A Publication of WTVP

If you’re over 40—no, maybe over 50—and have been watching the news lately, you might be perplexed by some of the inhumane reports we’ve been hearing: students beating up other students because of something said on MySpace; parochial school teachers and parents duking it out; messages of hate, wherever they come from, being attributed to cultural reasons rather than simply to hate. In the words of Buffalo Springfield, “Something’s happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear.”

It seems that Americans have become less tolerant and more hatefully indignant than ever before in history. And when the source of their indignation doesn’t acquiesce, violence—whether in language or deed—seems to have become the norm. What’s going on here?

Students are not graduating from high school. Students are underachieving. Jobs are being lost to other countries. People are losing their homes, their incomes and their ability to affordably travel from one place to another. I guess you could say the frustration continues to build. And yet, rather than rolling up our sleeves in Rosie the Riveter fashion, we key cars that are nicer than ours, bash others in the head, call them names and bemoan our own plight as unfair, even when it’s based on choices we make.

In short, Americans are starting to live in Pity City, rather than just visiting once in awhile. And why is this happening?
I think part of it comes from a devaluation of education. Another part comes from an aversion to the hard struggles and hard work of our forebearers. Today, people—especially young people—fail to see the value of an education. Although the data supports the need for an education in securing a strong income and future, students are content to walk away from it. It’s too hard, too boring, costs too much, takes away from my fun time, the teachers are too tough…the list goes on. For many—certainly not all—toughing it out in the classroom is too much to bear. Yes, it’s true that we have a few ineffective and incompetent teachers in education, but those should not be confused with challenging teachers.

The final element that contributes to the perfect storm of American entropy is lack of community. We see an increasing focus on giving voice to every splinter group without the requisite process of creating dialogue that unites. It is laudable to listen to varied and different ideas, but those ideas need to be focused on solutions. Embracing diversity without understanding how to use it to build community is counterproductive. Giving voice to those not in the majority or mainstream should not be meant to diminish or devalue the mainstream, but to include more in the flow of community and strengthen its current.

Community colleges are often crucibles for trying to harmonize these elements. Many students come to us later in life, recognizing that they “need an education.” Most of our students have real jobs, juggle family commitments and still stay current in schoolwork. Because we admit all students, community colleges provide a broader perspective on community, but probably still not broad enough. Within these confines, many students begin to change how they think about education, hard work and the benefit of community. They literally change their attitudes and change their minds.

We’ve recently updated our mission. It now reads, “Through learning, minds change. We believe by changing minds, we can change the world.” It’s an aggressive mission. But as we look at what can happen to attitudes, habits and lives within the community college environment, we believe it’s a worthy and timely mission. IBI