When Local Institutions Matter

As educators, do we demonstrate to our students that we value our local institutions?

The chain of house explosions and fires that rocked Lawrence, North Andover, and Andover in Massachusetts late Thursday afternoon were tragic and frightening in part because they were so abrupt, so unexpected, so random, and so devastating for those affected. That experience was immediately followed by a loss not just of natural gas but of electrical supply. As state police closed off highway access, as fire fighters from across Northern Massachusetts and New Hampshire tried to douse up to 80 burning houses and businesses, and as residents evacuated (some on foot), the scene was something out of a Hollywood disaster movie.

That was Thursday. Today, many residents are returning to their homes, and power is returning. Of course, some residents do not have houses to which to return; others are comforting the wounded as well as the family of the teenager who died from a house explosion (sheer luck kept the number of wounded and fatalities from being much higher).

There’s another kind of loss that happened in the Merrimack Valley as well – a loss of public trust. Columbia Gas did not activate their crisis rapid-response plan, assuming they had one to begin with. Governor Baker declared a state of emergency and transferred operational control to Eversource, saying that “on a number of very significant issues, we heard one thing, and then something else happened.”

When public trust is in scarce supply, it’s important to recognize how critical local institutions are, particularly in times of crisis. In Lawrence, for example, the senior center has become a focal point for donations. The library has become a communications hub for utility-related questions. St. Patrick’s and the Cor Unum Meal Center (serving free meals in a restaurant-like setting) are helping hold the community together.

As educators, do we help our students value their local institutions? Do we model that kind of connection ourselves? Do we foster interconnection and interdependence within our communities?

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