Commentary: “Knowledge Is Power”

(originally posted to Vermont Watch, here; and, cross-posted to iBrattleboro, here)

*Note*: Morgan W. Brown is a recently appointed member of the Vermont Council on Homelessness. The opinions expressed below are solely his own and represent none other.

“Knowledge Is Power”

Providing access to knowledge is essential in fighting poverty

by Morgan W. Brown

(printable version, here;

original, more detailed version, here)

Several years ago I advocated that courses in the humanities be offered and taught to those within Vermont who might have otherwise gone without the opportunities and benefits of these. For example: people living in poverty; people living homeless; persons incarcerated in jails, prisons or other institutions; people living in the throes of drug or alcohol addiction.

What I had been urging be established was for programs along the lines of the Clemente Course in the Humanities model (

The Clemente Course in the Humanities was the brainchild of Earl Shorris, who died in 2012 at the age of 75. The title of his obituary within the New York Times mentioned that he had fought poverty with knowledge (NYT; New York edition; page A24; June 3, 2012; link).

His obituary read, in part, about how he was ” …, a social critic and author whose interviews with prison inmates for a book inspired him to start a now nationally recognized educational program that introduces the poor and the unschooled to Plato, Kant and Tolstoy, … “.

Given the needs and resulting consequences at stake, as well as the current focus these days about doing something more meaningful and lasting to help address drug addiction, crime, incarceration rates, poverty as well as homelessness and the like, it would appear to be high time to finally consider offering courses in the humanities to all of those whose quality of life could well be improved.

The cost of not doing so is being borne out day after day, year after year. Programs and courses like these work and have been proven successful.

One does not have to look very far for examples of these type of programs and how beneficial they are either. An example is the program offered to female prisoners in the state by the name of writing inside Vermont ( According to its Website, “[s]ince 2010, writing inside VT has forged trusting, pro-social relationships with more than 200 of Vermont’s incarcerated women.”

Does it take much more than simply providing courses in the humanities and the like in order to break the cycle(s) of poverty, homelessness, drug or alcohol addiction as well as crime and so on; yes, indeed, it does.

However, one of the longstanding missing components of all of our collective efforts thus far with which to address these and related matters in a meaningful fashion has been the lack of certain educational opportunities being made more available, including the humanities.

If the state were to help invest in providing greatly expanded access to programs along these lines on a much grander scale than might already currently exist to those willing to partake of opportunities for higher learning, including by networking and working with educational institutions across Vermont with which to do so, those participating would not only be gaining knowledge, but also the potential this could afford in terms of greater personal, social, economic and civic power as well.

Whatever the financial investment and other resources that might be needed and involved in order to help provide programs and classes along these lines would be well worth it. Society at large would benefit as well. If we as a society hope to sow and impart knowledge as well as aiding in the growing of wisdom, and then collectively reap the results, we have to be willing to do what is required to plant the seeds and fertilize the process in a fashion that benefits as many as possible.

If we do not, then the underlying causes as well as the ongoing cycle(s) of poverty, addiction, crime, homelessness and hopelessness will never be effectively dealt with and eventually broken, no matter how much funding and other assistance programs are made available in an attempt to do so.

It has been my observation over the years that when there are others who believe in the future of those most in need and also have faith in them, including that their hopes can be realized and their dreams achieved, such persons are in a much better position to be able to begin to do so as well.

Although those previous advocacy efforts of mine a decade or so ago were not successful, it is still my hope that collegiate-level courses in the humanities will eventually be offered, whether in classroom settings or online when and where feasible (or both), on a voluntary and free basis to those who could greatly benefit from these.

Morgan W. Brown is a recently appointed member of the Vermont Council on Homelessness. The opinions expressed above are solely his own and represent none other.

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