INTERVIEWER Some people say they can’t understand your writing, even after they read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them? FAULKNER Read it four times.
Monday, January 5, 2015
Charting the Future
For going on 8 years, I taught as an adjunct at South Central College (SCC) in North Mankato. While I was aware of and agreed with the national outrage on the use (and misuse) of adjuncts in higher education, I was somewhat immune from it, too, as I was treated very well at SCC. I had the luxury of being supported by an administration that appreciated my commitment to learning and supported me in my classroom endeavors. I was welcomed and encouraged to participate in discussions and committees on everything from college readiness to the creation of the Secular Student Alliance. Even though I sometimes wasn’t sure when/where my classes would run up until the day before they began (normal college chaos, I think), I was confident that they would, and they did. For years, I taught a full-time course load at a school that understood its community and its student population and endeavored to put in place the best people to help those students and its community. I felt secure, and I was able to pass along the investment I felt to the disciplines, the students, SCC, and the community.
I did not question whether or not my hours in the classroom or online with my students mattered. I knew they did from the quality of my students’ works and my interactions with them. I honestly believed that the last, best equalizer we had in this country was education, and I approached my job with that sincerity and severity. I meant to help people, many of whom came from extremely challenging backgrounds, develop a lifelong desire to learn and improve their lives. And, I felt that my colleagues and the administration meant to do the same.
On a swift wind, things began to change. A new administration came in and number of concerning moves were made with seemingly little real research or thought or care.
History is one of my amateur hobbies. So, even as the gales swept through the halls and classrooms and offices, I accepted that sometimes drastic measures are needed to repair real problems, institutionalized sexism or racism, for instance. I also understood that sometimes even the most well-meaning people can become part of a system that forwards these embedded blights on society. I sincerely sat back, thought, and asked myself if that’s what had happened at SCC. At the time, I thought I’d ride these changes out with my head down and wait and see if the changes, while painful in the present, were going to create a better future. I taught, I thought, and I read, and I researched.
The answer was no.
These measures have nothing to do with lifting up our disadvantaged students. Instead, they reek of mismanagement, ignorance, and frankly, corruption.
I’ve seen good teachers and good programs eliminated with the most contradictory language and nonsensical reasoning. I watched beloved classes, which were consistently full, get eliminated (then reintroduced after student protests but at the cost of a good administrator being scapegoated and then terminated). The new administration refused to support, neither financially nor personally, SCC’s annual global conference, which, this year, was a celebration and appreciation of the Hmong population. This administration seems to have a very narrow definition of what cultural diversity is and demonstrates very little curiosity about the varied backgrounds of our particular student body. A student senate member was told to remember his place and not rise above it by the new president. Many, many colleagues were told to basically sit down and be quiet or risk being labeled a racist. I’ve seen a concerted effort to divide and conquer faculty members. I’ve witnessed the sterilization of the union. I’ve seen and heard intellectual fraud and financial mismanagement.
For too long, I sat on it.
The end of last semester, I quit. I now write from the perspective of a former employee, an alumnus of MnSCU, an advocate of MnSCU students, a friend to many MnSCU teachers, and a mother to a future MnSCU student. Frankly, aside from a lot of backlash and potential problems with future employment, there’s nothing in the following rant that really serves me financially or career-wise.
I must be serious.
This new administration has instituted a full frontal assault on the arts and intellectual curiosity. The implementation of “Charting the Future,” which has begun at SCC, abolishes the right of every Minnesotan, including rural Minnesotans, to enjoy a full education, including trade and liberal arts courses. SCC seems the beginning of the plan, but the strategy will spread to the rest of the MnSCU campuses with direction from Chancellor Rosenstone, prodded by special interest groups. In fact, it’s likely that the strategy has begun in Rochester and Worthington already. Our state college system will be turned into job training centers that benefit no one except the already wealthy and powerful.
First, a defense of the liberal arts, which have been identified as a “problem” by the forces behind “Charting the Future.”
Access to and choice of art and history and photography and race relations and geography and creative writing and psychology and history and philosophy and speech classes don’t distract students from carpentry and mechatronics and agriculture and nursing classes or, for crying out loud, graduation or future, gainful employment. Rather, the liberal arts enhance those classes and vice versa.
