Tuesday, June 7, 2011


Goose Rock Elementary is where many of the children around Red Bird Mission attend (many also choose to attend Red Bird Mission School, which is funded by United Methodists around the U.S.). Goose Rock's fine facilities and many fine teachers make it an opportunity for good education.

One thing that surprised me during our year in Kentucky was the abundance of educational opportunities for youth from the mountains. The Washington pork machine under Hal Rogers (also commonly known as The King of Pork to the media) has funneled millions of dollars into the region, funding road construction, an airport, building schools, etc… One is simply struck by the newness and niceness of schools throughout the region. Drive across Appalachia—through southeast Kentucky and into Virginia, for example—and you can see the difference in schools and other infrastructure that show how southeast Kentucky has benefited greatly from the largesse of Washington.

Youth from the mountains have so much going for them educationally. They have beautiful buildings in which to learn. They have “Save the Children” in these buildings providing after-school tutoring free of charge. In at least our area, a local (coal-based) foundation pays for dental care & some healthcare needs, either visiting children at school or busing them to the doctor without charge. Preschools are commonly provided without charge; Red Bird’s was a quality program licensed by the state and directed by a professional. Every town of any size at all has a junior college, a technical school, or a satellite of one of the state’s universities—sometimes all of them. And just up Highway 75 sits Berea College, the best-endowed school of its size in the nation, providing a free education for regional youth. So many scholarships are available for Appalachian youth that the area attracts or retains some families cashing in on the opportunities.

And so I was puzzled to hear so much talk about lack of educational opportunities in the area. I heard the talk at Red Bird, where devotion to its school reaches zealot proportion. I heard the talk when I traveled out of the region to churches, where well-meaning congregants were anxious to do their part to help mountain children get an education. It seemed to me somewhat like begging in the Garden of Eden. Everything is in place for educational achievement and yet the rates of graduation and higher education remain abysmally low within mountain communities. This low achievement is not for lack of the amount of money and energy poured into education from the outside. (During my year at Red Bird the cost to run its school was about $1.8 million, almost all of which was donated monies.) I suspect, instead, that this is an inside issue and requires much more than money to solve. This one is about values and will. When enough people in the mountains decide that education is important, things will change. When the will that values education grows large enough, the children of these hollers will flourish.

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