SURELY THERE IS VALUE IN THE SMALL

(04/02/2009)

By Bob Weaver

At a Challenge WV conference held with the Rural School and Community Trust in Charleston, with folks from one end of America to the other, the conversation turned to simple things, valued things.

There were symposiums, conferences and trainings, but there was much more as advocates for small communities came together, in this case supporting community-based schools.

Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" reminds us that rural people think a lot about their families, the universe, the eternal. They can see the starry sky, the milky-way and beyond.

They can see each other.

Urban people, it seems, are forced to think more about themselves, living in faceless cities geared to rapid-transit lives. We shouldn't hold that against them.

Conference folks talked about their kids, their villages and towns, their neighbors, and the essence of community life - a place called home.

They feel connected.

They talked of their fear that the world is spiraling away from such a place, their four-year-old children in some communities facing long bus rides of one-and-one-half hours each way, traveling to humongous, costly cookie-cutter buildings, far removed from their community.

In West Virginia, Sen. Brooks McCabe, a real estate developer wants "economies of scale" applied to rural government, saying the state must become more "globalized." He likes that word, just like State Superintendent of Schools Steven Paine.

When community or county governments default or are eliminated, their school system goes with it.

Bigger is better, more efficient, cost saving, the power brokers say.

They say clinging to antiquated systems are hold-overs to horse and buggy days, including county boards of education.

But, surely there is value in the small.

With fewer people emotionally and spiritually connected to their place of origin, it may be easier to give up roots, community, and connectedness.

The census folks say the average family is moving and changing job sites about every five years.

Challenge's executive Director Thomas Ramey says, "In this maddening environment, Challenge WV members hold close to the values of home and community, while many politicians give lip service."

Ramey says research shows what works best for educating children, and that is in smaller community schools.

Ramey knows that political and corporate power often takes away from the smaller.

Challenge WV seeks to breathe life into our schools and communities, holding them close to their bosoms, like some clutch to diamonds and pearls.

Challenge WV's founder Linda Martin said, "When all is said and done, what really matters is the place upon which we stand."

"Our standing place is where we thrive, grow, learn, love and change," she said, "That cannot be globalized."


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