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2018 March 5 - 04:04 pm

Same Old Same Old

The News Cycle Churns Fast and Furious

As I scan the news from near and far, from within the various colleges that employ me part-time and from beyond their walls, fabricated as they are either from the so-called brick-and-mortar or from the precariousness of cyberspace, it seems to me that, somehow, many things are stuck. Change is not happening.

The Los Angeles Times newspaper has begun during this month of March, 2018, a springtime retrospective, a look back 50 years ago, at 1968. “The shocking became routine,” a sub-head reads on page 1 of the March 1 edition of the paper, noting the debut of an era when many people, baby-boomers and beyond, would start to live longer than before, would remain in reasonably good health fifty years on, and would be able to remember half a century of changes that have not necessarily changed things a whole lot.

Indeed, as John Warner has written in Inside HigherEd, “Belief in higher education institutions as an instrument for public good has diminished.” Getting a college education is no longer valued as something that will enable a person to become “an agent of (favorable) change.” The Chronicle of Higher Education notes that decades on, women—yes, it has almost always been women—from “elite” institutions such as Harvard and Stanford to community colleges in Kentucky and California, Florida, and New York, are reporting ever more frequent and ever more violent violations of their bodies, minds, selves, and psyches. Such aggression has been around for decades, report The New York Times and The Boston Globe, among others, but it is being decried ever more loudly in 2018 than ever it was 50 or 80 years ago.

Said Kaneesha Tarrant, Los Angeles Trade Tech vice president of student services:  “Given our location, we have...higher homeless...and crimes that may be perpetrated by people who are not necessarily students here,” according to  radio station KPCC.

In the 1930’s, my father wrote for his student newspaper at Pomona College. “Outsiders,” he told me many years later, “were a curiosity.” But the college was still a part of a bigger society. My father said he wanted his fellow students to realize that. And so he and some friends initiated a feature column for the paper called “Beyond our Gates,” expressing “the youthful temerity to comment about the outside, the beyond,” as fellow student Bill Platt (class of 1938) has written about the work. 

Now, decades after my father’s years at Pomona College and after the days that The Los Angeles Times would have us re-examine, questions of “public good,” as John Warner has called them, and questions who belongs where, as Kaneesha Tarrant intimates, remain with us.

A student of mine who is studying French language and culture online at the community college has just been rendered homeless. He had been living in his car, a common practice in the mostly-temperate climes of southern California, but he was in a traffic accident two weeks ago that has left his car in near smithereens. He “hangs out” with his girlfriend and with others with whom he may “couch-surf,” he reports in his French “Journal Intime” diary. He says that he was detained a few days ago on the campus of one of our sister colleges, “probably because I look pretty disreputable,” he wrote to me. 

As I read this student’s messages to me, I wondered... crimes perpetrated... higher homeless...

 

And a woman who became a friend of mine after she completed studies, first with me and then at that same sister college, and after that, earned two degrees at a local state university reports to me that she has been rendered homeless just this week. Her boyfriend of more than a decade “just took off,” she says, “leaving the rent for me to pay.” This woman believes that she has a room to stay in for a short time, but her existence remains precarious. The person who has offered her a room is a nurse at a busy hospital some 50 miles away from where my friend works, and the nurse already has one roommate, a Vietnam veteran with recurrent PTSD, who, she tells me, is “an in-and-out student at the community college.”

So, what do all these things have in common? 

As The Los Angeles Times writes, “Each day seem(s) to bring a new shock.”  Parallels, the paper reports, are hard to ignore between 1968 and 2018. And I remember my father’s having said, shortly before he died almost exactly 10 years ago, that, just as The Times has written, “the news cycle may have been slower” years ago, but the news will never slow. 

And as my father said to me throughout the decades that I knew him, we are part of the news, whoever we are, whatever our “status.” At the community college, an institution that he cherished and hoped would flourish indefinitely, the community is part of the college, he said, and the college part of the community. The community includes homeless and food-deprived, sufferers of PTSD, people who live in their cars and students who are transferring to or from the elite schools of our land. 

The Los Angeles Times includes a rhetorical question in its Sunday, March 4 online version of the 1968 retrospective article: “Has the American experiment failed?”

The answer to this question must be “no.” A country has not failed that still has communities made up of diverse populations of learners and teachers, that still has community colleges with faculty, staff, and students who bring within their walls the ideas and the vitality that lie beyond. We have to encourage one another, even though change may seem awfully slow, sometimes sawtooth, stepping more back than ahead. 

I invited my two recently homeless acquaintances to join me for coffee and tea this week at a place where another student of mine works part-time. One of these people was born here in California of Asian parents, another born in Africa of British colonialists, and the third the product of an African-American mother and a white father from upstate New York. This is the community of the community college. 

Is it the same old same old? Is it engendering change?

As a commenter to The Los Angeles Times has written, “The world and we get better slowly and unevenly, even if not saved.” 

 

 

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