Is Higher Education A Thing Of The Past?

I am a community college Associate Professor of Communication Studies. I absolutely love teaching as much as any human being can love their vocation. This is not to say there are aspects to my job I do not particularly care for (use your imagination….yet it begins with “admin” and ends with “inistrative,” with the word “bullshit” at the end). Yet when it comes to the act of pure teaching itself, I am the proverbial pig in slop; I absolutely love to instruct…it is my sanity and, for lack of a better term, my safe and comfy space in an existential world.

However, not everyone in 2017 is down with the notion of “higher education,” be it in the form of community college or the four-year university. I hear arguments that we now have the world wide web with all the information in the universe available to us with the click of a mouse. Why go to a classroom to hear information that we can easily and readily retrieve from our home computer? You cannot seriously suggest that college is for everybody, right? Wrong.

Perhaps Winston Churchill had the answer many decades ago. “I love to learn,” he stated, “but I’m not always willing to be taught.”

Enter Higher Education.

Many of us need the formal accountability a higher educational institution provides to receive instruction in an effective manner. For those highly motivated self-starters who need only their own engine to get motivated, good for you. Yet I would contend that learning in community is nearly always superior to the autodidact approach even if you are one who prefers to be self-taught.

Yes, I am a college instructor and somewhat biased in my perception of the the need for higher education in contemporary society. However I would contend it is my belief in the system that drives my desire to teach rather than my desire to teach drives my belief in the system. After all, I am a product of the community college system as it literally provided me with all the tools and skills necessary to lead a functional and productive life –at a time in my life that I did not know the definition of the words tools and skills.

Therefore I offer you my five most compelling reasons to believe, support and engage in higher education, primarily at the community college level, in 2017.

Community College provides hope of direction for the directionally challenged. I am absolutely convinced that a college degree is not the right path for everybody; yet I am also concurrently convinced that some college courses are wholly beneficial to nearly everybody. Who would not benefit from a public speaking or interpersonal communication course in which you learn how to communicate more effectively in all your life endeavors? Who would not benefit from a basic skills English or Math course as all of us will practice these skills consistently throughout our life? If you are vocationally minded, how about a radiology or a welding course? Community College allows one to take courses to enhance their life skills while figuring out what direction life needs to take them.

Community College and the University are sacred learning spaces committed to the ideals of seeking answers, critiquing information while wholly committed to developing cultural literacy. Cultures need single-minded institutions to foster and preserve important social values. We need places committed to the pursuit of knowledge and understanding. We need institutions committed to constantly asking the question, “Why?” If we did not have these bastions of intellectual pursuits, who would carry this much needed torch in society? We need institutions committed to carrying on the best interests of society: Academic institutions committed to behavioral and hard sciences; elected bodies committed to political governance; agricultural industries committed to food sourcing; medical institutions committed to warding off disease; civil liberties groups to ensure power does not go rogue, and the list goes on. We need single-minded institutions wholly committed to uphold the integrity of fundamental social necessities.

Community College is a place accepting all individuals who are now ready to learn…and even those who not quite sure. I recently instructed one of my public speaking classes that there should be no safer place on the planet to admit not knowing something or being wrong more than a college classroom. After I made this proclamation, a new college student, Samuel, mentioned that this is a far different cry from high school.  “If we confessed to know knowing something in class,” said Samuel, “We would be berated and yelled at because it was likely something we should already have known as it was probably taught to us the previous year.”

I mentioned to Samuel that if one did not learn it the previous year it was because they were not yet ready, for any endless variety of reasons. The universe knows I was not ready for much in terms of learning my senior year in high school.

The Buddhist saying comes to mind, “When a student is ready, a teacher will appear.”

Readiness. Are all my community college students ready? No. And some may never be ready. Yet in my experience community college has been both the fertile ground for those seeking if they are now ready and for those who are indeed ready. And I always prefer to be the teacher who simply appears when the wonderful confluence of readiness meets educational opportunity. It is a feeling like no other.

College graduates simply earn more money over a lifetime. One of my favorite economists, Steve Levitt from the University of Chicago and of Freakonomics fame:

The best way I think an economist thinks about the value of education is he or she tries to figure out how the market rewards it and what other benefits come with it. And one thing is clear: The market puts a tremendous reward on education. So the best estimates that the economists currently have are that each extra year of education that you get is worth about maybe an eight percent increment to your earnings each year for the rest of your life. So it turns out for most people buying a lot of education, or at least for the average person let me say, buying a lot of education is a really good deal.

