Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Marlboro College and Community Politics

This past weekend, I went down to Marlboro College in Southern Vermont, where I graduated from in Southern vermont in 1998. It was parent's day and I had volunteered to be part of a panel discussion about, "What happens after Marlboro?" Marlboro is not your typical college. It's not even your typical small liberal arts college. This college, which is about to celebrate it's 60th birthday has a student population that hovers around 300, largely self-designed majors, and tutorial style classes that encourage intellectual dialogue. Marlboro is one of the few colleges that has continued to focus on its mission, which is quoted below.

"The goal of Marlboro college is to teach students to think clearly and to learn independently through engagement in a structured program of liberal studies. Students are expected to develop a command of concise and correct English and to strive for academic excellence informed by intellectual and artistic creativity; they are encouraged to acquire a passion for learning, discerning judgement, and global perspective. The college promotes independence by requiring students to participate in the planning of their own programs of study and to act responsibly within a self-governing community."

Guess what? They actually fulfill their mission. Unlike other colleges that are focusing on building fancy student centers that resemble an elite country clubs so that students aren't "bored" by the proces of intellectual development, Marlboro actually focuses on creating the type of learning community that is the root of successful democracy. When they say "self-governing community", they mean it. There is a town meeting once a month that all community members including staff, faculty, and students, are invited to attend. The image below is from a town meeting in 2004 and came from the photo gallery at Marlboro's website. There is student select board elected through the town meeting. When I was there, I was on the admissions committee and actually had a real vote. If the idea of giving college students this type of power makes you nervous, perhaps you should pay a visit to the Marlboro College website www.marlboro.edu and see how seriously students take their role in the community and their academic studies. It is pretty well known in basic psychology that there is a direct correspondence between people's behavior and how you treat them. If you treat college students like rebellious adolescents, that is how they will behave. If you treat them like young citizens, they act as such.

So, what is the link between graduating from Marlboro and my current perspective on community politics. Politics, like higher education, has been "dumbed down". Most politicians speak in bullet points and when the occasional politicians begans showing intellect through discussions on real policy issues, they are often criticized for not reaching out to the general public. If the general public can only think in bullet points and make decisions based on charm, maybe we need to re-think civics education from kindergarten straight through college. Let's see, the educational "philosophies" (I put this in quotes because the word philosophy implies that there is some substantial thought put into an idea) that our currently being promoted through such educational policies as No Child Left Behind (NCLB), undermines autonomy and critical thinking at every turn. There is a huge amount of funding for early literacy, as there should be, but adolescent literacy, aka comprehension, is not funded. It is critical that students learn to read and it is equally, if not more important that they are able to understand and question what they are reading. Not surprisingly, George Bush, who clearly lacks comprehension skills himself, is pushing to raise a generation of readers who lack comprehension skills. He has a personal investment in NCLB because it is voters who lack comprehension skills, but are still able to read simple bullet points, that will continue to support unknowingly a government that goes to war on false pretenses.

I had the pleasure of attending another event for Scudder Parker scudderparker.com , democratic candidate for Vermont governor, this evening at the Labor Hall in Barre. Scudder Parker, instead of "dumbing down" politics to the supposedly ignorant masses, is committed to "smarting up" voters by explaining how he plans to help Vermonters through "concise and correct English". Scudder Parker is the type of candidate that knows how smart Vermonters are and provides them with the informaton they need to make informed decisions at home, in their community, and at the polls. He sees the roots of the "affordability crisis" in Vermont and explains how he plans to make Vermont more affordable through energy efficiency initiatives, real health care reform, and a commitment to education for all Vermonters. A 3% wage increase is not sufficient these more deep rooted issues and he knows that. Furthermore, Scudder represents the democratic Vermont community that I learned how to participate in at Marlboro College. I look forward to being an active member of this larger, but equally committed and intelligent state-wide democratic community. Vote for Scudder Parker on November 7th and you might get the chance to experience a real democracy.


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