Wednesday June 26, 2013

A lifelong influence

Editor of the Reformer:

I learned of Mr. Kipp’s retirement when my mother sent me a link to the article published in the Reformer ("Instilling passion for social change," June 18). In the piece, Mr. Kipp touches on his 39 years of teaching and how he loved introducing his students to social change and political engagement. I was one of his students.

In 1997, during my sophomore year at Brattleboro Union High School, I took Mr. Kipp’s U.S. History course. I enrolled in his class because my older sister Jane, who had graduated from BUHS in 1993, told me in no uncertain terms that I had to take his class. I remember her exact words: "Mr. Kipp’s class will change your life." She was right.

As a teacher, Mr. Kipp introduced his students to new voices and a new way of looking at the world. In his class, we read Howard Zinn, Emma Goldman, and Karl Marx. These readings were in addition to the massive Boorstin-Kelley history text we were expected to learn. His class, like the readings, was challenging but exciting. He often told his students that this was a college-level course. While this may have been a little daunting, it gave us a strong sense of accomplishment and a new belief in our scholastic abilities.

In addition to introducing his students to the ideas and stories of important radical thinkers, Mr. Kipp unlocked his students’ ability to think critically.


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The handmade banners he spread around his classroom help illustrate his beliefs; phrases like "Minds are like parachutes; they function only when open" and "Democracy is not a spectator sport" were constant reminders of what was expected of his students. We weren’t expected to memorize facts and think of history as an inevitable chain of events. Instead, we were pushed to think about specific historic events and what other possibilities could have arisen instead. We learned that, while the story was usually told from one perspective, there were multiple peoples’ histories of the United States.

Outside the classroom, Mr Kipp’s influence was equally powerful. He taught his students that it was our right and responsibility to participate in the political system. When I was at BUHS, he helped students found student-run groups like the Progressive Coalition, the precursor to CLEA (Child Labor Education and Action). He pushed us to get involved by volunteering for candidates’ campaigns. I remember being surprised and inspired that, although he was progressive in his own beliefs, he didn’t push for any particular campaign. He was happy to see his students take part of all sides of the political process, as long as we were active and engaged.

More than 16 years later, Mr. Kipp’s influence on my life remains. I’ve continued my passion for labor advocacy, having worked as a union organizer in New York City for the past seven years, and I’m currently pursuing my Master’s Degree in Public Policy at NYU. Although it’s easy to say that Mr. Kipp changed my life by introducing me to labor work, his influence was more complex. He taught me that everyday people matter and that, as young people, our voices and ideas were worth listening to and acting upon. He taught me that we all had the potential to make a difference in the world, and that this responsibility should be taken seriously. My story is just one of hundreds, maybe thousands; his teaching has had immeasurable consequences for his students and the world.

On behalf of generations of students who were lucky enough to have you as a teacher, thank you, Mr. Kipp. Jane was right: your classes changed our lives.

Jessica Riley

Brooklyn, N.Y., June 19 Give me back
my liberty

Editor of the Reformer:

Popular Pundit E. J. Dionne’s article from the Washington Post apparently places him in the ranks of the "balance" propagandists now campaigning to ignore the blatant and criminal violations of our Constitution by all three branches of our government, and the bloated domestic spying industry. This "balance" campaign asks us to choose between two alternatives, "Keeping Us Safe" and "Liberty."

As for the revelations from Snowden, Bradley Manning and Wikileaks, the "traitors" and "criminals?" Polls show most Americans don’t care about their complicated and boring message, whatever it was, so why should you?

Unconstitutional domestic spying is not keeping us safe from anything. The notion that any of it has been effective at thwarting mass murder is supported by, um, "Trust Us." But look: Because something terrible didn’t happen is not evidence of anything.

Fact is, there ain’t no such a thing as "security" and no amount of snooping on citizens is going to create any.

Now what about "Liberty?" We can no longer exercise our rights as honorable citizens to gather and seek redress of grievances from our government without being corralled into cattle pens, treated with violence, and ignored or derided by the news media. Efforts to organize such gatherings are subjected to armed pre-dawn raids, searches and seizures, "watch lists" and, as we all now know, universal wiretapping. "National Security Letters" to the likes of town librarians, which it is a federal crime to divulge even to one’s spouse, even enable spying on your personal reading habits. Yes, yours.

Fact is, there ain’t no such a thing as liberty neither.

Now we are being asked to deal with the news that private, for-profit enterprises are selling all our private communications to the U. S. Government to store in Utah, by "balancing" two irrelevant and very dead red herrings.

Just trade a little "Keeping Us Safe" for a little "Liberty." That is the "Debate" our leaders say we are "ready for," and "should be having" in America.

Peter Barus,

Whitingham, June 24

Cherishing Kurty

Editor of the Reformer:

This letter is to express my admiration and respect for the Band Director -- Jim Kurty. Jim is retiring after 40 years of teaching elementary music in Brattleboro.

I was the Majorette Instructor for all the Brattleboro School Bands for 29 years. Twenty-one were with Jim.

We marched in many parades with our elementary students.

Jim is a wonderful educator, musician and friend. I will always cherish the years I worked with him.

Jane Grass Hurley

Brattleboro, June 17

Dr. Wally
will be missed

Editor of the Reformer:

Dr. Walter J. Griffiths, of Bellows Falls, is retiring on June 30. While his patients are devastated by his retirement, we know that after 39 years practicing in Bellows Falls, he and his wife, Eileen, assuredly deserve our immense gratitude and best wishes.

It’s hard to know how we can go on without him. His care, integrity, and respect for his patients cannot be replaced. I will go to another doctor, but Dr. Wally, as many of his patients call him, has cared for five generations of my family. He has seen our babies come onto this world and seen our grandparents and great-grandparents go out of this world. How do you leave a doctor like that?

My mother, a former RN, has often stated that of all the doctors she has ever known, she has never seen a more superb diagnostician than Dr. Griffiths. And, because Dr. Griffiths is a Board Certified Gerontologist he has respect and empathy for all his patients -- from newborn to 100 years old. Because of him, my grandparents and parents have lived long enough to enjoy their grandchildren and great- grandchildren and for their grandchildren to know them.

When I write about Dr. Griffiths I have to remember the hundreds of home visits he made to my large extended family. From my son being hit in the face by a baseball to taking care of my great-aunts in their home (both in their 90s) Dr. Griffiths has shown great expertise and compassion for all of us.

Another time, when I had no insurance, Dr. Griffiths removed a large growth on my 6-year-old daughter’s ear. It stuck out through her hair it was so big. She was being made fun of at school and didn’t want to go to school anymore. I brought her to Dr. Griffiths and he removed it and stitched it so skillfully that looked like a plastic surgeon had done it. Want to know how much he charged me? $12.

I have a million memories of Dr. Griffiths and Eileen, and realize the great luck we have had that they chose to come to Bellows Falls 39 years ago. I love them. I wish them well.

Barbara Janiszyn,

Springfield, June 25