January 12, 2005

Community College Teapot Tempest

Notice from your Maximum Leader: The Smallholder wrote this post but delayed in publishing it. He asked your Maximum Leader to read it over and decide if it should be posted. Indeed it should. It may offend some, but that is the price of free speech and free thought. Your Maximum Leader added a few peripheral comments here and there. They are marked clearly. - ML

A post over at the Jawa Report has generated quite the backlash.

The provocative line?

"The best news in this piece is that the good professor teaches in a community college. That is one rung above wearing a paper hat and asking, "do you want to Supersize it?"

A commentator on the web was aghast, aghast I say, that someone would impugn the academic excellence of community colleges.

Go read the post and then the comments.

The Jawas seem to have backed away from the line and have issued a blanket apology of sorts. I don't think one was necessary.

Community colleges have their place. They are an excellent second chance for people who didn't have it together in college.

With few exceptions, community colleges are staffed by folks who don't have the credentials or ability (or desire - ML) to teach at four year institutions. The prestige is less, the pay is less, the quality of students is less. So of course the free market moves good professors to the four year colleges. Reality.

Yes, yes, there are exceptions. Exemplary proponents of the community college concept have turned down better offers and, selfless crusaders to the man, have chosen to stay in the trenches of associate degree education. God bless them. But they are not typical of the average community college professor. Reality.

The Jawa post used the throw-away line to mock the idiot professor who tried to tell a Kuwaiti immigrant that she ought not to be grateful to America. Guess which category he belongs to? One-step-above-paper-hat-wearing or selfless crusader. I'll wait while you consider this difficult problem.

Community College Cindy then went on, defensively feeling her accomplishments were being denigrated. I certainly don't mean to pile on a working mother (God bless her), but one ought to stop and think carefully about comparing apples and oranges. One can get a good education anywhere if one is willing to work (the Maximum Leader and I are relatively literate even though we attended a second-rate school). The community college experience is very different from the college experience at better institutions, just as the Longwood College experience is different from the Yale experience.

First of all, as previously explained, the average level of professional (professorial) ability is lower.

Secondly, the quality of your peers is lower. A major part of college isn't the professor's lectures; it is being pushed by talented peers. In college, the Maximum Leader and I dominated just about every class we took. Most of our peers, having arrived at our illustrious institution because they partied too hard in high school to rise above a 2.0 average, were content to sit spongelike in class, taking notes that they would never review. (In all fairness to our classmates, the average entry GPA was closer to 3.0/4.0 - standardized test scores were lower than "first tier" colleges. - ML)In some ways, that experience is still shaping us. The Maximum Leader and I agree on most things, but we find ways to argue on this blog because we got into the habit while in college. We'd even divvy up responsibilities. If we both agreed on some issue in "The Republic", one of us would argue against that anyway so we could have an actual class discussion. This fishbowl environment didn't prepare me well for graduate school. After spending four years growing an ego the size of Alaska, it was a humbling (and necessary and positive) experience during my first day of a graduate seminar when I looked around and realized that I was the dumbest, least prepared person in the room. I imagine that a community college graduate plunked down amongst Harvard undergraduates would feel much the same.

But, Cindy is already sputtering, lots of smart people go to community college. I'm sure they do. But what about motivated, prepared smart people with an academic orientation? While the occasional person with a bizarre life experience precluding playing in the big leagues might fit that description, I'd bet it is pretty rare.

Let's look at some basic reality. What is the average SAT score of a community college student? What is the average GPA of a community college student? These scores aren't the be all and end all - I had a 2.6 GPA in high school so I hope they aren't. But as averages for large groups, they are a telling comparison and accurate predictor about how hard your peers will challenge you. Reality.

Human nature is a funny thing. We all want to believe that what we do is the "best ever!" I once heard a pompous sorority chick call Longwood "the Harvard of the South." With a straight face. I'm sure Cindy, in all seriousness, wants to believe that community colleges offer the same educational experience as, say, Duke University.

The piece of the paper on your wall isn't always an accurate predictor of one's intelligence or ability to do a job. Skippy, who claims not to have gone to college, has an incredible breadth of knowledge about American history and government. My uncle, who never finished more than the half year agricultural short course at UW, was a widely read, thoughtful autodidact. I have worked for a Harvard MA who couldn't pour piss out of a boot if the instructions were on the heel. I had a battalion commander whose "ring-knocking*" hubris masked massive incompetence. We all decide whose opinions and attitudes matter on a case by case basis. But if one has not had individual interaction, looking at the resume is the best you can do.

Let's do a mental exercise, shall we? You are hiring a new manager for your business. Their performance will directly affect your personal profits. You have interviewed two candidates and both are equally personable. Both seem likely to stick with the company for some time. Do you hire the UVA MBA or the person with an AA from Podunk community college. I'll let you chew that one over.


Or, to take a real example, think about preschool. My wife and I have looked at several preschools for our daughter. Some preschools have teachers with bachelor's degrees in early childhood education. Some preschools only require an associate's degree. All other (examinable/discoverable) things being equal, where would you send your child?

I thought so.


So Rusty, even if the Jawas aren't willing to stand in the face of community college wrath, at least one Villain is willing to stand up for academic snobbery.

I stand prepared for flaming.

* For the non-veteran audience, a "ring-knocker" is an officer who believes that his troops ought to respect him because he attended West Point. Rather than legitimately earning that respect, they will bang their gigantic, gaudy class rings on their desks.


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