Could Sky Be the Limit for Trial Balloons?
And as I sit here in southern
California, on the west coast of America, I read other not-so-humorous
suggestions proposed by politicians in my state that it retain itself apart
from American federal government decisions to ban immigration to this place
from certain other lands, that it fight federalism on a number of fronts, even
that it separate itself from the rest of the United States.
And I see how, off the “other” coast
of this country, in a place whose name cites its wealth of natural beauty,
Puerto Ricans have neither electricity nor water, neither homes nor help. A
friend of mine, a professional photographer who has traveled the world for his
work, calls the situation in Puerto Rico “a more than double whammy against a
third-world country with kind and friendly people who have always been on a delicate
balance eking out existence.” Any disturbance to the delicacy in that balance,
my friend says, wreaks havoc of a kind unknown in our big country not so far
away. “We are Americans!” shout some of the Puerto Ricans seeking more help
from us, their big brothers. Indeed, these islanders add, “we should be counted
as America’s 51st state!” Even in 2013, the American Congress was considering
such a thing, although current animosity might be changing minds.
And how do our minds change, I
wonder? How do we begin to support a cause and then abandon it? What makes us
hold to solidarity, to togetherness, one moment, and then fight for our
independence, to go it alone, the next?
Even in our world of community
college governance, we experience world politics writ small.
At one of the several community
colleges where I work, courses in some subjects are no longer to be offered,
state the school’s administrators, because a sister college offers them. “We do
not want to duplicate the effort,” one dean said to me, when I proposed a new
curriculum in journalism. “Besides,” the dean continued, “journalism is dying.”
I gave a quizzical look to this dean, who was at least hearing me out in a way
most administrators do not do with a part-timer who is assumed incapable of
knowing the difficulties financial and organizational of launching something
new in an era when things are being subtracted, rather than added, to our
curriculum. “But don’t you think,” I protested, “that with all the discussion
of ‘fake news’ and ‘alternative truth’, with the popularity of blogs and ‘the
citizen press’, the insertion of subjectivity into a realm of once-respected
objectivity, it might be exactly the time when students should learn how to
The answer: A kind of twisted facial
expression, accompanied by a sigh.
And this kind of response is,
according to a Ukrainian friend of mine, just the sort of thing that riles,
that provokes antagonism, that makes people want to go it alone.
And it may be, I suppose,
particularly in our current era of shared remarks on social media, remarks
whose validity the philosopher colleague of mine would surely question, also
the sort of thing that can push the pendulum from left to right and then from
right to left again in a way that we humans seem somehow to enjoy.
Governments slide from left to right
to left, countries want independence or dependence, children want to break out
on their own or to stay within their familial comfort zone, and community
colleges wish to distinguish themselves from others independently or to fuse
with four-year schools and with high schools. And then, some time later, things
And what of the citizens governed by
the governments in question? What of the people in the places where
independence or dependence has become a question? What of the families whose
finances are ever-more-stretched to continue to feed and clothe and care for
adult children who may have children of their own? What of the students who
would choose a community college for its uniqueness, rather than for its
mimickry of its four-year big brethren or for its mere extension of what they
thought they may have finally finalized in high school?
Connecting all these processes may
seem odd to some who are reading this, but one of my favorite things to do is
to connect, to see resonances from big to small to smaller and then out into
the beyond. I have always believed, after all, that we at the community college
represent a community unlike others: we have to be flexible, if not
opportunistic. If our socioeconomic environment is being defined, if not
decided, by people who believe in alternative truths or in fakery, I believe
that it is time for us to respond, just as we have been able to alter our arts
programs (we now have digital art and computer graphics in rooms that once
housed pencil drawing) and our languages (we teach Vietnamese where once we
taught Swedish and Danish, and our history, we teach specialized courses on the
Middle East where once it was only Western Europe that concerned us.) We must
at once respond to our community needs and retain a vision that balances a
strong academically oriented past with a visionary future.
How can we do this best? By communicating and by responding to one another, with one another. If we are so flexible, let’s try some trial balloonery: Offer that new course in a different subject, and see what happens. Just maybe some students will sign up and stay with us, and that would keep us in our community and make our colleges at once relevant and strong.