What happens when liberal arts are devalued in the community college?

5653093-steve-jobs-liberal-arts-quoteThere seems to be an increasing hostility in the world today towards the study of the liberal arts. This is not a new subject to readers of my blog. As a community college instructor teaching English, I have grave concerns about how this hostility is affecting many of my students at the college where I teach.

If students don’t value the liberal arts, especially the humanities, they often become resentful of having to complete assignments that appear, to their uninformed minds, to have no practical value. This resentment can turn to inattentiveness and a lack of participation, which sometimes turns to more serious inappropriate behavior, and even to open hostility and violence, according to a 2008 study by educational counselors Dr. Robert Dobmeier and Joseph Moran (“Dealing with the Disruptive Behavior of Adult Learners”).

The feeling that students’ time studying in the humanities classroom is somehow wasted is often times reinforced by negative attitudes within the home, among peers and in the wider community. For example, former Governor Pat McCrory of North Carolina said in a 2013 radio interview referring to certain humanities courses, including gender studies and an African foreign language

“So I’m going to adjust my education curriculum to what business and commerce needs to get our kids jobs as opposed to moving back in with their parents after they graduate with debt,” McCrory said, adding, “What are we teaching these courses for if they’re not going to help get a job?”

If the governor of a state with a rich tradition of superb institutions of higher education feels free to make such uninformed statements, it is logical to assume that some students are hearing similar ones at home and among their peers.

I can attest that this lack of respect has led to disrespect for not only the disciplines I teach, but also for myself. Furthermore, I am not alone. Students are becoming more and more critical of instructors’ assignments, teaching styles and assessments. I don’t mean legitimate questions respectfully asked, which leads to explanations that help students understand the material better, but criticism that is increasingly uncivil, including sleeping, texting or talking in class, posting inappropriate comments in online discussion forums, as well as e-mailing rude and even obscene comments to instructors.

Worse, community college instructors are increasingly confronted with angry and hostile students in the classroom and in our offices. These students are often upset that an instructor has carried out a policy that is stated clearly in his or her syllabus or there is some disagreement about a grade. Sometimes these encounters are upsetting and even frightening to the instructor, his or her colleagues, other students, staff and administrators.

I have been teaching a long time, and I know that incidents like these have been happening since the first classrooms were created, but I have never, in my whole almost 30-year career, had so many adult students with such unhealthy attitudes toward learning for learning’s sake, that inexplicable passion for learning, which leads to all of the things so many people say they desire out of higher education–citizens who can think critically, communicate well, solve problems and adapt to new situations quickly.

Something needs to be done. But what? There are no easy answers, but I am going to begin with educating myself with specific information that supports my belief that the study of the liberal arts should be the bedrock of all our institutions of higher learning.

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I found this incredible essay posted on the Academy of Arts and Sciences website, along with a great article entitled, The Vitality of the Humanities in U.S. Community Colleges,” that reiterates my thoughts on the importance of all students studying the arts and humanities in our community colleges:

January 19, 2015

Community College Students and the Humanities: New Opportunities for Learning and Growth

posted by Martha J. Kanter

Martha J. Kanter, Ed.D., is a Distinguished Visiting Professor of Higher Education at New York University and former U.S. Under Secretary of Education from 2009 through 2013.

More than 40 percent of our nation’s adults are unable to read, write, or compute at the competency level expected of America’s high school graduates, so it’s hardly a surprise, even if it is gravely disappointing and frustrating, to inform policy makers, and the public about the worth of the humanities.1 But what better way to elevate the discussion than with facts and policy strategies?

