CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. — “The major issue facing Appalachia is not mineral, but mental,” articulated Harlan Independent faculty, Steven Palmer, at the TEDxChattanooga conference. TEDx is an independently organized speaking event in which thinkers come together to propose new or engaging topics in the fields of technology, education, and design. Palmer’s speech fell under the education category as his speech, “Learning Appalachia,” centered on empowering young students to return to their homes upon graduating university.
“We must not allow our students to believe that their home is a problem without a solution,” noted Palmer. “We must find ways to empower our students to become their own heroes.” Palmer urged local leaders, policy makers, and educators to work in tandem to counteract the “brain drain” (the loss of highly skilled young people to urban areas) effect which faces many rural communities.
Palmer, a native of Springfield, Tennessee, has been teaching at Harlan Independent for the past two years.
He consistently referred to Harlan as a model of small town Appalachia. During his talk, Palmer urged his listeners to pay attention to the problems that face small, rural, Appalachian communities such as Harlan, while also not losing sight of their natural beauty and gifted students.
A three-pronged approach with an emphasis on prioritizing the return of highly skilled graduates, empowering current students to take an interest in the problems facing their homes and incentivizing those student who move away to return through loan forgiveness programs, made up the bulk of Palmer’s proposed action items.
Over 500 people were present at the event and thousands more streamed it digitally.
“I think this is an opportunity for people outside of Appalachia, particularly outside of eastern Kentucky, to become aware of the potential of this place,” stated Palmer. “However, it is also a chance to show kids, my students, that they can play a role in the development of their home.”
Palmer believes that, by finding ways to attract youthful thinkers, creators and leaders, Appalachia will be able to undergo the largest economic expansion in American history.