“I love Idaho because it’s behind the times. We are the Alabama of the North. But we value the beauty, the pace, the quiet of this place.” Not everyone would agree with Kathy Vitale’s ode to Idaho, folks from Alabama in particular, but they made perfect sense on a warm Saturday evening sitting around a picnic table on a shady driveway turned patio beside a simple wooden bungalow nestled into the side of a hill on the edge of this railroad town. After spending a week in pristine Utah, it was relaxing to be in a place that wasn’t all shiny and trimmed.
Mike is from Colorado. He won a track scholarship to Idaho State University. “I got into town at night. When I walk up the next morning I thought I was in the wrong place. Idaho was supposed to be all mountains. Pocatello’s not that at all. But I stayed for school, and then I stayed for good.” Mike met Kathy through a friend. Their two daughters are on their own now. Their house has gorgeous rubbed wood, a cozy loft and few doors. Their yard includes a garden, large trees, many bicycles, and a sinuous fence Kathy made from willow branches. Their lives have a purposeful, gentle rhythm that would be difficult to match in Salt Lake or Denver. Everything flows.
Kathy is a teaching assistant in a nearby kindergarten; Mike teaches physics in the high school downtown. Eighty percent of the young children in Kathy’s school are on free or reduced lunch, while Mike teaches a full array of background and talents. He sees a shift in education from technical skills to analytical skills; a shift due in large part to standardized tests. It serves some students well, since analytic capability is more easily translated to many aspects of adult life. But students who struggle with concepts come away with little, since we aren’t teaching basic skills. Kathy is more tuned of the inequities in our educational system. “We think the poor are not doing enough by their children. But I disagree. Every parent is doing everything he can to raise his child well. We lose sight of how difficult it is for poor families. They simply can’t be as involved in their child’s education when they have so many pressures of work, transportation, food, and housing.”
Both Kathy and Mike acknowledge our country’s continued disinterest, and disinvestment, in education. Students in the United States are slipping in relationship to their counterparts around the world. There’s a widening gap between those with high educational achievement and everybody else. Everyone needs to be educated. As Kathy says, “Where did we get this idea that some education is more valuable, and some work is more valuable? Any work that is needed is valuable. It should be respected and compensated.”
How will we live tomorrow?
“We need to provide more access to things for people with low incomes. Sports and extracurricular activities are important. Now, in Pocatello, you have to pay to participate in those things. I can afford to pay for my children but a lot of people can’t. It puts our low income children at yet another disadvantage.” – Kathy Vitale