If you are indeed one of the few with no college education and a fantastic salary in a profession you love, good for you! Yet have the astute wherewithal to realize you and others like you are outliers, that you are not part of the norm. Most of us need the traditional route of formal higher education.

If you are a college graduate in a less than desireable job with a less than desireable salary, take heed, the day is young. A college degree is a stark contrast from the Wonka golden ticket, it is more the ace-in-the-hole when the opportunity you create, arises.

A college degree, like other challenging endeavors, develops character and says much more about you than it does about your knowledge base. I often explain to my classes that the single greatest predictor if one will stay in a marriage or get divorced is a college education. From Albert Mohler:

When it comes to divorce and marriage, America is increasingly divided along class and educational lines. Even as divorce in general has declined since the 1970s, what sociologist Steven Martin calls a “divorce divide” has also been growing between those with college degrees and those without (a distinction that also often translates to differences in income). The figures are quite striking: College-educated Americans have seen their divorce rates drop by about 30% since the early 1980s, whereas Americans without college degrees have seen their divorce rates increase by about 6%.

And why? What are the skills and characteristics needed to survive a marriage? Hmmmm…how about all the same skills needed to obtain a college degree? Patience, perseverance, self-motivation, determination, both deference when needed and assertiveness if called for, compromise, and, of course, what we have been hearing since kindergarten, the need to play well with others even when you really do not want to.

Yes a college degree will likely earn one more money over a lifetime, yet, more importantly, it will make one’s lifetime all the more worth living. Perhaps the single greatest gift higher education offers its students is humility; as higher education should shed light and reveal all in the world that we do not know over the little we do know.

Let me reiterate, a college degree is not for everyone. Yet certainly college courses can be helpful to everyone at some level.

So whether you are former community college attendees Walt Disney, Ross Perot, James Dean, Clint Eastwood, George Lucas, Billy Crystal, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Eddie Murphy, Queen Latifah or even Tom Hanks who stated that, “Community College made me who I am today,” you are in good company as a current community college student or future student.

It is 2017 and we need higher education opportunities as much as ever. And let this pig in slop continue to do his thing.

 

To Protect And To Serve…Themselves

What does the guy robbing my car and Colin Kaepernick have to do with each other? Read on…as one who was the victim of a robbery a few weeks back, I am forced to engage with law enforcement out of necessity- but more on that and Colin a bit later. First…

The Problems

One does not have to read too many of my blog entries to understand my general feeling toward contemporary law enforcement.  Suffice it to say, I am not a big fan of the popo in general. To summarize in a sentence, my belief is that contemporary law enforcement in the United States -in particular the uniformed officer on the street- is generally populated by undereducated, ignorant and aggressive human beings who otherwise would likely be unemployable in most other industries –outside of something construction related.lapd-door

But how do I really feel?

Hey I did not say all…believe it or not I have several law enforcement friends (Shane, you know who you are)…and they generally agree with me.

However, the problem runs much deeper than the character of the individuals with the guns. The entire system is inherently flawed as we hand over badges, guns and power to 21 year-old kids whose brains are still 4 years away from being fully developed. In other words, we begin a cynical and egotistical brainwashing process that will stick with them the rest of their careers.

Where I reside, they go a step further…they give said guns to kids and then mandate that they go work in a prison for the first several years of their tenure –only to hang out with hardened criminals for a time to ensure their already jaded and cynical view toward humankind is fundamentally wedged into their psyche.

Brilliant.

Had I not been afforded a college education and was subsequently given a gun at 21 with said power -and then hung out with the dregs of society for a few years- you can bet I would be the same unemployable negative human being.

The system sucks.

The second major problem with contemporary law enforcement rests in the idea of incentives. It is fairly well proven that human beings respond to incentives. I would argue everything we do in life is the result of an incentive. No reward? No reason.

I would also argue that the incentive for police brutality is the means by which these (usually) men can work out their personal, emotional anger issues against helpless victims. When I asked a white neighbor of mine many, many years ago why he was quitting his job and joining the LAPD, his response was, “So I can kill some niggers.”

Absolutely true story.

Ok. Incentive understood, racist asshole. But more on incentives in a moment…

A Possible Solution

I have a very simple solution that might solve some of the issues we face today yet gets “poo pooed” by the “popo” as being somehow unrealistic: Simply require that anyone serving in law enforcement must have a 4 year college degree. So simple.

Why do we require a college education for those who educate our children, yet for those with the power to kill our children, we do not?