That is why the light that the American Academy of Arts and Sciences is shining on community colleges and the humanities is critical in this endeavor. Even today, too many Americans aren’t aware that the community colleges are the gateway to higher education for more than 40 percent of our nation’s undergraduates. A generation ago the United States was first in the world in the number of college graduates with two-year and four-year degrees. According to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), we are now eleventh in the world, tied with Israel.2 The good news is that we are moving in the right direction: we were ranked sixteenth 16th in the world in 2009. It’s a national imperative that we provide Americans the best quality education so we must look to the community colleges and state universities where the middle-class and low-income majority is seeking higher education. (my accent)

Educational improvements and financial support are sorely needed. Sadly, public colleges and universities were hit hard by the recession and lost, on average, about 20 percent of their state support. We need our private universities to join with their colleagues in the community colleges and state universities in a shared vision to reimagine and redesign general education in the years ahead. In doing so, we will ensure that all of our students have access to the fundamental ideas, knowledge, skills, and capacity to learn that will advance greater numbers of students with undergraduate and graduate degrees for America’s prosperity in the 21st century.

Looking at the facts, more than a third of associate’s degrees are awarded in subjects that require a significant humanities course load.3 Exposure to the humanities in the first two years of college as a significant component of general education provides the intellectual framework for students to compare and contrast the viewpoints of those different from themselves and to delve into the learning spheres of analytical reasoning, problem solving, and decision making to tackle the very real problems facing their communities and the greater society.

In a recent survey, the American Association of Colleges and Universities found that 93 percent of CEOs want to hire individuals who demonstrate the “capacity to think critically, communicate clearly and solve complex problems,” capabilities “more important than their undergraduate major. More than nine in ten of those surveyed say it is important that those they hire demonstrate ethical judgment and integrity; intercultural skills; and the capacity for continued new learning.”4  (accent is mine) 

Unfortunately, the collaboration so urgently needed between the arts, humanities, sciences, and business has fragmented into ever more disparate pieces over the last decade when their interaction and integration should be encouraged to spur innovation, entrepreneurship and creativity to drive our nation forward. In the decades ahead, our nation will need more Americans with college degrees who are well versed in the histories and opportunities to address the major societal challenges of our democracy and the world, not the least of which include the education levels of children, income inequality, the social, economic and civic needs of diverse communities, globalization, innovation, and American competitiveness. Interdisciplinary thought leadership and collaboration will be more important than ever in crossing boundaries to address the local, regional, national, and global problems ahead of us.

When Tom Ehrlich spoke about the pathways to ethical and engaged citizenship at Miami Dade College in 2009, he said, “college learning must be about much more that [sic] knowledge—knowledge that may be obsolete in just a few years. Most important, it must be about learning how to learn and to keep on learning. At its core, that is what a liberal education does, it liberates our minds to learn.”5  (accent is mine) 

We should look to the evidence, embrace the liberal arts as a necessary foundation for postsecondary education in all fields of study, and figure out how to give our students the best possible opportunities to discover themselves, their place in the world, and how they can contribute to improving their own lives and the lives of their communities. In doing so, we will be part of the American dream we wish to realize for ourselves and future generations. (accent is mine)

ENDNOTES
1 U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, 1992 National Adult Literacy Survey (Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Education, 2000), http://nces.ed.gov/pubsearch/pubsinfo.asp?pubid=199909; and U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, “Percentage of adults in each prose, document, and quantitative literacy level: 1992 and 2003,” in 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy (U.S. Department of Education, 2003), http://nces.ed.gov/naal/kf_demographics.asp#2.
2 OECD, Education at a Glance 2014: OECD Indicators (Paris: OECD Publishing, 2014), http://dx.doi.org/10.1787/eag-2014-en.
3 American Academy of Arts and Sciences, “Associate’s Degree Completions in the Humanities as a Percentage of All Associate’s Degree Completions, 1987–2013,” in Humanities Indicators, 2014.
4 Hart Research Associates, It Takes More than a Major: Employer Priorities for College Learning and Student Success (Washington, DC: Hart Research Associates, 2013), http://www.aacu.org/sites/default/files/files/LEAP/2013_EmployerSurvey.pdf.
5 Tom Ehrlich, “Ethical and Engaged Citizens: Whose Responsibility?” (talk delivered at Miami Dade College, Miami, FL, May 21, 2009).

