Opinion

Creative Invention: Plan for the future, learn from the past

Many small colleges are struggling with low inquiry, application, and admission rates, including here in the Northeast. Rising tuitions, student loan abuses, and radical change in employment patterns have discouraged many students who then choose to bypass college and just enter the workforce at a lower level of opportunity. Now combine that thought with the fact that Vermont spends twice as much storing our social and economic fallout in jail as it does supporting its six state colleges. The chancellor and Board have begun a process to merge Johnson and Lyndon to save administrative overhead, but this is structural, and much more could be done to prepare both campuses for the new age we’re entering. It’s widely accepted that prevention …
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To Hell in a Man-basket?

Growing up in the transition from Vermont’s “Republican century” to the Democratic “sixties,” the political labels we used seemed meaningless in the many discussions I had with people of differing political ideals. I usually found commonsense and decency in their differing perspectives. The social compression of Vermont’s small towns, both in daily life and annually at town meeting, didn’t inhibit diversity of opinion on any topic. But the fact that we depended on one another in hard times, attended the same churches, traded in the same stores, and buried our dead in the same cemeteries meant we generally spoke civilly to one another, considered opposing opinions, and often found common ground. I don’t know whether it’s the inherent distance of …
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Ethics Meltdown in Legislature

The Legislature is at an impasse trying to decide whether to establish and adequately fund a statewide ethics commission that has real enforcement capability. There’s been considerable favorable testimony by Vermonters, ethicists and our secretary of state, Jim Condos, who has been a relentless champion of government transparency, inclusion and establishing such a commission. Each time VTDigger runs a story on ethics legislative testimony or ethical lapses by state officials, comments from Vermonters run almost universally in favor of establishing such a commission. Legislative arguments against it are unconvincing: In this year of budget constraints, we can’t afford another government bureaucracy ($330,000 of $3.5 billion); (less than 1/100th of a percent) Financial disclosure of possible conflicts will discourage Vermonters from …
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Middlebury Student Meltdown

Many young people are, by nature’s design, rash and impulsive and in loco parentis educators must often deal with the fallout from their students’ lack of experience. Real-life consequences and good mentoring, mature them over time or they become infantilized adults. The recent protest that turned violent at Middlebury College is likely to be a hard lesson for those students who succeeded in preventing Charles Murray from having to defend his questionable philosophies – at the price of injuring one of their own. Middlebury President Laurie Patton and Allison Stangar, the faculty member in charge of the event, had sought to promote – not the views of the controversial guest – but a diverse and open learning culture; to encourage …
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The Death Throes of the “Trickle-Down” Mantra?

We may be finally witnessing the death throes of the conservative “trickle-down” mantra that advocates for lower taxes on “job creators” and “hands-off” government regulation. This philosophy enthralled Reagan’s “moral majority,” who also challenged the rights of women and many non-whites by opposing abortion, birth control, gay marriage, voting rights, and immigration. More recently, ultraconservative factions have championed the unfettered right to carry guns anywhere, isolationism in an international world, limiting voting rights to themselves, and opposition to an inclusive health care plan. No wonder we’re seeing suicide by lifestyle and declining life expectancy among disadvantaged white men and women seduced by this hollow belief system. The question is… what will replace it? If, as Calvin Coolidge says, “the business …
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Time to Resume Teaching Civics and Begin Teaching Media Literacy

If current political events have taught us anything, it’s how vulnerable we all are to misinformation and innuendo. And if 80% of us don’t trust our own government, we must then ask how many Americans even understand how their government works or their own role in a vibrant democracy. Three quarters of Americans can’t name the three branches of government and one third can’t name even one branch. An electorate that condemns its own government without understanding its functions and purpose can hardly be counted on to participate with informed voting and advocacy. In Morrisville Junior High, we had a civics course that gave us a rudimentary sense of how government worked and instilled in us a sense of our …
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Vermont’s Ageing Legacy Systems

Vermont’s Ageing Legacy Governing Systems How we understand our complex systems affects the quality of our discussion about them, as well as any agreements we might make toward progress. Too often, we are myopic and imagine decisions we make in Vermont are the sole determinant of outcomes, when in fact our geographic boundaries mean less and less. As a friend recently pointed out, the decision by the Saud royal family to sell Aramco may have a greater impact on Vermont than all our energy management efforts combined. We are buffeted by regional, national, and global winds that have more impact on us than we understand. We are 620,000 people living on 10,000 square miles. To make progress on the challenges …
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Hearing loss? Speak up ! Stop mumbling!

Real men don’t have “hearing loss.” Their spouses just mumble as they get older. It was true for my grandfather and father, and it’s true for me.  My wife keeps telling me to go to Costco and get my hearing checked. I explain that Costco is for red meat and toilet paper. I hear perfectly well, despite 55 years waving a chainsaw around, three years of concert-sound reinforcement for rock bands, and another ten years in a recording studio control room when I was young. If people just spoke clearly, hearing loss wouldn’t be such a relentless and annoying topic of conversation. For example, my wife asks, “How ‘bout a little snuggle?” to which I answer, “Sure, if the snow …
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The Plague of Willful Ignorance

Let me start by saying that “ignorance” is a meaningless word. It’s a judgment that lacks any clarity. I grew up among many under-educated people who had more wisdom and common sense than later friends who graduated from Ivy League schools and, forty years hence, find themselves lost in a random and complex world. Nor do intellectuals have any more claim to absolute right than a wise elder, imbued with common sense and living a curious and contemplative life. So, I don’t use the term ignorant, but I consider willful – or determined – ignorance both arrogant and destructive – especially when it manifests itself as a comprehensive distrust of education, science, history, and the arts. It’s often said that …
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Vermonters Want a Real Ethics Commission

The Vermont legislature is at an impasse trying to decide whether to establish and fund a statewide Ethics Commission. There has been considerable favorable testimony by Vermonters, ethicists, and our Secretary of State, Jim Condos, who has been a relentless champion of government transparency, inclusion and establishing such a commission. Each time VTDigger runs a story on ethics legislative testimony, the comments from Vermonters run almost universally in favor of establishing such a commission. Legislative arguments against it are disingenuous: In this year of budget constraints, we can’t afford another government bureaucracy ($300,000 of $3.5 billion); Financial disclosure of possible conflicts will discourage Vermonters from government service; We’re all good people and we all know each other; What if an …
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