Sunday, October 7, 2012

If You Thirst, Wave an Empty Cup at the Clouds

Newspaper headlines throughout the state in which I live (Connecticut, not Blissful Ignorance from whom I still have a driver's license), yesterday morning had a reasonably large story albeit on an inside page about what seems to be a labor disagreement between the members of the state's community college governing board and their employees, the presidents of Connecticut's various community colleges within the state higher education system.

Except, after you read the story you realize there's a larger issue, to a much larger issue, and I suspect it's not just a Nutmeg State concern. Nutmeg State, that's what we call ourselves here in The Land of Steady Habits, Nutmeggers. I have no idea why and haven't been here long enough to have learned (or been shown) the secret handshake or to get the briefing on the nickname. So consider yourself warned.

I do get the idea of community colleges. And they are such a part of our national landscape we sometimes forget that they are a product primarily of the Post World War II baby boom, the Pig in a Python Generation (of whom I am an aging, and rapidly, member). There were so many men (returning GI's after the war) who wanted to use those GI Bill of Rights to pursue educations and lead better lives that we had NO place to put them, and their children who followed them.

We couldn't realistically expect Harvard or Cal Poly or Princeton to start holding classes in their football stadia, which they'd have had to do to accommodate all the applicants. Besides, we had folks of every educational shape, size and program applying and who knew what anybody knew in terms of shared knowledge and a common base of  learning.

California which is/was the innovator and early adapter for so much of what the rest of us in the USA see as 'who we are' really made community colleges work as a concept and as a practical element of  education. But in the course of the last seventy years, we've drifted and as that has happened familiar forms and shapes have remained but the functions have changed.

And that's what is actually at the root of the news story that first surfaced about a week ago about shortened evaluation cycles and expedited exits from contracts. When you read the story, pay attention to the closing graphs, much like Yossarian struggling with Snowden in the bomber over Avignon. And its aftermath.

What the story is really about is how 70% of all those enrolled at community colleges in pursuit of whatever they are in pursuit of, need remedial courses because they lack the fundamental skills to accomplish their higher order class educational objectives. That instead of achieving an associate's degree in two years, those in that path are taking over four years.

Community colleges aren't failing their students here in Connecticut and/or I suspect and fear everywhere and elsewhere. Every single educational institution, private or public, teaching those who are eventually to attend community colleges is. And failing them and us miserably, very possibly by design.

Too much time and talent are devoted to negotiations on salary and benefits and parking spaces and percentage of health care the employee will pay and how much tax-deferred annuity the taxpayer will provide and nowhere near enough attention is being paid to the point of the exercise: our collective tomorrows.

If you think education is expensive now, just wait until we start paying the price for ignorance and greed. That bill should show up in the real near future so get your wallet out, big spender. We'll pay now or we'll pay later, but pay we shall because pay we must.
-bill kenny

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