CHARLOTTE LAWS - DREAM AND ACHIEVE TOGETHER
in a Community College Stereotype
By Charlotte Laws
I am a ravenous
Pac-Man when it comes to education. Instead of gobbling up arcade dots, I devour
community college (CC) credits and spit them into some anonymous education
database, never to make their way into a transcript. This is because I have no
need for records; I earned my college degrees years ago.
colleges benefit society with their low cost learning and convenient locations,
my experiences with them punctuate a less-than-flattering stereotype. For
example, CC teachers often have a “no goof-off left behind” philosophy in
which they treat pupils like mental deadbeats regardless of their aptitude or
commitment to college.
There is also a
tendency among CC teachers to focus on grades and classroom conduct and to put
forth rules that encourage uniformity. These practices bruise efforts to master
the subject matter, and hamper creativity and personal responsibility. They
groom students to be obedient workers and followers rather than executives and
leaders in society.
No doubt there
exist maverick CC instructors who operate outside of this paradigm, but
unfortunately my educational path has not yet zigged or zagged with theirs.
I feel qualified
to analyze these issues due to my surfeit of school experiences. I studied at
six four-year universities, including the University of Southern California
(USC) and Oxford University in England, and I have taken dozens of courses at
three Los Angeles area community colleges in statistics, real estate,
screenwriting, typing, philosophy and physical education, to name a few.
This semester I am
enrolled in a community college film production class, and the teacher has
informed the camera savvy students that they should lose some of their savvy in
order to make it fair for the less advanced. This blatant example of lowest
common denominator learning reminds me of an article by Andy Monfried about
showerheads at his gym. Monfried told management how one showerhead in the
men’s dressing room was superior to the others; he requested the water flow of
the inferior ones be improved. Rather than bring the deficient ones up to a
higher standard, management disabled the one with the good flow.
students in my class have been asked to disable themselves. Those who own
quality cameras must toss them aside in favor of substandard ones, and lighting
equipment is forbidden because it is not clear all students have access to it.
Our final project—a one-minute movie—should not be too professional,
according to the instructor.
there is a tendency for CC teachers to be obsessed with grades, tests and
attendance rather than course content. My film teacher is such a repeat offender
in this area that I have devised my own version of hangman to track the extent
of her neurosis. Every time she mentions grades or exams, I add a body part to a
pen-drawn hangman in my notebook. By my calculation, she has been noosed 42
is an integral part of my film teacher’s obsession. All students are required
to sign in twice: once at the start of her class and again at the end, and two
absences means a failing grade for the semester. I suppose members of the
proletariat need to learn how to comply with a time clock, to practice being
tame and mindless workers, to experience what it feels like to receive a demerit
or get fired. My teacher’s message is clear whether she realizes it or not: we
can’t have CC students thinking they can be executives or controlling their
Last semester, I
took a tennis class and encountered another attendance-related absurdity. My
teacher said all students must sit quietly in the gym for two hours on rainy
days or suffer a lower grade. My classmates did not seem too bothered; I
In addition to
lowest common denominator learning and the flawed tendency to focus on grades,
tests and attendance, there is one final trend I find at community colleges.
Teachers often go overboard in an effort to control students’ behavior in the
classroom. I call this the “nun
with the ruler” syndrome.
He didn’t look
like a nun, but my basic computer skills teacher would reprimand students who
touched their computer keyboard before they were told to do so. If he’d owned
a ruler, he’d surely be a serial whacker. He also exhibited paranoia about
cheating. He thought every student was itching to glance at someone else’s
paper, so he’d pace the room with an eagle eye.
Five years ago, I
convinced my 62-year-old husband Charles to take this computer class with me. We
sat side-by-side, and the “nun” got the impression Charles was cheating.
Charles resented being treated like a child, so he defiantly refused to study
and received low marks on tests. Whenever he got an answer right, the teacher
assumed he’d stolen it from my paper. In addition, Charles kept touching his
keyboard during class and getting admonished for it. This made him seem like a
instructor didn’t know was that Charles had a law degree from Oxford
University and was an English Barrister, California attorney and Judge Pro Tem.
He had no reason to cheat in an entry-level computer class.
One day, Charles
said, “I need to leave class early. I have to be in court.”
The teacher shook
his head in a condescending manner--assuming Charles to be a criminal in
addition to an underperforming bum—and asked, “Now, what did you do,
We told him he was
sitting as a judge. It was hilarious, but at the same time, disturbing to know
that a brilliant man who had excelled at Oxford—where showing up for class was
never required--could barely survive the oppressive regime of a community
that community college students are as much as 31% more likely than similar
four-year college students to drop plans to obtain a bachelor’s degree after
two years of higher education. The CC students in the study initially had the
same grades, abilities and academic motivation as the four-year students. They
were similar with respect to race, class, gender and age, and did not have
greater responsibilities at work or home. The findings suggest that there is
something inherent about community college that makes students lose interest in
campuses have a less collegiate feel—a factor that surely disadvantages
students—treatment in the classroom is also a likely factor.
not coddle students, drown them in rules or stifle creativity. They should not
obsess over grades and attendance, but rather encourage initiative, trust,
freedom and personal responsibility. They should replace true-false tests with
essays, and focus on big picture learning with the assumption that their
students will become managers, business owners, industry leaders and high
Forty-six percent of all undergraduates are enrolled in the 1200 community colleges in the United States, so there’s a lot at stake. I suggest we relegate the community college stereotype to the same fate as the stick figured man in my film production notebook.
in the Chronicle
of Higher Education on October 24, 2007.
Published on Blog 1 and Blog 2 on November 27, 2007
Published in Opinion Editorials on November 27, 2007
Published in American Chronicle on November 27, 2007
Published in OpEd News on November 27, 2007
Published in The Simon on November 27, 2007
Published in the Tolucan Times on November 28, 2007