Friday, September 14, 2007

Reflections on Long Beach City College

My school, Long Beach City College, is celebrating its 80th anniversary this week. The Long Beach Press-Telegram wrote a nice editorial on the role of the college in the life of the Long Beach community:

As LBCC turns 80 today, it is important to recognize what has taken place inside those old buildings. The college has made incredible contributions to students, the work force and to the community since it first opened in 1927...[the college] educates students who often cannot afford or are not yet prepared for traditional four-year campuses. Others are ready for the Cal States and UCs, but do not want to go into debt for their first two years of college.

But that is only part of the LBCC story. City College is often the last stop for students at the other end of the scale, those who need the remedial skills they did not - or chose not - to get in high school. Instructors there are charged with the awesome task of getting unprepared students prepared for college-level work.
Read the rest of the editorial. LBCC also has a reputation as having one of the strongest extracurricular programs in the region, and the college's boosters help the campus retain its standard of community leadership as well.

On a personal level, I've been very proud to make my career as a community college instructor at LBCC. Community colleges are not presitigious institutions, and in fact some graduates of Ph.D. programs are often not encouraged to apply at the two-year level, as the community college teaching load is not always conducive to research. Yet, I like the absence of the "publish-or-perish" thing - I read or research what I want, with no demands for publication. It's a trade off between prestige and flexibility, and not a bad one at that.

But sometimes I'm taken back by some of the things people will say about community colleges or my position as a two-year college professor.

Over at FireDogLake the other day, I challenged Christy Hardin Smith's attacks on General Petraeus (in one of my periodic commenting forays into the hard-left blogosphere).

Check out the thread: I obviously went into the hornet's nest and was attacked relentlessly. I was called a "dick" by Hardin Smith. Other commenters likely Googled me to find out where I taught, with one commenter dismissing my community college teaching as speaking to "a lack of ability." Others started denouncing me as "Douglass", with the emphasis on "ass." Still others argued "it's a junior college" and he doesn't teach "upper division" classes. Some even questioned whether I was really an associate professor!

And for what? Why all these ad hominems? For criticizing an attack post on General Petraeus' credibility, a post I said was about as nasty as

In any case, no worry. FireDogLake's a bastion of Bush-bashing anti-Americanism and the commenters there are ignorant and shamelessly intolerant.

But let me leave readers with a little more perspective on the communty college tradition from my experience: I'm a rigorous professor, and I have very high expectations for my students. In my international relations and comparative politics courses, I'm training students in political science fundamentals, in the disciplinary literature and methods needed for successful university transfer. Many of my students go on to Berkeley, UCLA, and USC, and other excellent four-year collleges. I seek to challenge my charges - many of whom have come from disadvantaged backgrounds - so they'll be ready for the rigors and competition of elite university life.

My students often thank me for pushing them. Here's an e-mail from a student who transferred to Berkeley awhile back, and was responding to a quick note I sent her to see how she was doing:

It's funny that you write to me now...[I was] just reflecting today on how your classes provided such an excellent foundation for the political science courses...taken so far. I'm actually in my second semester in Berkeley so I still have about a year and a half left until I graduate and go to law school...Academically I think Berkeley is overrated; they hardly require critical thinking or analysis and make us rely heavily on readings and honing the skill of regurgitating them. I wish the grading was more difficult and we weren't babied so much here but I guess the demographics of these students give them more of a sense of entitlement to an A grade than the students in Long Beach. I don't know if I'm making any sense but it's just my analysis of my experience, Berkeley is only difficult to me because it's this little bubble that is so detached from the real world; academically it's very easy if one works hard enough. The professors seem so much more concerned with their own research and reputation that they allow for a system in which the students to learn for a grade as opposed to acquiring real knowledge. I hope your classes are going well; some of the best readings I've ever read for political science came from your course and the same authors always reappear, so I guess I'm saying you made a really good and relevant choice with the readings. The case studies were especially helpful and mirror what we are doing in one of my political science classes now. It was nice hearing from you, thank you for your continued support.
I get comments like this from my former students every now and then.

These testimonials are some of the most important rewards of teaching.
Community colleges are vital to the lives of their neighborhoods, as the Long Beach Press-Telegram editorial indicates, and as my experiences confirm.

I find it disturbingly ironic that radicals who consider themselves "progressives" are so intent to impugn the credentials of professors at the community college level. In fact, the s
tudents who I teach need the best possible instruction possible: If you think about it, I'm one of those "highly qualified" instructors teaching "disadvantage students" in "depressed neighborhoods" (the type of teachers liberals are always demanding when they bash standards-based education).
But facts like this don't get in the way of the pseudo-elitist idiots like those over at FireDogLake and elsewhere. These folks have no clue as to what it's really like in the educational trenches, and frankly, they don't even care.

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