Education can completely change communities. This past summer we went to the 125th anniversary of Kulm, ND, my father-in-law’s hometown. Between its 100th anniversary and now, its population declined from over 600 (mostly widows) to under 400.

But Kulm has been revitalized by its brand-new elementary school. The taxpayers voted a sizeable bond to make sure that young families stayed and they got a bonus as people from as far away as 50 miles, moved into town for quality high tech education.

Although one resident complained, “We’ll be paying it off for the next twenty years,” my husband’s 92-year-old cousin was happy to vote for the bond issue. The 1924-vintage high school was also updated to prevent bussing local students to a regional high school in a nearby town. In 1928, my father-in-law and (later) six siblings did attend the high school in Edgely. After high school, they never returned.

The death of a school puts a town in terminal decline.

In December, we saw the effects of education on another community, the unique Uros Indians of Lake Titicaca Peru. These ancient people predate the Incan civilization. They hunt, fish, and live on 70 floating islands they make from reeds. In recent years, mainstream education has become more important, so one of the islands has a primary school.

Unfortunately, secondary education students must go to Puno, a city of 140,000 a half hour away by boat. Tourism has kept this culture alive into the 21st century, but their population has dwindled to 2,000. With solar-powered electricity, but no running water, there are some amenities, but life is hard. Like students in Kulm, those who finish high school often don’t return. It is likely that this ancient people will be gone within two generations.

Education is good for people in such a place, but it may nonetheless play a role in their eventual demise.