Filling the community with workers who also entertain thinking, reading, understanding, musicianship, artistry, creating, inventing, and criticizing is a positive undertaking. Not only that, but our students want courses that develop these attributes. Of course they require good employment, but they also aspire to enjoy their lives and think deeply and be constructive assets to their families and communities. The students desire a complete experience.
Our goal in higher education, even in community college education, is not simply to produce workers for the present demands of fickle CEOs of billion-dollar industries, as this administration intends to do with the “Charting the Future” initiative. Rather, the goal of higher education is to develop citizens who can work, yes, but also adapt to changing stimuli, to be skilled and interested in many areas so that WHEN the economic needs change, those individuals can move and bring their knowledge and craftsmanship to other careers. Higher education isn’t about landing an entry-level job only. It’s about a lifetime of inquisitiveness, empathy, healthy living, healthy relationships, and productive citizenry. The liberal arts foment those goals.
“Charting the Future” intends to disable these classes and the programs.
Despite the claim that the original tenents of the “Charting the Future” initiative were not influenced by the Itasca Group or McKinsey and Company (as though the exact same ideas and language spontaneously erupted at the very same time, like the pyramids of Egypt and Mesomerica!), this is obviously a misremembering of events. If you really want to raise the hair on the back of your neck, read one of the documents that sheds light on the ideas that shaped “Charting the Future,” the McKinsey and Company report, “Game Changers: Five Opportunities for US Growth and Renewal” to the National Governor’s Association in which they identify five areas of opportunity, the first being fracking and the fifth being higher education and in which they discuss all the political maneuverings they’ll have to put in place to develop these areas for optimal financial gain. McKinsey has been delivering variations of this plan throughout the country since at least 2011.
In the meanwhile, they, Chancellor Rosenstone and crew, have to convince us that nothing in higher education is currently working because that’s what McKinsey’s research told them. Therefore, “bold” change is needed, implemented by “strong” leaders because that’s what McKinsey’s research told them. They have to convince us that our graduates aren’t skilled enough for the present needs of industry because that’s what McKinsey’s research told them.
Really? Everywhere I turn I see a glut of highly intelligent, highly skilled individuals.
Perhaps these CEOs, McKinsey’s very narrow sample group, need to keep better company.
Perhaps if the CEOs raised their wages, the resumes from qualified individuals would crash their computers and crush their desks.
Or, perhaps the CEOs hope to flood the state with even more workers, all skilled in the exact same way so that corporations can keep wages suppressed and thwart any attempt at new inventions, new ideas, new small businesses, new competition.
Who, exactly, was McKinsey’s sample group? Who, exactly, did they interview? Since when is a question such as “Are you concerned about the skills of potential employees” considered real research? Since when do you change an entire education system based on the close-ended responses of a self-interested sampling group? We don’t even allow composition students to get away with that kind of shoddy research. Administration can package this crap up in tidy powerpoints and binders, get some suit who appropriates our own language to deliver it, but those gilded trappings don’t make the research credible.
With some real research, McKinsey might have noted that a major component of “Charting the Future,” giving students credit for skills they already possess, is already in place. Every semester, many of us at SCC assess the incoming skills of students and sometimes forward a deserving student onto the next level. Heck, MSU was doing this back in the early 2000s, when I was a six-months-pregnant undergrad passing out of physical education by taking a swimming test.
That said, I must add that even when a student comes to a higher-level course with mastery skills, good instructors (of which MnSCU is fortunate to be drowning in) adapt the curriculum to further challenge the student. The syllabus should never be a “one-size-fits-all” stone tablet. We do and should always adapt curriculum to the knowledge, the needs, and the learning styles of our students. For high-functioning students, more to investigate exists and can be discovered with guidance from a teacher who invests in him or her. These kinds of adaptations can’t take place in the system proposed by “Charting the Future” where uniformity and cold objectivity is the way.
In another flawed bit of logic, this administration and “Charting the Future,” again guided by the findings of McKinsey, place the blame for dragging degree-completions and too-high drop-out rates on the curriculum, on the classroom methods, on teachers, and on schools’ selfish noncooperation and competition for students.
I don’t think so.
With some real research, perhaps McKinsey might have learned that present financial suction is at the heart of our students’ college fatigue. Nothing would do more to improve the learning and skill-development and degree-completion of the present college population than food-secure and housing-secure lives and an immediate raise in wages, which would buy the students time to concentrate on developing their minds and their abilities rather than splitting their days between long-houred, low-paying jobs, school, and family.
