Bittinger: Reason For Hope

Jan 4, 2018

I wrapped up the fall semester at the Community College of Vermont by asking my students to react to “Imagining Vermont,” a report from the Vermont Council on Rural Development. It was a Vermont History Course and since it was online, it drew students from across the state, who concluded their study with thoughts about both their own future and that of the state.

Many place a high value on hard work. They’d learned about the first farmers who came up to Vermont from Southern New England to settle and prosper. One student wrote, “As it pertains to Vermont, this land would never have been settled had people not had the nerve to engage the landscape and climate head-on and with all their strength.”

Students praised the work ethic they witnessed in their own lives and the sense of community they felt in their towns.

Of course, some complained about the high cost of housing and lack of job opportunities here, but most weren’t convinced that the grass would be greener where there was less snow and warmer temperatures.
Many embraced multiculturalism.

One student wrote that “Vermont is learning to understand and value the different ways to make people feel united regardless of their religion, race, gender, or partners.”

They’d learned about the history of women, Native Americans and African Americans in Vermont – and how it differed substantially from the standard narratives of leaders like Ethan Allen and George Aiken. Hopefully, with a fuller understanding of the challenges so many have faced here, my students will feel empowered to make a difference as well.

These students were also asked to ponder if Vermont should secede from the country. Bill McKibben’s new fictional book, Radio Free Vermont, includes that idea. But my students were mostly optimistic.

Some were high school students, some were changing careers in their 30s, and others were lifelong learners. Yet the prevailing attitude could be summed up by an 18 year old who wrote, “I believe that our priorities should be to always try to make life better for future generations.”

Another expressed the belief that “Vermont will bring a more eco- and family-oriented voice to government.” And yet another observed that she had met people from out of state who considered Vermont to be just a bunch of tree huggers - which she concluded, “…we are” and declared she was proud to be one.