History doesn't exactly repeat, but it does raise questions.
Example: the recent report from the American Legislative Exchange Council that Vermont ranks 49th (only New York was worse) in an evaluation of 10-year economic performance.
The report measured such things as growth in the economy, growth in personal income, even growth in population, none of the above being particularly compatible with the new Vermont ambition: anti-growth and pro-sustainability. Long before the latter noun became trendy, the State's thinkers had already envisioned a route different from the typical growth objectives, as measured by ALEC. As history would later show, it became a Golden Dome example of Robert Frost's road not taken.
With proper attribution to George Orwell and his invention, in his "1984" novel-of the governmental memory hole for the removal of inconvenient historical fact from public memory and knowledge-I can now ask this question: whatever happened to the idealistic notion of the late 1960s and early '70s that Vermont should seek its highly ranked place in history and economics by becoming the Education State?
Those were interesting years. Not just because of the influx of urban refugees from such "smart-growth" high-density enclaves such as NYC's Brooklyn or Boston's Dorchester, but to learn first-hand that green beans don't grow well in the higher elevations of the Northeast Kingdom.
The 1960s-70s was also a time when the formerly prosperous dairy industry was experiencing continuing milk-price deficits and the then pro-business private and public sectors had been compiling a fairly good record of attracting new non-farm high-tech industry in response.
The successful school district reorganization campaign of the previous decades had resulted in a host of new 750-pupil union high schools to supplement a mix of smaller public and semi-private institutions, and a new environmental movement was already beginning to argue that bringing in ever more IBMs and EverReadys wasn't clean enough for Vermont's future. Folks argued that Vermont should seek to be the Education State. It never happened. Why not?
Well, it wasn't for lack of conferences. Typically they were attended by interested private citizens, like me; all of us attended on our own nickel and governmental officials, similarly attending on our nickel via taxes, and there was a lot of enthusiasm, in those mid- and late-'60s Philip Hoff gubernatorial years.
A few of probably remember Gov. Hoff: first Democrat Vermont governor in 150 years; even more remarkable, although never media-mentioned, was that he was chosen by a Vermont electorate which hadn't yet become gentrified with their imported Volvos and "Buy Local" bumperstickers.
Typically, there was a lot of talk about the then widespread three-legged stool image of the Vermont economy: agriculture, industry, and tourism, and a lot of con jecture about an education fourth leg.
There wasn't any left versus right ideology of the contemporary sort, just a general consensus that Vermont's destiny as the Education State would be comprised of both public and private sectors.
The public sector would be building on its recent successes in installing the Goldilocks-ideal high school prototype-sized just right, with academic subjects taught at the several-in-a-county level and vocation subjects taught at the regional level, with high productivity and achievement everywhere.
The high productivity shows up in low costs: in 1960, U.S .average annual Current Expenditure (somewhat lower than total at $471) was $375 per pupil; Vermont came in at $344.
The private sector would consist of just that range of country day and boarding schools, two-and-four-year colleges, and proprietary vocational schools then sharply boosting their enrollments.
Especially in Vermont, a handful of the latter sprang up and were instantly profitable, even though some cynics ascribed male college enrollment to the side-benefit of a Vietnam-service draft exemption, subject testing being less demanding than infantry service.
Conversely, the low achievement levels, fundamentally unimproved since being revealed in the initiation of federal NAEP testing in 1969, weren't as problematic then, when rapid improvement was confidently assumed, as they are now, when spending has soared but, for example, the percent of students scoring 300 (out of 500) in reading went from 39 percent in 1971 to 38 percent in 2004. The other 61 percent then, six years ago and today, would be deemed non-proficient-unable to handle grade-level expectations in reading.
At times, the imaginings for Vermont-as-Education-State went even further.
Some of us argued in the conferences for both a focus on education (private and public) and a focus on the cleanest industry of all (research and development). In a symbiotic/catalytic relationship, each would support and improve the other, with well-educated graduates staffing the labs and attracting new investments in faculties and facilities and customers for both.
Vermont would have become a magnet state-not for free public services, but for highly competitive schools and labs. The mix would have generated innovation, jobs, income, investment, and revenues for the public sector in taxes and for the private sector in profits. The road was never taken.
Even as this dream faded away, those of us who wondered where it went, back in the late '70s, never could figure out why it never happened. The question isn't even being asked any more. Instead, the nearest thing to an education strategy has been the captive-insurance company strategy.
Retired Vermont architect Martin Harris observes Green Mountain State politics from a safe distance-Tennessee.