Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Treasure Hunt Without The Treasure

I have written previously on about a former student of mine lost in community college hell. Such is the educational reality in America these days that one must wade through a lot of crap to get to a decent university and a desired program of study. This is the case for Elda, a student much too smart for her particular ring of Dante’s Inferno. However, she hasn’t allowed her woefully deficient education experience to damage her sharp sense of humor.

Logging on the other night, I found her latest rant lodged in my inbox. A new semester brings yet more grievances from the land of allegedly higher education. She listed her most pressing pet peeves:

“Expensive college textbooks that are assigned merely because the professor must assign a book or is too lazy to make his own multiple choice exams and thus, I must go buy a $200 book for a class I have already taken in high school.”

“Taking a class I have already taken in high school because a 3 on the AP exam is not sufficient for the high, high standards of community college.”

“Online classes—I made the mistake of signing up for 3 of these this semester because they were the only classes open at the time, and now I’m stuck with ‘Tell me about you, what are your interests, if you could be any part of a bicycle which would it be?’”

“Quizzes on a syllabus. Yes, I repeat, a quiz on the syllabus.”

“Deadlines that are not truly deadlines. If you’re posting an assignment and you’re going to say that it’s due on February 15, then why do I get the full points only if I post it on the 13th and partial points if I post it on the 14th and even fewer points if I post it on the 15th? Am I the only one completely baffled by that or am I just weird?”

“What is an online treasure hunt? Are these teachers trying to kill me?”

“And if you’re going to post an online treasure hunt then please have the decency to tell me what I’m looking for before I have to click the little button that says ‘Begin treasure hunt.’”

I wish I had better news with which to console her. Governor Jerry Brown has proposed major cuts in all areas of education in California, including a 500 million dollar decrease in the CSU budget. In a report released by The Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles at UCLA, students were in dire straits before Brown’s proposed cuts. According to the press release announcing the publication of the report, “the students at CSU Northridge are struggling to finish college as tuition soars, class offerings shrink, and families are devastated by the economic turndown, the housing crisis, and the very high levels of joblessness and underemployment.” Because of these cuts, “A large portion of students face enormous challenges to graduating and preparing for their future.” The report discusses how students must support their families while completing their studies, and therefore are burdened with an overwhelmingly high level of stress.

The key findings of the report are disturbing:

58.6% of students said their families relied on them more now for financial support

26% of both Latino and African American students’ families in this study cannot pay their bills

Parents of more than 1 out of 10 students overall had lost their job; 21.3% of students have parents who hours or salary was reduced

40% of Latino and Asian students, 25% white students, and 20% of African American students helped support or provide emergency aid to other family members

80% of all students say it is harder to meet expenses today than two years ago; 30% say it is much harder or they simply cannot meet their costs

2/3 of students say they are unable to get the classes they need to progress towards degree attainment; most think it will take at least one additional year to graduate.

One of the co-authors of the report, Gary Orfield, education professor and co-director of the Civil Rights Project, says “If we care about the future of this state…then there is only one option—to listen to the struggling students and to find ways to lift their burdens and preserve the state’s promise.”

Meanwhile, President Obama’s federal budget submitted this week offers only bleak news for students and their educational futures: cuts of $100 billion to Pell Grants and other higher education programs mainly benefiting low and middle income students. He also wants to reduce loan subsidies for graduate students and stop paying the interest on their student loans while they are enrolled in a degree program as opposed to waiting until they finish the degree as it is now. This means the interest will accrue the moment the loan is awarded, exploding the amount of student loan debt in a job market that may not support the repayment of those loans.

The death of education is the death of a culture and our future’s end. We must do better. If we are to convince our children that education is the key, the treasure at the end of the hunt, we must offer them the support and a map to get there. Right now, they are lost in the wilderness of a poor economy and weak job market, all while facing disappearing classes and a lack of educational opportunities. They are on a treasure hunt built on lies: no weapons or tools to hunt with, and certainly no treasure to be found. The message from the government at this point? “Good luck, kids!”


  1. Mr. Martin! This is Ani Vartivarian! Not sure if you'll remember me, but I had the pleasure of being your student for a few years. I'm not even sure how I randomly came across your blog but I'm so glad I did. I'm actually on my way to becoming a teacher as well...just have one more semester of student teaching left. I've only had a chance to glimpse at your entries so far but I can already tell I'm going to be glued to it during my spare time. So much insight! Well, it feels really nice to be reconnected to were one of the few genuine people I remember from that school. Thanks for everything you taught me....

  2. Hey, Mr. Martin! Hope everything is going okay with you.

    Your post reminded me of a video that I saw in my Sierra class, the class about community that I have to take with my dorm. The subject was about our generation, the Millennials, those born from 1985-2000, and how technology, our views of the world, and education have changed.

    Here's the link to the video:

  3. Ani, I so remember you!!! And I am happy you have decided to become a teacher. Keep me posted on how things go as you prepare to enter the workforce. We need passionate, innovative teachers out there. I hope your sister and family are doing well, too.

    As for thanking me, one of the gifts of teaching is that you learn so much from your students. I count myself lucky to have had students like you.

    Take care

  4. Vatche, things are going well, as I trust they are going well for you, too. I will check out the link. It sounds interesting. I bet you are looking forward to spring break. I wish you the best, and let me know when you are here for the holiday.


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