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
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
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
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
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.”