Although no one needed to spend two million dollars for them to do it, Chancellor Rosenstone, with McKinsey’s enlightenment, did stumble upon a real problem in higher education: student loan debt. But, they misidentified the solution. Racing students through standardized tests delivered electronically is not a solution. Interestingly, that strategy will only boost the profits of corporations who create standardized tests, corporations like, say, McKinsey. Student loan debt is a cultural problem. Student loan debt is a symptom of our collective messed-up priorities. Since we, as a state and nation, have decided to cut subsidies in the form of grants, students have had to take on larger loan burdens. Since we, as a state and nation, have decided that we don’t want to provide universal health care for all of our citizens, colleges have passed the rising costs of health care for their employees onto their students in the form of rising tuition. We need to reconsider what we care about in this country. Do we want our tax dollars to continue to be poured into defense and write-offs for special interest groups? That’s a decision we have to make with the ballot.
Another thought on completion rates: I wonder what would happen if students were encouraged to pursue scholarship that interested them. Hm. Here’s, admittedly, a heart-tugging scenario for you: let’s say it’s 3 am, and your child erupts in red pox and seeps from every orifice. You rush him to the emergency room, of course. Who would you rather have help him? The nurse who chose nursing and skated through with a B- average because that’s where the jobs were even though what he really wanted to study was the migratory routes of orcas? Or the nurse who chose nursing because she loved the health sciences and loved helping people and earned top notch scores in every preparatory course?
I wonder if McKinsey accounted for the fact that “employees” actually have desires and preferences, minds and hopes of their own.
OK, for a minute, let’s just humor this administration and McKinsey and their brainchild “Charting the Future.” Let’s say their research is solid (*choking cough*). Fine. But, since when do we implement drastic changes based on the requests of corporations without requiring some reciprocation from these corporations, one that translates into REAL benefits for our students, one like “we promise to provide paid internships” or “we promise to pay entry-level employees x% above minimum wage,” for instance?
In the past, McKinsey’s brand of leadership and research has contributed to insider trading prosecution (Pavlo “Former McKinsey and Co. Boss, Rajat Gupta, Guilty of Insider Trading”), the Enron fiasco (Chu “McKinsey: How Does It Always Get Away With It”) and the AOL-Time Warner merger (Sternbergh “Book Review: The Firm by Duff McDonald”). The American talltale of epic failings is charged with guiding a “bold” plan for education reform to correct “failing” schools? At the very least, this is ironic, right? I’m sure there are some success stories, too, guided by McKinsey. But, as Sternbergh, in his Bloomberg Businessweek book review of McDonald’s expose on McKinsey and Company writes, “For every positive McKinsey achievement—its consultants urged the newly elected President Eisenhower to create the position of White House chief of staff—there are at least as many failures.”
The point is, McKinsey routinely suggests risky gambles with other people’s money. Are we going to turn higher education into a casino with taxpayer dollars and student loans?
I could go on. I haven’t even broached the link between McKinsey and Company and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). But, you can google that frightening relationship at your leisure.
Of course, there’s always the possibility that McKinsey was chosen precisely for their nefarious strategies and connections. Perhaps someone or something else is behind this swift and opaque change? Because of the density of the implementation, it’s difficult to go down that road without sounding like a conspiracy theorist. However, I only have to look at our neighboring state to the east to get a shiver.
In its defense of “Charting the Future,” administration claims to have consulted students and faculty about its tenents.
None of my colleagues was consulted before the implementation began. In fact, they’ve been told to sit down and shut up time after time. Which they’ve mostly done because they fear for their jobs and their ability to continue their good work in their classrooms.
No one in my classes was consulted either.
If they had been, administration might have learned that many of my Somali students come from agrarian backgrounds. Might they not have had something to say about their skills for potential employers, perhaps to one of Minnesota’s hugest corporations mentioned in the McKinsey and “Charting the Future” reports, Cargill? About how to grow crops in very, very challenging conditions, for instance?
Might not have my many, many children of Latin American immigrants known a little bit about food production, too, as their parents are the backbone of this country’s agricultural and food production labor force, as they come from the people who domesticated our most profitable, subsidized, and ubiquitous commodity, corn? Might they might not have known something about how to adapt when political freewheeling and corporate gluttony annihilate your livelihood in the blink of an eye causing a mass economic catastrophe and a subsequent exodus from your country?
