Towns Without Schools

September 18, 2015

"I forget the names of towns without rivers" is the opening line of a poem by Richard Hugo published in 1984, and recited by my fly fisherman son as he guided me on the Muskegon River last month.   

My son thinks about rivers, while I think about schools. And my mind quickly converted the poetic line to, "I forget the names of towns without schools." I do. And I don't think I'm alone in this sentiment.

As I drive the length and width of Michigan's two peninsulas, I pass through many towns where school buildings have been converted to other uses or, more often, sit idle, surrounded by under-used commercial areas and vacant housing. I tend to forget the names of those towns.

Schools have been the anchor to, and given identity to, small towns throughout Michigan, and to the neighborhoods of larger towns. As schools have consolidated during the past two generations, many of the towns that lost their schools have also lost their identity and much of their vitality. The school consolidation movement that stripped towns and neighborhoods of their "brand" was supposed to improve access to broader and deeper curriculum choices for students and reduce the financial costs of delivering world-class education to local classrooms. 

That's admirable. But of course, that thinking preceded the Internet which now allows students attending schools of any size in any place to receive any subject available in any other place in our state, nation or the world, and to do so without students being bused hither and yon and at much lower overhead compared to past delivery systems.

If we want to rejuvenate our state, returning schools to the center of small towns and neighborhoods will be central to our strategy. Both the technology and the teaching are available to do so in every corner of our state. It's the money spent on transporting children that's wasted; not the money on teaching those children in neighborhood facilities.

Cheering for Sportsmanship

July 31, 2018

(This blog first appeared on on January 8, 2013.)

I try to start each new school year at the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association summer camp at Michigan State University. I talk briefly about who the MHSAA is and what it does; and then two or three dozen high school newspaper editors and writers ask me questions; and in doing so, they give me clues to what’s going on in our schools and what’s important to our students.

Several years ago, when I opened the session to questions, one young man asked: “Mr. Roberts, what’s your job?” I paused, and then said, “I guess I’m the head cheerleader for high school sports in Michigan.”

So then this precocious student asked: “Okay, what do you cheer for?”  With a briefer pause, this is some of what I said:

  • I cheer for sportsmanship that’s not merely good, but great.

  • I cheer for sportsmanship, not gamesmanship.

  • I cheer for playing by the rules, both the letter and the spirit.

  • I cheer for maximum effort to try to win each and every contest.

  • I don’t cheer for winning at any cost; I do cheer for learning at every opportunity.

  • I cheer for losing with grace and for winning with even greater grace, with humility and modesty.

  • I cheer for the lessons of victory and the even greater lessons of defeat.