The book examines the Arthurdale School, which was created during the Great Depression and dedicated to the purpose of building community and preparing students for participation in democratic society. In an effort to relieve the suffering resulting from the Depression, Congress passed the National Industrial Recovery Act in 1933, and, as part of the act, $25 million was given to President Roosevelt and Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes to build subsistence homestead communities. Subsistence homesteads were designed to give people enough land to farm and provide for their food for their own use. These New Deal reformers also believed that the subsistence homestead could build a sense of community, alleviating the alienation resulting from economic displacement. Seeking sites for the social experiment to begin, Eleanor Roosevelt visited the coal camps in north central West Virginia. Feeling sympathy for the plight of these Appalachian people, and aware of the political unrest in the area, she returned to Washington and convinced her husband that these devastated coal families needed to be chosen to develop the first subsistence homestead community, Arthurdale. She also believed that the children of the displaced miners needed a special kind of education, one grounded in the philosophy of progressive education. Education was to serve as the center of community life, a process that brought people together in a sense of ownership and a restored sense of human dignity.