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Stay in School! It’s Worth It!

New York Times opinion page editor David Leonhardt has some interesting things to say about the college dropout rate and how it especially hurts lower income Americans. Here’s a sobering passage for me as a community college instructor:

At the other end of the spectrum are community colleges, the two-year institutions that are intended to be feeders for four-year colleges. In nearly every one are tales of academic success against tremendous odds: a battered wife or a combat veteran or a laid-off worker on the way to a better life. But over all, community colleges tend to be places where dreams are put on hold.

Most people who enroll say they plan to get a four-year degree eventually; few actually do. Full-time jobs, commutes and children or parents who need care often get in the way. One recent national survey found that about 75 percent of students enrolling in community colleges said they hoped to transfer to a four-year institution. But only 17 percent of those who had entered in the mid-1990’s made the switch within five years, according to a separate study. The rest were out working or still studying toward the two-year degree.

“We here in Virginia do a good job of getting them in,” said Glenn Dubois, chancellor of the Virginia Community College System and himself a community college graduate. “We have to get better in getting them out.”

However, Leonhardt offers information that should encourage us to find ways to keep young people in school:

That loss of ground is all the more significant because a college education matters much more now than it once did. A bachelor’s degree, not a year or two of courses, tends to determine a person’s place in today’s globalized, computerized economy. College graduates have received steady pay increases over the past two decades, while the pay of everyone else has risen little more than the rate of inflation.

The battle my colleagues and I fight every day is worth it. Yes, it is.

The link: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/29/opinion/fix-the-college-dropout-boom.html?_r=0

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Still plenty of time to submit to the premier issue of the new literary journal Teach. Write. I am looking for flash fiction, short stories, poetry and creative non-fiction by anyone who is teaching or has taught writing at any level. Deadline is July 1 for the fall 2017 edition. See full submission guidelines for more information.

English Lesson

(Lines Composed after a Bodaciously Bad Day)

by Katie Winkler

A comparative–

Better than before.

Better than this.

Better than that.

Better than some.

Use it in a sentence, please.

When will it be better?

I have been so much better.

Only you can make it better.

Only you

It’s an adjective, dear.

See, here–

Better times

Better rhymes

Better ways

Better days

Simply good is only an adjective.

And the Best is so superlative.

But

Better

Is

Comparative–

It is

Somewhere in Between.

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I know my job gets me down sometimes, like today, but honestly, what do I have to complain about? I get to teach people how to be better writers, read, study and talk about great writers as well as write for my own pleasure–for a living. Is this a great country or what?

Then, there are days like today. But, the day is almost over, and I survived. I’m sitting with the ones I love the most, our little cat snoozing on the sofa. Plus, I just wrote a little poem. It’s nothing special, but I like it because I feel at peace now and better than I have all week. Better.

Hatcher Garden with Hannah 017

Me at Hatcher Gardens in Spartanburg, SC–April, 2015

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Are you a writing teacher? Do you write when you have had a bad day, or is writing the last thing you want to do when you come home from work? I want to know! Please share with me your experiences as a writing teacher–the frustrations and the victories, the writing you do just for fun, to release the tensions of the day–whatever you have to share. If I think it’s right for my new online literary journal, Teach. Write. I will publish it in the Fall 2017 premiere.

Submissions are open now until July 1, so if you don’t have time to write during the school year, you’ll still have time to submit in the summer. Check out my submission guidelines, and I hope to hear from you soon!

Process, Not Plagiarism

my workI created a wiki on wikispaces for my professional development class. I call it Process, Not Plagiarism. Here is a link if you’d like to see it: Katie’s Wiki (My apologies for the Wiki not being open before. I have changed permissions, so you can now see the wiki.)

This is a subject I’ve thought a great deal about in my 27 years teaching and am convinced that the best way to prevent plagiarism is to engage students in the process and observe them throughout it.

