• Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.


Friday Fragments

A tech challenge, Constitution Day, data.

September 18, 2014

The Boy is in First Tech Challenge, which is the junior high version of Lego League.  He’s on a team of eighth graders.  I picked him up the other night; I got there a few minutes before the meeting broke up.  The kids were sitting around a table, trying to come up with a team logo.  I noticed that TB was leading the discussion.  On the ride home:

TB: Dad, do you think I’m too controlling?

Me: No.  Why do you ask?

TB: Well, it seems like whenever there’s group work, I take charge. If I don’t, it doesn’t get done.

Me: Were you chosen, or did you just step up?

TB: I just did it.  I like being in charge.

Me: Why?

TB: Because when people do what I say, things work. 

Me: (laugh) Well, do you make them do things they shouldn’t?

TB: No…

Me: Do you steamroll the other kids so you can be in charge?

TB: No, they just look to me for it.

Me: You’re fine.


Every year I have conflicted feelings about Constitution Day. On one side, the political theorist in me loves the idea of moving questions about how the country should be organized to a more conspicuous place in campus culture.  Constitutional amendments make absolutely wonderful studies in unintended consequences, as well as in critical thinking.

But every year I have the same misgiving.  Students at more affluent and exclusive campuses, in my observation, feel much more entitled to discuss public affairs.  Students at community and state colleges generally don’t, judging by behavior.

I don’t expect everyone to be a poli sci major, but I do think there’s a serious argument to the effect that educating citizens -- which is to say, voters -- is a core function of public higher education.  Some of that involves content knowledge, but much of it, I think, involves helping students develop a sense that it’s right, proper, and normal for them to discuss politics.  In that context, attention to skills of rhetoric and persuasion would follow naturally.

Has anyone out there seen a successful, large-scale, sustained culture shift in a community college in which students became more politically active?  Preferably absent an external cataclysm?


Quote of the week, on campus:

“In theory, there’s data.”

Well, yes...


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