Perhaps my droves of low-income students feeding families on the barest of necessities could have provided some insight into the ingredients they need and want to put on their dinner tables. Might not have Dr. Parker and Chancellor Rosenstone and McKinsey and Company and any of the businesses consulted benefited from talking to these students?
Any idiot should understand that not only are these students the next economy’s employees, but they are also its consumers.
Ask them what they want the world to look like. Don’t tell them what you require from them to keep your coffers full. Your presumptions stink of pretention and entitlement and classism and elitism.
Teaching is not only about preparing students for job skills and throwing money into the economy. Oftentimes, the classroom is about providing a safe place for conflicted or wounded people to begin reflecting and healing for the benefit of families and communities.
Bear with me. Here’s a long story, but it does have a point:
This past semester, full of interesting events, culminates in this: two Somali students both wrote their final persuasive argument papers on female circumcision. One was a young woman of 18 who experienced the procedure at seven. She was very skeptical of me in the semester’s beginning. Gradually, though, I earned her trust. Finally, toward the end of the semester, my students had to choose a persuasive argument topic. She couldn’t decide, so I sat with her after class one night and probed her about her interests outside of school. And, then, she looked at me and said, I think I’d like to write about circumcision.
The other paper came from an elder Somali gentleman who confided that he was interested in broaching this topic but that it was taboo for him to do so and that he was embarrassed. This was his second, different class with me. And, because I had developed a good rapport with him over a couple of years, I challenged, and I pushed him to write the paper. I told him that it was his responsibility to make bold proposals when he sees wrong in the world. I told him he was in a position of power within his community. He did.
Because of my own liberal arts education at Minnesota State University, Mankato, which included courses in Postcolonial African literature, women’s studies, and Geography, I knew how to help these students. Also, in my time at SCC, I had developed a strong relationship with one of my colleagues and officemates, an adjunct like me, who had spent years working with Sudanese and Somali immigrants. Through her, I gleaned a wealth of information about the challenges these populations face in Mankato.
As a student, I took many practical pedagogy and curriculum instruction courses at MSU, which were intended to help me get a job, but it was my liberal arts courses, those frivolous flights of fancy according to McKinsey and “Charting the Future,” and my work-place relationship that prepared me for helping these particular students.
I hear stories like this one from my colleagues all the time, ones that prove to me over and over again that schools and teachers have to understand the needs of their particular communities, their particular students, which will be eliminated with the implementation of “Charting the Future.” What works in Worthington, where my teacher friends might have to develop specialized knowledge on the unique challenges of student athletes, does not necessarily work in North Mankato.
Tell me the kinds of strategies employers have in place to deal with the many, many trials this generation of the poor, of the PTSD-laden, and of demoralized immigrants possess. Corporations don’t even want to train their own employees anymore. They want schools to do it. They want students to take out student loans to get job training. That is not in the best economic interest of students. That is not a cost-saving measure for students. That is a cost-saving measure for companies. Remember when employees used to get paid for job training on the job? Are we just going to shuffle these students through school without real, compassionate teaching and feed them to business lords who care nothing for them?
I do not want to do that. I did not become an educator to do that.
Schools are for communities. Schools are not for corporations.
Something has gone bad.
“Charting the Future” isn’t really about students and higher learning. It is not about what’s best for Minnesota. What this administration and its CEO advisory committee have implemented is a system that is perfectly poised to get as many people as possible into students loans, privatize education as much as possible, suppress organized labor, further corporate agendas, dumb down citizens, develop curriculum with industry-supporting propaganda, move students away from areas of potential environmental exploitation, get their hands on and extract the life out of our two most valuable resources in Minnesota: our young people and our environment.
Chu, Ben. “McKinsey: How Does It Always Get Away With It?” The Independent, 7
Feb. 2014. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
Lund, Susan, James Manyika, Scott Nyquiat, Lenny Mendonca and Sreenivas
Ramaswamy. “Game Changers: Five Opportunities for US Growth and Renewal.” N.p.: McKinsey Global Institute, July 2013. Pdf.
Pavlo, Walter. “Former McKinsey and Co. Boss, Rajat Gupta, Guilty of Insider
Trading” Forbes, 15 June 2012. Web. 22 Dec. 2014.
Sternbergh, Adam. “Book Review: The Firm by Duff McDonald.”
BloombergBusinessWeek, 5 Sept. 2013. Web. 22. Dec. 2014.