Education and rural American have always been symbiotic. In the 19th century, small towns built one-room school houses, and land grant colleges created the foundations for what are now many of the most thriving cities in the country. Today that symbiosis is under severe threat. Most education systems in rural America are underserved and under-supported; the populations of towns across rural America are dropping; and ultimate school closures could speed the demise of small towns that form the heartland of farm and ranch communities.
It is a tough problem, and one that is being tackled by the small Delta School in Wilson, Arkansas, about an hour north of Memphis, TN. I was honored to give the commencement speech to the graduating class of nine seniors in this fascinating start-up school, now in its seventh year. Wilson is in the northern Delta, flat croplands with cotton, rice, corn, and soy just sprouting with spring rains. If you took bets on where a highly-progressive independent school might choose to plant its flag, you would not have placed your chips on Wilson, Arkansas, and you would have been wrong.