Oh, and it is not just me who believe this…a recent study out of Michigan State University found compelling evidence that those officers with a college degree are far less likely to use violence in the course of their duties. You can check out this MSNBC report as well.

I am not suggesting this as a 100% certain cure-all for the excessive violence and issues we face today; I am saying the evidence suggests we would likely see a significant decrease. Why?

A college degree says far more about the character of the person and who they are over what they may know. I would argue that achieving a college degree fosters the following:

  • It demonstrates one must possess patience and tenacity.
  • It demonstrates drive and determination.
  • It demonstrates the ability to follow instruction.
  • It demonstrates the ability to cooperate with others.
  • It demonstrates the ability to submit to leadership you may not particularly like or agree with.
  • It demonstrates the ability to finish what you start.
  • It demonstrates the ability to submit to someone else.

And, at least theoretically, acquiring a degree should teach an individual critical thinking skills, reasoning and problem solving all the while opening up minds to a far wider scope of humanity in general -exposing one to differing ideologies, beliefs, and cultures. And unlike one of the most common current forms of preparation, military service, it helps to build mental health, not work towards declining it.

A college education would also make the rookie officers a few years older, which would be beneficial as well.

My Recent Experience

Now, back to the asshole who broke into my car and stole nearly $2000 worth of goods (which includes having to re-key all my cars and house). What is the incentive for law enforcement finding this guy? What is in it for them? If the answer is, well, nothing tangible…finding a two-bit thug will not result in any trophies, raises, bonuses or career advancements. The result?

Nothing. A finger has not been lifted.

I had to plead with law enforcement just to file a report, after 3 trips to the Sheriff’s station. I have called the officer who eventually filed the report several times…nothing returned. After a week of NOTHING I saw some Sheriff deputies eating lunch and approached them with what happened…even had pictures in hand of the guy in the process of robbing my car. Did you get that last part? Pictures of the crime in progress, you read it right. (Read: Protect and serve me….please!)

“Go to the station,” they told me without missing a bite of their pastrami.

I went to the station.

“Go home and call this number,” they told me. I did. I got an answering machine. No call back.

Shocking.

A few days later, I finally got an obligatory call back when they told me there was nothing they could do.

“I have pictures and video of the crime in progress and the precise timeline of where he went to use all my cards. This is a drive down the street for you. We can have this guy this afternoon,” I said.

He told me to bring everything I had into the station.

I did.

Weeks have passed.

Nothing. And I had already done all the detective work heavy lifting.

I wonder what he would do if this were his car or loved one’s car? I think the time and resources might magically become available.

Of course this fine officer of the law probably does not realize that by letting this guy go it may very well be his car next time -and that most big time criminals started out as two-bit thugs.

Did I mention I live in one of the safest cities in California? It is not as though these officers are too busy catching rapists and murderers. Please…

I did mention undereducated, ignorant and aggressive earlier to describe our people in blue….can I add “unmotivated to help the good guys” to that?

Suffice it to say, my latest experience only solidified my feelings toward law enforcement.

I will continue to pay my taxes (their salary) and obey the law. I can also guarantee that the next encounter I have with law enforcement will be about robbery…the extortion and robbery of the police enforcing silly and chickenshit traffic infractions in the name of public safety as they rob the taxpayers. Is it not interesting how remarkably efficient and motivated they can be when there is something in it for them? Just try parking in Pasadena for 46 minutes in a 45 minute only zone…you will experience how remarkably efficient law enforcement can be when it wants to be.

Move over, Colin Kaepernick, I am standing with you my brother. Yes, I realize you are standing up for a system you believe oppresses black people and people of color (and last time I checked “white” was a color)…good for you and agreed.

But this “privileged” white man, although not getting the shit kicked out of him by a rogue cop yet, though the day is young and they have not yet read this blog, agrees we have a corrupt and flawed system that needs serious change.  I seriously doubt sitting on the sideline will do much good, though maybe, just maybe, with such protests, blog writing and expressions of such sentiment through various channels, the winds of change will turn the tide of our flawed system as we change the cultural narrative.

I completely understand that law enforcement at any level is a very difficult job…though is this not all the reason we need to have our best and brightest doing it? Please, what am I missing here? If you are in law enforcement, can you please show me what I am missing? Where am I off base? I really want to know and understand….argue with me and/or enlighten me, PLEASE.

To borrow from the great Martin Luther King, I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and law enforcement will live out the true meaning of its creed: “To Protect and to Serve…The Public.”