Promoting Community by Thinking, and Acting, Globally
Colleges Benefit By Crossing Traditional Boundaries
“In the fall of the year, in the fall of the year...The rooks went up with a raucous trill..” wrote American poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay, noting how not just lust, but love, must receive our pleased enjoyment and be retained “in little ways.”
I think of Millay’s gentle lines as I sit among masses of assignments to read and masses of “médiatique” (multiple-media-based) materials to consider on this first week-end that marks the genuine, celestially-based season of fall.
I teach French language and culture at institutions ranging from the community-interest-based to the private, but mostly at the community college, where my interests and philosophies have lain since at least the middle of the last century. When the “fall of the year” begins at the private school where I work during the second week of August, I begin to wonder if institutional schedules, like the news and even the sports seasons that surround me, might have taken the new 21st Century twist in time that has rendered us all at once season-less, chronologically-insensitive, and urgent.
We are now approaching the six-week mark in a 16-week college term at that private college, I realize, and most of the community colleges where I travail have passed their “census dates” and are marching into their second month of coursework, even though the Earth’s fall season is just beginning. Indeed, football season has overtaken the end of baseball, and my open water swimming is giving way to covered, chlorine-laced short-course pools.
In France, the country whose language I am using to educate students young and old, from adolescent into the “very old age” of their 90’s, the celebrated “rentrée” is still in force, as it is each year during most of September, when workers and students, artists and educators all return from a month of “grandes vacances” that has been at once relaxing, stimulating, re-generative, and provocative. In France, the current weather is warm, in fact unseasonably so, and women wear straw hats and fine voile instead of thick black suits, while the new young President Emmanuel Macron calls for limits on pollution and renewed—if not continuing—efforts to fight global warming and climate change, two of his clarion calls to action.
And here in the United States, the global seems somehow to have turned local. For every cry at the recent United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York, made by the 39-year-old Macron, at once world-weary, vital, and importunate, the 71-year-old American President Donald Trump has turned things inward, referring to hurricanes in Texas and Florida as Macron cites the world, and pointing to the effects of “the Iran deal” upon the United States, even as Macron sees the effects as being of worldwide interest.
Some years ago, it was common to call for people to “think globally” and “act locally.” I would like to imagine that that is what some of our institutions and our country’s leader might be doing, when focusing on us and on the small stuff. At the private college where I work, studies in international film have become analyses of the influence of American cinema upon the world, as the professoriate has shifted from the travel-wise to the more conservative, and at at least one of the community colleges where I work, “foreign” language study has dwindled to an option of taking Spanish. No other alien tongues are offered in-person or online at that place anymore.
By concentrating on the close-by, by analyzing profoundly the simply proximate, students can indeed learn something, I agree. But I must admit that, as it did with Edna St. Vincent Millay, this sort of minimizing of our existence in the face of such maximizing forces as climate shift and Kuyper Belt discoveries, archaeological finds and ethical shifts, “(breaks) my heart in little ways.”
We at the community college are a community of thinkers who should be imagining not just things futuristic but broad, geographically and thoughtfully, mentally, physically, and emotionally, at once ahead and into the past, across boundaries academic and philosophical, practical and pecuniary. We must flex ourselves in response to our communities’ needs, but we must also lead.