Your mama do, but should everyone else? Reflexively, I think I would say yeah, and I’m sure most people would. But we’re also not the ones who have to grade English papers, like a certain anonymous adjunct professor who penned an essay for the Atlantic arguing that maybe we’re trying to be a little too democratic when it comes to higher ed.
America, ever-idealistic, seems wary of the vocational-education track. We are not comfortable limiting anyone’s options. Telling someone that college is not for him seems harsh and classist and British, as though we were sentencing him to a life in the coal mines. I sympathize with this stance; I subscribe to the American ideal. Unfortunately, it is with me and my red pen that that ideal crashes and burns.
Sending everyone under the sun to college is a noble initiative. Academia is all for it, naturally. Industry is all for it; some companies even help with tuition costs. Government is all for it; the truly needy have lots of opportunities for financial aid. The media applauds it—try to imagine someone speaking out against the idea. To oppose such a scheme of inclusion would be positively churlish. But one piece of the puzzle hasn’t been figured into the equation, to use the sort of phrase I encounter in the papers submitted by my English 101 students. The zeitgeist of academic possibility is a great inverted pyramid, and its rather sharp point is poking, uncomfortably, a spot just about midway between my shoulder blades.
For I, who teach these low-level, must-pass, no-multiple-choice-test classes, am the one who ultimately delivers the news to those unfit for college: that they lack the most-basic skills and have no sense of the volume of work required; that they are in some cases barely literate; that they are so bereft of schemata, so dispossessed of contexts in which to place newly acquired knowledge, that every bit of information simply raises more questions. They are not ready for high school, some of them, much less for college.
I am the man who has to lower the hammer.
Professor X makes a point to acknowledge that his students are ‘nontraditional,’ older and often juggling families and full-time jobs. Some are low-level medical staff who need certification to advance, others want to be police officers and require a minimum of college level coursework. And while said he hopes that, say, reading Invisible Man will make one of those potential officers less likely to indulge in racial profiling, he wonders whether that’s not baseless academic optimism.
There are a grip of y’all who teach college courses: Stacia, Tedra, K, Ari and Eric. I’d really like to hear your thoughts on this one.
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