When Community Colleges are Busy Being Relevant Instead of Pertinent

One of my daily tasks these past few weeks is checking in daily with the case work I have completed for the U. S. Census Bureau.  One of the people who do the check in always seemed very interesting – just out of college, youthful positive attitude, willingness to work hard within a group having competing demands….oh, but wait, this person did not go to college – and that is where this blog begins.

I had an opportunity to talk with the person above, just 22.  He had tried a local community college and took English 101 as well as U. S. History.  In my mind these were two classes this person could have easily passed – he is quite worldly on issues of politics both local and in other time zones and places, well read, passed through the usual high school hallmarks of higher math/physics (which he enjoyed) and his mother is a teacher.

WhatI found out was that his English 101 class was focused on East Indian Culture – not quite sure why and U.S. History was all about the glory and hoopla of Obama, without addressing the issues of people running away from both parties, looking at libertarianism and really demanding our government get it together.  In both cases this person felt that the classes were so watered down there was nothing within the class to hold his interest and he did not feel there was any academic rigor as to what was expected of him.

We continued talking – it was enlightening for me as I have always thought that college, while great for many things, is not the exact right fit for everyone or the Bill Gates Effect if you will.  I have met so many highly intelligent people in the bay area, not all with a plethora of paper degrees.  Most often, these intelligent people do not fit the standard form of a classroom model and are beautiful dreamers, ready to be innovative – something we desperately need.  By the end of the conversation, I had recommended looking at taking some classes at The Crucible in Oakland and piecing together the education he felt he needed to be happy/successful in life since he was quite intelligent and definitely wanted to learn more – although he needed an academic challenge to feel satisfied, not the challenge of merely showing up.

The conversation lasted quite a while and really made me think about the issue I keep reading about where community colleges are having to pick up the slack of what students didn’t learn in K-12 education, everything from algebra to writing a five paragraph page on one topic. I have tutored students from community college, heck, I have attended community college at various times in my life.  When did community colleges get so focused on being relevant that they gave up being pertinent?

Since I was feeling a bit off on choice of wording, I looked up both relevant and pertinent to be sure they indeed have a subtle different meaning (something we would remember from studying for our SAT’s) and I had to go through the thesaurus to get to a point where there was enough clarity as to what does make these words differnt, beyond their entymology.