Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Day 186/365 School Days

I am not a morning person. I have never been a morning person. In high school I was forced to be in class by 8 am, meaning I showed up on time, and promptly fell back to sleep during algebra. In college, my main requirement of a class was that it not be before 11 am.

Now I have a child in her second semester of college and for some reason neither of us can remember, it seemed like a smart idea to sign her up for math class at 9:30 am. What we did not take into account was the forty minute drive to get to class and the additional hour necessary for actually getting up and dealing with dogs prior to leaving, in addition to the absence of available parking at her community college.

Community colleges, if you haven´t heard, are experiencing an explosion in popularity. Enrollment is off the charts, their classes are packed, and every classroom is scheduled back-to-back, hour to hour. And so are their parking lots. I spent Monday driving our car around, while my daughter attended her math class, while approximately 100 of her fellow students circled alongside me. It is a daily "Christmas-Eve-at-the-mall" parking jam.

Initially, I was drafted to drive down with her simply because of the mountain roads and the major variables in weather we have here, plus she´s not particularly into driving one way or the other. Now I find my primary function is to babysit the car, until there´s available parking. After finding the parking spot, my reward is an uninterrupted hour or so of free time to spend reading, writing my blog, or catching up on sleep. I never get uninterrupted time at home, so this is a huge perk.

I also get to see what sort of people are jamming these parking lots. I remember my college days and it occurs to me how easy it is to go off to college anywhere when you are 18. There´s that uncertainty of youth, new experiences, all that. And money of course is always a stress, as well as maintaining grades to keep what financial aid is received. But most 18 year old students are single, without children, and if they're at a four year college, chances are the stress of money is falling for the most part on their parents.

During this morning’s free time, I spent 20 minutes helping the student parked next to me rock her car back and forth, trying to get the transmission to catch, so she could go pick up her sick kid, drop her off at her mom´s, while making it back in time for her noon class. She still has a paper due for last semester that she hasn´t quite finished, which means she might not qualify to stay on financial aid. After class today, she has to go to work, and sometime this evening will be able to pick up the kid, fix dinner at home, study at some point, and tomorrow morning do it all again. There is no money for replacing transmissions, and no idea how she will get to school for classes without a car, much less get to work.

This parking lot is full of these students- people who are not 18, do not have parents to help with the bills, have children of their own to take care of, barely-running cars, mortgages and rent to pay, food to put on the table, and if they are lucky, sometimes a part-time job paying not much more than minimum wage. Many of the students had real, life-sustaining employment a couple years ago. Now they are re-inventing themselves, literally in the moment.

They are not at school for beer parties, joining sororities, or extracurricular activities. They expect the teacher to be prepared and make it worth their time and money. These are some serious students.

Our main reason for having our daughter start community college was financial. We do not want her to incur a large debt for an education that may or may not lead to employment. While I’m a product of a four year liberal arts education and I believe in the value of that experience, I don´t think it is an essential experience for this generation.

What I´m discovering is that the biggest advantage to the community college experience is not the financial savings, but the exposure to the wide variety of students.

Students that take their education seriously, and fight on a multitude of fronts to get to class everyday.


  1. One reason I left Hollins College (by then, Hollins University) was that my professor, who also happened to be the head of the dept in which I intended to major.
    Among other things: she would bring her too-sick-to-go-to-school kids to class, so they could hang out with all the college kids (IN CLASS!!!). But yet she had NO, and I mean NO, sympathy for those of us who lived off campus.
    For those of us who were amazed that we had the gas to get to school and wondered how we would get home. Or who were in class but whose minds were on those freezing pipes in the basements in their rented house ...

    I imagine that your daughter, as usual, is learning a wide variety of lessons. Both those that she may get credit for, and the more important ones that she won't.

  2. What a love letter to community colleges! Thanks for taking the time to appreciate the opportunities your daughter has. As a CA graduate (and -thank goodness- currently an employee) of a Community College, I agree with both you and Carrie and Justin. Times are hard, and those that are determined inspire those around them that take the time to notice thier efforts. Most teachers realize what the students are facing, and respond with even greater dedication. If your daughter finds one that doesn't, I hope you will teach her to work around it and to choose more wisely next time, even if it is a morning class! -another non-morning person

  3. "During this morning’s free time, I spent 20 minutes helping the student parked next to me rock her car back and forth, trying to get the transmission to catch, so she could go pick up her sick kid, drop her off at her mom´s, while making it back in time for her noon class. ..."

    Now, you shouldn't go helping these people. They'll just go BREED.

    I'm totally staggered by the attitudes that are bandied about. That words like heart and need are spit on while war and suspicion are virtues. But it has ever been so.

    My side of the college thing is a little different. I put myself through UMD, leaving home for political reasons as I did (I was anti-war and my father a hawk who worked the Hill). I knew what it was to eat on $7 a week, to bum rides, to own 3 shirts and two pairs of jeans, to go to class full time and then work for the four Greek brothers at their florist shop (who paid me under the table) and to check-out and bag the embassy folk groceries at the Giant Food until midnight. How I would have loved that island of real college life. As for kids getting drunk and farting around: Heck, I sent mine off to Ireland to do that when they 16, and all that quickly lost its romance on the floor of the late night bus (as in throwing up cider and Guinness). They'd done it all by college -- unlike the kids of certain straight-laced parents who grew up having their every move watched and every CD screened for bad words and the devil. (Stephen, Jesus is watching you.) Those kids were the ones getting drunk all the time, flunking class. They aren't evil or bad or stuck up or to be hated as snobs or whatever. They're just kids. People in progress like all of us. It's just that that first taste of freedom when you've been micro-managed is sometimes lethal.

    I say you go to college to find out how much you don't know -- as in the length and depth of actual learning -- and to put yourself in the way of a great scholar or two. A gift and blessing to have that opportunity. And if you want to be an ancient historian or a musician for life, it's the only way.