VPR Commentary

A Nation of Cranks?

We’ve become a nation of divided cranks. Too many of my friends have made up their mind about everything, dug in their heels, and either turned their face to the wall, as they say in hospice, or steeled themselves to fighting for their entrenched opinions. If only we lived in a simple binary world of absolutes instead of in the complicated, nuanced world where some things can be true and false at the same time. We wouldn’t need all this troublesome education, reading, art, science, and conversation. We could just eat, drink, watch television, and give those who disagree with us the digital digit. Friends send me anti-vax, anti-immigrant, anti-abortion, anti-religion, anti-wind, anti-hunting, anti-single-payer memes… the list is endless and …
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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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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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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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The Local and National Political Dialogues: a study in contrasts

I missed the opening day of the legislature and the inauguration of our new Governor. But I caught much of it on radio and read more in the dailies. Contrasting events in Montpelier with those in our nation’s capital should make Vermonters proud. Although there’s significant turnover and we’ve elected a Republican Governor and a Democratic legislature, we’ve every reason to believe we’ll be governed by thoughtful, mutually respectful people focused on the needs and wishes of all Vermonters, despite different philosophical and economic viewpoints. They’ll talk together and exhibit comity in their decision-making, as they’ve already done on several issues, including the clean-up of Lake Champlain and economic development. Contrast this with the three-ring circus playing out in Washington …
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Religions of God and of Men

There are three catchment areas for the broken among us: hospitals, public schools, and jails. Healthcare is a third of our state budget, public education another third, and jails cost twice what we spend on higher education. We must rethink our preventive investments to rein in this staggering cost of remediation. We know the “ounce of prevention” axiom but too often fail to observe it under the pressure of balancing budgets or absent courageous leadership. We must ask vexing questions about whether what we’ve been doing works – whether our investments make us stronger or simply forestall chaos. Only by analyzing and possibly redirecting our current social and economic investments will we lighten the remedial cost and, in time, lower …
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Did the traditional media really fail us?

I’ve tuned out of the endless forensic analyses of how news media failed the electorate. In fact, other than having misread the political and cultural pulse of many Americans, I’m not sure the serious news organizations failed us at all. Many were just absent. Watching a Trump supporter on the PBS Evening News say that she’d liked the idea of a woman in the White House until she learned from her sister’s Facebook page that five people Hillary knew had recently been murdered, I was curious about the news item and found its source in an article in the The Guardian. The fake news story was generated by pay-per-click entrepreneurs in Denver. They develop fake news they hope will go …
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