• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

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Friday Fragments

A narrow view of students; writing centers; youth.

February 8, 2018
 
 

Self-awareness is not evenly distributed. I was reminded again of that upon reading this piece in USA Today by Christian Schneider. Schneider rails against colleges trying to do too much for their students, thereby creating a never-ending cost spiral and sapping them of initiative.  He writes:

On a given day, if a scholarship athlete friend wasn’t using the meal plan the university provided him at restaurants around the city, I’d impersonate him and eat the food he was passing up. (This frequently worked despite the fact that I bore no resemblance to a left tackle.) At no point did I feel like it was the job of government to step in and make sure I was plied with roast beef sandwiches…

Yes, subsidized meal plans reduce the likelihood of college students surviving by identity theft.

If we don’t teach students to lie, cheat, and steal, what will become of them?

*headdesk*

Students of political history will chuckle at the reference to roast beef. The sociologist Werner Sombart famously claimed that socialism here foundered “on the shoals of roast beef and apple pie.” Schneider seems to equate socialism with roast beef, which is, uh, counterintuitive…

I’ve never been a fan of “kids today…” diatribes, but this one takes the form to an impressive level.  From his piece, you wouldn’t know that college costs have risen far faster than wages, or that identity theft is a crime.  You wouldn’t know about intergenerational transfers of wealth moving backwards, or the remarkable backsliding on racial equality in terms of wealth.

Heck, you wouldn’t know that most community colleges don’t even offer meal plans, let alone the sort of coddling that he assumes students today receive.  

I don’t know Mr. Schneider personally, but I’d be happy to give him a tour of our Long Branch campus. We could drop by a few of the ESL classes, and he could talk to the students there before they get on the bus to go to work.  He could try to explain to the students how coddled they are.  And the students could demonstrate that side-eye is universal.

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This piece on writing centers struck a chord with me.  I used to work in the writing centers at Rutgers when I was in grad school. The tutors were trained not to teach or focus on grammar and not to be too directive, but instead to try to coax the students into finding their voices.  I still remember the frustration some students expressed; they just wanted to know what to do. And I recall the training that I received in composition theory before teaching two years’ worth of English Comp classes.  The professor who ran the program told us not to focus on grammar, but to send students who had grammar issues to the writing center. Another grad student raised her hand and noted, correctly, that the tutors there were also told not to focus on grammar.  She asked where students with grammar issues could get help. The professor just shrugged and moved on.

I see this article as of a piece with the guided pathways movement.  Openness, infinite choice, and unbundling can be liberatory for students who already have strong academic skills and cultural capital.  To those without, though, they can come off as abandonment. You need to know the rules before you can break them for effect.  In less rarefied contexts, skipping that first step is not empowering.  It’s terrifying. 

Community colleges are on the front lines of working with students whose academic preparation is shaky.  I hope this piece gets some needed attention.

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The Boy: I can’t wait to get older!

Me: It’ll happen.

TB: Not like _you_.  Just so I can get my license.

Sigh...

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