The subject of plagiarism detection software came up on my wiki and this was my answer:

It is good to let students know about and learn how to use plagiarism detection software, but it is far from the answer to the plagiarism problem in higher education. First of all, more and more students are learning how to “beat” plagiarism detection software. Here is an article in Times Higher Education by Hannah Fearn from back in 2011 about how easy plagiarism software is to beat: “Plagiarism can be beat with simple tech tricks.”

I have never been a huge advocate for plagiarism detection services anyway because while the software does a decent job of detecting word-for-word plagiarism, it doesn’t do anything for the bigger problem–lack of proper attribution. Students often think that if they use quotation marks and cite quotes then they are home free, and sometimes they think if they re-write in their own words then they don’t need attribution because the software won’t pick up the plagiarism.

Secondly, and most importantly in my mind, emphasizing the process allows me the time I need to encourage students to choose a topic they are truly interested or even passionate about. When students become engaged in the process and truly want to learn about it instead of simply completing a project, then the results can be more than satisfactory–they can be life-changing.

More on this topic later. .

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If you teach or have taught English composition at any level, please consider submitting to the premiere edition of Teach. Write, a literary journal for writing teachers. The submission guidelines can be found at Teach. Write. Submission Guidelines, and I will be accepting works of poetry and prose until July 1. The first edition will come out in September.

Lifelong Learning

One thing I hope to instill in my students is a love of learning, something that continues long after the semester is over, the year ended or the degree conferred. The drive to do this comes, even after almost 30 years of teaching, from my own love of being the student, not the teacher.

Right now, I am enjoying a  course through the state’s professional development system called “Technology Bootcamp II.” I wasn’t privileged to take the first six-week course, but now, in the third week of this second course, I have already learned some exciting new technologies to add spice to my seated and online classes. Here are some new things I’m learning as well as some older things I’m learning anew:

Blackboard–I used to teach using Blackboard until our college moved to Moodle. Although I am so used to Moodle now and happy with that learning platform, it’s gratifying to see that I have gotten back into the swing of things pretty easily. The interfaces are similar enough that I have easily adapted. I am glad, however, to learn the differences, so I can better prepare students who might transfer and encounter Blackboard or those who come to me more familiar with Blackboard than Moodle.

Prezi–I have used Prezi for several years now and prefer it to some other presentation software. In this course, however, I have learned to use some of the bells and whistles that I didn’t know and discovered some templates that I hadn’t seen before. I like Prezi’s dynamic animation that makes presentations almost cinematic. It is user friendly and easy for students to learn. Here is a link to the Prezi I created to introduce myself to the class. Educational accounts are free.

Prezi Introduction

Tagul–This easy-to-use program was new to me, and it is fun!  I can see many uses for it in my classes because I think students will have fun with it too. Tagul allows you to easily produce Word Cloud Art just by uploading web content or adding your own text. Here is one of the first word clouds I created using words from my Study Skills class syllabus.

student-success

I was able to view a short tutorial, and then after a little trial and error, created this word tree that highlights some of the main ideas of the course. Word Cloud exercises could be used for vocabulary-building, learning key concepts and terms, for review purposes and a myriad of other uses. And, like Prezi, it’s free!

Here is a link to the animated version of the word cloud I created:  https://tagul.com/oo05cu2qlre9/student-success

Jing–Although I have used other screencast programs, Jing will be extremely useful for making short how to videos, five minutes or shorter. User friendly with helpful tutorial videos (I should hope so), Jing didn’t take long to get  the hang of and before I knew it, I had created a short tutorial video on how to use Tagul! Here’s a link to the video if you would like to see my first effort at using Jing! Free!

Jing Screencast

LiveBinders–This application helps instructors and students create digital three-ring binders. I haven’t finished working on this project yet, but so far I am quite impressed with LiveBinders. I’m able to download and organize websites, photos, videos, files, etc. that pertain to a particular topic, making them accessible for classroom use. Students can create a free account to create portfolios for class or keep all of their class project files together and easy to share, especially when working on group projects. Very useful.

