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2011 May 30 - 12:00 am

POV: Devotion To Education Must Match Acclaim For Award-Winning Film

Drew A. Bennett
The buzz surrounding the Academy Award-nominated movie “Winter’s Bone” has faded, but the societal issues highlighted in this critically-acclaimed film remain. Unfortunately, the potential solutions to the ills portrayed in the film never received the same attention as the film itself, and without long-term focus and commitment, the solutions will not succeed.

The plot of “Winter’s Bone,” based on a book by the same name, centers on a 17-year-old girl from the Ozarks, Ree Dolly, who has dropped out of high school to care for her disabled mother and two younger siblings. Her father, Jessup, a crystal meth “cooker,” has used the family home for bail and is now missing. If he doesn’t show up for his trial, the family will lose everything.

As Ree desperately searches for her father, the film shines a harsh spotlight on the Ozarks and its endemic rural poverty.For many people, especially in metropolitan areas on the East and West coasts, this story elicits a fascination with the social ills of the Ozarks region but little, if any, action to address the generational poverty prevalent in the region.

In addition to national awards for artistic achievement and critical acclaim for this film, there should be national attention on economic improvement of this region through increased access to higher education.Furthermore, attention given to possible solutions for the problems in the Ozarks needs to be long-term and not just the “15 minutes of fame” received from a moment in the Hollywood spotlight.

If we are truly moved by the subject matter of “Winter’s Bone,” even for a brief period, we should be moved to give long-term attention to institutions that are fighting to help resolve the serious problems in the Ozarks as we do to the artistic mediums that highlight them. We must maintain support for institutions of higher education until we achieve success.

One such institution is my college, Missouri State University-West Plains, located in the same region as the story of “Winter’s Bone” and in the same town as the book’s accomplished author, Daniel Woodrell.

Few people outside the Ozarks know about this two-year, open-admissions college located within the 10th poorest congressional district in the country, or its efforts to provide quality educational opportunities to area residents while balancing enrollment increases and budget decreases.

State appropriations for higher education in Missouri — already ranked 45th nationally — continue to fall behind, while enrollment at Missouri State University-West Plains increases. We are moving in the wrong direction.

About 95 percent of our degree-seeking students receive some type of financial assistance, and many work full time while going to school. Most are first-generation college students, and a disproportionate number are single parents.

Ree Dolly is characteristic of many of our disadvantaged students and an example of someone who would most benefit from our programs.

Our small campus serves the poorest of the poor and is slowly breaking the cycle of poverty in the Ozarks by providing future opportunities for students
who, because of admission standards and financial needs, don’t choose which college to attend, but whether to go at all.

In discussions with Woodrell and the movie’s director, Debra Granik, both agreed on the importance of highlighting solutions to the problems dramatized in this story. Popular culture being what it is, however, many on this campus in the Ozarks struggle to reconcile themselves with the fact that Missouri State University-West Plains, which has the ability to be a part of the solution, will not likely receive the media focus and national attention that “Winter’s Bone” did. Should we accept this situation, or like Ree Dolly, should we strive to be heard and keep seeking help?

If the artistic story of “Winter’s Bone” moves us, let it move us to long-term action. If this dramatic story is justifiably worthy of awards and acclaim, institutions like Missouri State University-West
Plains are equally worthy of scholarships and new facilities. If the problems of the Ozarks are worth telling, they are also worth solving. Ree Dolly didn’t give up, and neither will we.

It’s YOUR TURN: CCW wants  to hear from you!
Q:  What can colleges do to end the generational poverty of areas like the Ozarks?
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