Detroit is synonymous with the automobile industry. Silicon Valley is famous for computer and technology jobs. Pittsburgh, steel. West Virginia, coal. Orlando, tourism. Milwaukee, cheap beer. Colorado…well, it used to be famous for its popular ski resorts. Every region in the United States seems to be linked to a particular industry. But what about mid-Missouri?

Travis Naughton

What is mid-Missouri’s chief industry? Agriculture is certainly a contender for the title. One needs only to look out the window in any direction to see that mid-Missouri is flush with farms. But I would contend that farming is the #1 industry of the whole of Missouri and of the Midwest in general, not just mid-Missouri. What then distinguishes our local region from the rest of “Flyover Country?”

Education. I think it is fair to say that the central part of our great state is the education capital of the Midwest. With the University of Missouri, Columbia College, Stephens College, Westminster College, William Woods University, Lincoln University, Linn Tech, Moberly Area Community College, and Central Methodist University in our immediate area and State Fair Community College, the University of Central Missouri, and other community colleges located at the edges of the mid-Missouri region, our corner of the world has an incredible concentration of institutions of higher learning.

We in Boone County are particularly fortunate to live in such close proximity to so many quality providers of education. In addition, all of the towns in our county boast excellent K-12 programs, but those of us who call Southern Boone home are exceptionally lucky. I’ve written many times about how fond I am of the SoBoCo school district. The education our kids receive here is top-notch. The teachers are extremely talented. Parents are actively engaged in their children’s lives. I assure you: it’s not like this everywhere, folks. This place is truly special.

One of the things that I love most about our schools is the way they bring the people in our community together. Be it a football Friday night, a day of volunteering in the Learning Garden, or a standing-room only performance of a high-school musical, the citizens of Southern Boone County always take an active interest in our kids and in the great things happening at our schools.

As you know, I am no exception to this rule, and last week was a perfect illustration of my love-affair with our district. In addition to subbing in two second grade classrooms, I was also asked to fill in one day for Miss Grace LaRose, the Primary school’s talented music teacher. Grace, (a fellow trombone player from Ol’ Mizzou), allowed me to share my love of jazz music with six classes of students that day. The kids played the keyboard, guitar, and drums that I had brought from home while I demonstrated how lousy a trombone and trumpet can sound when played by someone as out of practice as I am. Everyone had fun and learned something new—including me.

On Tuesday, I had yet another opportunity to be the D.J. at the 5th grade sock hop at the Elementary School—my third year doing so. I was impressed once again by the number of parents who volunteered to decorate the gymnasium, purchase and serve refreshments, take photos, and throw together 50s-style costumes for their kids. Thanks to those dedicated parents and the staff at the school, the dance was a huge hit again this year.

Thursday evening, I joined several members of the community who read aloud at Family Reading Night at the Primary school. I had the pleasure of reading “Green Eggs and Ham” again this year, and I was delighted to see dozens of families participating in the annual event, just as they did a couple weeks ago at the Elementary school’s “Cold-Winter’s Night” celebration where I was blown away both by the students’ creativity on display throughout the building and by the community’s level of interest.

But public schools like ours are threatened by the very person appointed to lead them—Betsy DeVos. If the Secretary of Education is successful in her attempt to divert funds and resources from public schools (institutions that are obligated to educate every student regardless of social background or ability level—including impoverished children and those with special needs) to a voucher program for private and religious schools (institutions that are not obligated to accept any and every student that applies), then the public school system that she should be focused on improving will suffer terribly.

It is obvious to me how important our kids and our schools are to the people of Southern Boone County. Because of communities like ours, mid-Missouri really is the Mecca of Learning in the Midwest. I hope the same can still be said four years from now, when DeVos’s boss is up for re-election. I fear that a vote for four more years will be the end of our public school system as we in Southern Boone County know and love it.

Be true to your school—and your kids: speak out against the administration’s efforts to destroy that which we love. Resist.