Changing West Virginia’s brand image

This week two culminating events came to pass in the progress toward redefining the concept of what it means to be a West Virginian.

West Virginia teachers went on strike not to increase their own pay, but to protect public school funding for all West Virginia children, and Sen. Manchin announced federal legislation designating the highlands as the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area.

West Virginia teachers would not accept a mad dash to pass the Omnibus Education Senate Bill although it represented a pay raise for them. Our teachers care more about the future of the children they teach than about the salaries they earn. They were not willing to watch limited public funding allotted for rural communities be divided between public schools that meet credible standards and unregulated for-profit schools.

West Virginia teachers wanted their voices to be heard, and they have gained the respect of the world. Their ability to work together using social media made last year’s strike an international phenomenon cited in The Economist.

Through it all, our teachers were working to be sure their students did not go hungry while they were out of school. West Virginia teachers are at the forefront of a movement that is changing the image of our state and the role of teachers in this nation.

West Virginia will no longer be known as a place where ignorance obstructs progress and local people do not expect their water quality, school performance, or pay level to equal national norms. We are not feuding now like the Hatfield and McCoy families, and we were never like the overdrawn image of the Beverly Hillbillies. We are proud of our Appalachian heritage.

When Sen. Manchin announced federal legislation designating the Appalachian Forest Heritage Area, he spoke about the importance of protecting the purity of our water, the beauty of our mountains, and the culture of our people. Appalachian culture includes bridge building, music making, quilting, weaving, and working and many other skills.

When the inherent talents of our people are combined with modern technology, our future will be brighter. Adaptability and ingenuity were essential for survival in these mountains, and with education these are the traits that will make our people more successful in the 21th century.