They record oral histories and traditions, both past and current, of southern Appalachia.

The Books

The Foxfire Book was the first anthology. It compiled articles from the magazine focused on the trades, crafts, and livelihoods of the Appalachian pioneers. There are now twelve books in the anthology. Plus they have Christmas, music, cookery, and winemaking books. There are also books by local authors. Find all those books here.

Museum Shop

They have merchandise like T-shirts, coffee mugs, and tote bags in their museum shop. “Students invested royalties from The Foxfire Book to establish this extraordinary facility as a living legacy of the people whose lives and stories they chronicle and cherish.”

The Museum and Heritage Center

If you’re ever near Mountain City, Georgia visit their Museum and Heritage Center. The center showcases many handcrafted artifacts. The students have relocated ten authentic pioneer cabins plus a dozen other structures to the site.

A Teaching Method

“The Foxfire approach to teaching and learning is neither a method nor a prescription. The approach marries teacher guidance with student choice as a foundation for better learning. In this way, the first Foxfire classrooms were less about the magazine than they were about choosing to produce one.” Read more about how to apply the Firefox approach when teaching here.

They also teach heritage skills, have workshops for Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts that fulfill badge requirements, lead educational tours of the center, and offer student internships. It’s an amazing program that supports student choice and agency.

My Inspiration

I purchased a Foxfire book many years ago. Inside are stories and articles. I learned about people, preparing hog brains, building cabins, and much more. Between the lines, I found the histories of some of my family members. And from a mish-mash of those stories and memories of various family members and acquaintances, a character emerged. Gert appears in both My Soul to Keep and (briefly in) my new book, Fellowship (formerly Ian’s Trust). I’ve been told that Gert is three-dimensional. I hope so. I hope I’ve honored the folks these students have spent so much time and energy to document the legacy of the peoples of Appalachia. And it all happened because of a frustrated teacher and disinterested students.

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