“At its best, schooling can be about how to make a life,
which is quite different from how to make a living.”
- Neil Postman, The End of Education: Redefining the Value of School
I am not a “detail guy.”
This self-assessment comes as no surprise to those who have worked for me, and with me. But, while I am not the one to provide employees with a detailed “to do” list, I do have a pretty good track record of anticipating the “big picture” directions for higher education, and this has helped me, and the people I have worked with and for, to get a bit of a head start on some of the issues that are defining the future of education. Guided educational pathways for students, outcomes funding for education, inmate reentry education, career-technical education expansion, “bringing all of ourselves to work,” holistic approaches to college “affordability,” free expression and inquiry of the full and diverse range of ideas and identities that define our collective experience as the foundation for learning, and “collective impact” as a strategy for addressing our biggest educational issues (ex: Pipeline) are all examples of where we at LBCC are ahead of the curve, and together they reflect much of what we mean when we profess “an education that enables all of us to participate in, contribute to, and benefit from the cultural richness and economic vitality of our communities.”
Even so, while I believe that we at LBCC are doing good – and increasingly good – work in service to this mission, I am also coming to believe that our future focus needs to include this one additional theme if we are to serve and shepherd this mission toward true fruition: Competence and Character. I introduced this theme at this past Spring LBCC In-Service and, over the next few months, I will be further developing and presenting this at a number of venues including the American Association of Community College’s President’s Academy Summer Institute (PASI) later this month and then the Corvallis Academy for Lifelong Learning in October. Here’s how I plan on approaching these two.
“The Future of Community Colleges: Staying True to our Calling”
In a world of competing and often conflicting relationships, expectations and demands, it is easy to lose focus, lose direction, lose heart. But, it is in our passionate and persistent pursuit of ours and our institutions purpose that we can see our way through for ourselves, and for our students.
For Corvallis Academy for Lifelong Learning
The Future of LBCC: Community College Education in an Age of Utility”
Education, and community college education in particular, has been said to be the foundation for upward economic mobility. More recently, this same education has been touted as the solution to our skilled workforce shortages. Need-based student financial assistance, the growing emphasis on Career-Technical and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) programs, and our own regional Pipeline partnership are all manifestations of this utilitarian view of education. But is this really the best way of looking at community college education, and what might be the potential downsides of such a view? Finally, might this utilitarian view have some relationship to the current cultural/political malaise and, if so, what should we be doing about that? At LBCC, we are beginning to address this under the rubric “Competence and Character,” not as a reaction to utility but instead as a broader and longer-term understanding of what that might mean.
This last sentence, “not as a reaction to utility but instead as a broader and longer-term understanding of what that might mean,” captures how I understand the matter of character development to be something NOT in competition with or even in addition to the matter of building real competence but, instead, a manifestation of our growing realization that our employers and our communities are in need of graduates who are not just good at something, but actually good.
- Graduates who provide quality work even when no one will know the difference, because they recognize and affirm that the purpose of their work is not is just to benefit themselves, but also to benefit their customers, their coworkers, and their employers.
- Graduates who believe that their freedom and well being require that they extend these same benefits to those around them.
- Graduates who are more open to learning from people who differ from them than defending their ideas against them.
- Graduates who see confidence and humility more complementary than in conflict.
In these past few months, I have read two books that have made significant contributions to my understanding of this matter of character, and I want to end this Report by recommending them to you.
The first is a short work by Sebastian Junger, entitled Tribes. As Junger himself describes it, this book is about why tribal sentiment is such a rare and precious thing in modern society, and how the lack of it has affected us all. It’s about what we can learn from tribal societies about loyalty and belonging and the eternal human quest for meaning. It’s about why—for many people—war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Humans don’t mind duress, in fact they thrive on it. What they mind is not feeling necessary.
This is a book about how character is developed in the crucible of deep and meaningful connections with other human beings, something that Junger says “looks a lot like love.”
The second is a monumental work by David Brooks entitled The Road to Character. Brooks writes about the role that struggle plays in making us "better,” doing so by sharing stories of famous people of character. He writes:
They had to go down to go up. They had to descend into the valley of humility to climb to the heights of character. . . Such people don't come out healed; they come out different. They find a vocation or a calling. They commit themselves to some long obedience and dedicate themselves to some desperate lark that gives life purpose.
In some way that I do not yet have fully developed, I believe that these two books tell us something about the deeper nature of our mission, how our pursuit of Competence must be complimented with an equal pursuit of Character and, eventually come to see that these are one and the same. As such, our concept of “skills development” must include:
- Developing and sustaining our interdependence with each other not out of weakness but in the pursuit of a strength of character that cannot be developed on our own.
- Embracing challenge and even the humiliation of defeat as a pathway to something stronger, something better than what success alone can achieve.
This is what I am working on………….. for myself, and for the community of learners that I lead, and serve.