I will also be learning classroom and online applications of Google Earth this week. Looking forward to it, and I will give you all an update on more useful education applications as I learn them.

I love being a lifelong learner!

Speaking of being a lifelong learner: Just a reminder that my literary e-zine, Teach. Write.,is open for submissions of short fiction, poetry and essays now through July 1, 2017. Anyone who has taught English composition is welcome to submit. See the guidelines  at this link for more information: Teach. Write Submission Guidelines. I would love to see your work!

December 1 still the deadline

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A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Globe Theater, London 2015

I haven’t written this blog for almost two months. I’m sure you can guess why, so I won’t go into it. Maybe I will some day, but not today. Today is the end of a restful and contemplative Thanksgiving season, the first Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of comfort. Today, I am thankful and comforted that I still have something to give to this world.

And yet.

It’s been a long two months, y’all. I have been hopeful, elated, disheartened and even depressed, but none of these feelings are going to get me anywhere. They certainly won’t make me a better teacher, a better writer, a better person. So, I have rested and recuperated, found myself again, the quiet and peaceful me, the me who has a confidence she rarely shows the world, who rests in the certainty that the Apostle Paul was right when he wrote: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).

But what tools does such an insignificant person like me have to do good? The question is absurd. I am a writing teacher. My position affords me tremendous opportunities to do good, and I am so grateful to have these chances to help people pursue the most important achievement of  all, becoming better. Certainly I can help students make their writing better, help them to discover ways to strengthen sentence structure and word usage to better communicate. But teaching writing, because it is so intimate, because students will write things they could never say, forms a bond that few other people can have with a relative stranger–a person who sits and listens and learns for only a few weeks and then is gone.

However, I am not only a writing teacher dedicated to helping my students become better, I have other tools to do good. I am a writer–a true writer.  I write because writing is a part of who I am. One reason I have come to prefer teaching online to teaching in a classroom is that I’m a better writer than a speaker. When I write I can go back and revise, find better words, create better sentences, more effective structures, even different punctuation, until I’m satisfied, or more likely, have run out of time. Being a writer forces me to re-evaluate my words and the way I say them, allows me to instruct more clearly, more permanently, offers me opportunities to express myself with groanings I can not utter, gives me the chance to communicate the joy and sorrow of my life, bringing comfort and cheer to others.

And then there is this one tool that I can’t quite figure out how to use–the one that gets me into so much trouble–my anger. It exhausts me, being angry all the time. Oh, I understand it, even like it at times. It burns inside of me and makes me feel alive. Mostly, it is a righteous flame. At times it fuels me to do good–to speak for those who cannot, to protect like Mother Bear. But these past couple of months, the anger has flamed and threatened to overtake me like the wildfires around my mountain home, sparked by two long months of drought and by small minds who care little about anything other than their immediate ill-conceived pleasure.

But the rains are coming. The showers are already here.

I got this package in the mail the other day. I didn’t think it was for me because I hadn’t ordered anything, but no one else in the household had either, so I opened it up, right before we got the first rainfall that we’ve had since September. Here’s a picture of it:

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As you probably know, it’s from Midsummer’s Night Dream. Helena says it to Hermia when they are fighting over something stupid. Isn’t it funny that these few little words came to me, I still don’t know by whom, at such a low point, the driest part of the season, like raindrops? These words, originally meant to be an insult, hurled at Helena’s vertically challenged rival in a moment of pique, came to me as precious moisture to help dampen the fire of my anger, to redirect it into positive action.

It was just a little rain that day. Just a little. It didn’t really change anything, but it gave me hope. You remember hope.

“Hope” is the thing with feathers –
That perches in the soul –
And sings the tune without the words –
And never stops – at all -”  –Emily Dickinson

I am little, oh so little, but I am fierce,  never stopping -at all.

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And……Still plan to roll out my literary e-zine on December 1, so watch for details and submission guidelines for TEACH. WRITE. in the coming days.