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Letter to the editor: Closing schools would kill towns

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Posted on May 6, 2019 |
By Bill McKibben



I have been away working on climate issues, and so missed the editorial of April 25 in essence advocating for the closure of local elementary schools. I believe others have responded to the funky numbers about “classroom utilization” and so on, and have described the benefits of smaller schools for educational opportunity. So let me focus on the question of community, from my position as a resident of Ripton.

Vermont’s small towns are its glory. For centuries they have been independent and resilient, and able to reproduce themselves generation upon generation. A school is obviously a key part of this process, and so they have been maintained in centuries far poorer than ours. Those who would now close those schools would kill those towns. The death will not be fast or obvious — more like a slow-acting poison that will play out over many years, sapping communities of their vitality. This may be especially obvious in Ripton, given its geography: sentencing kids to an entire school career of commuting up and down the mountain will soon maroon the town.

I suspect that the editor realizes this at some level, hence the hand-waving in his editorial about “state of the art tech centers for adult education” or “telecommuter hubs.” I would be willing to bet these are empty words signifying nothing except a bit of shame at abandoning towns; if they are instead real, these proposals should obviously be explored and offered before the decision is taken to close schools, not after.

There’s, ironically, an analogy here to what’s happened in American journalism. In the same name of fiscal “reality” we’ve lost most of the small town newspapers and radio stations that once knit communities together, replacing them with larger and less responsive institutions and the result has not been a citizenry given a “needed boost” into a larger world. Instead it’s been an impoverished media environment, with a thousand stories left untold.

The Addison Independent is a very happy exception to this rule. I give thanks twice weekly that it has not been “consolidated” into some larger project, and instead serves as the lifeblood of our communities. I have no doubt that it takes talent and will to allow it to survive against the current, just as it would take talent and will to support our schools. If the Indy comes under threat, I for one will do what I can to help see it survive.

I wish it would do the same for the communities it has long served.

Bill McKibben

Ripton

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