As a child growing up inside the Washington Beltway, I learned early never to have much faith in politicians. Every few years new folks came to the city, promising “change” and leaving without having done much at all. The candidates and officials I did like never got the attention and promotions they deserved. And worst of all, those who claimed to be on my side were everlasting disappointments (read: Bill Clinton).
Somehow that cynical base inside me melted a little with the election of Barack Obama, and became a tiny puddle when he announced the American Graduation Initiative. Finally, a president who “got” it! As educators we were all working to prepare children for a full life, and that had to include a real shot at higher education. That meant finally giving sufficient resources to the colleges where the majority of those looking longingly at the American Dream were going to end up: community colleges.
My heart went pitter-patter when I heard Obama call community colleges an “undervalued asset” to the nation, one often treated like a “stepchild” and an “afterthought.” I felt real hope for the world my kids would grow up in when he summoned the “can-do American spirit” of community colleges everywhere to help transform the American economy.
I thought things had really changed.
Well, it looks like I was completely and utterly wrong. Today the American Graduation Initiative sits on the chopping block, thanks not only to the money-grubbing hands of banks but also to the Democrats’ fears of their powerful colleagues who throw their primary support to the nation’s Historically Black colleges and universities. Community colleges will soon learn that their place in this society hasn’t changed a bit– they are expected to accomodate our national desires for widespread college-going while getting next to no support in return. The students they serve– those without BA-educated parents or beaucoup bucks– will get a worse fate– locked out of the courses they need, crammed into overcrowded classrooms, expected to learn without any of the technological advancements of their counterparts.
This country has no heart for these kids. We claim to care enough to prepare them, to try and reform the k-12 system to get them ready for college– but we won’t take the necessary action to make sure college is ready for them. We’re rethinking NCLB to set them up for what, exactly?
So here I am, back where I started. Deeply suspicious and cynical, wondering what all the work was for. And hoping, really hoping, that I’m wrong. Maybe the Senate will come to its senses. Maybe.