Finished “Back to School”

Just finished Back to School (Mike Rose, 2012).  A short summary of key points I got from the text:

Mike Rose begins with a story of Henry, about ready to finish his AA degree – Good student in high school, took a wrong turn, hit the streets, prison, more trouble, paralyzed from the waist down from a gunshot. He eventually took some computer courses at a local college and his eyes were opened to the possibilities of a new life. These are the type of second chance stories Rose sprinkles throughout the book – telling, engaging, and common in most community colleges.

He talks about the dismal numbers we see in the press about community college statistical measures such as progress, transfer and graduation rates.  He notes that they fill in only part of the picture.  They don’t capture the guy who joined the navy while in school, the fashion student who took courses to move up from her low paying job and left when she got the promotion, and many others he encountered during his observations and documents in the book.

We then get the first warning: Continuing to broadcast high failure rates that don’t tell the real story develop a sense of hopelessness in the public and prompt policy makers to “do something about them.”  We see the effects of these kinds of influences on the federal No Child Left Behind that , although well intentioned, created more inequities than it reformed since it did not account for the realities on the ground in schools.  And, as we look to policy makers now, we see simplistic economic assumptions and often bigoted beliefs about people who need help driving policy.  While we hear about support of “second chance” institutions and training programs, we see cuts to the services students need to stay in school to make the second chance possible.

In a society where mobility has become severely restrained, the reasoning used as a justification to restrain it more look to blame the victims. It must be a lack of intelligence so trying to help won’t make a difference (see the Bell Curve) or the moral argument, common through history and still with us, that poor are poor because of character flaws: lack of work ethic, counterproductive behavior, failure to follow through, etc. – a good dose of social order theory and prejudice enhanced by isolation of rich and poor.

Then there is the “new gospel” of a skills mismatch: labor without the right skills leave jobs unfilled.  While there is some truth o the mismatch, there are simply fewer jobs due to changes in technology and the way work is organized.  Americans are more productive than ever in those fewer jobs, but blue-collar work is broken down into components and out-sourced. It is more job creation policy that shifts the blame for unemployment and income inequality onto the workers themselves.  “In fact, the jobs aren’t there, and short-term training in job-seeking strategies or basic skills does not make an appreciable difference in helping people get the limited number of jobs that do exist” (p. 27).  More importantly, most low-skilled workers don’t have the resources, or access to them, to do more than very short term training bursts and often are ashamed of their lack of skills and resources.

Rose intertwines  social, education, and economic policy along with cognition, instruction, career technical education and the terrible economic instability of many of our students lives.  He makes real what faculty experience daily. He asks the question that is at the center of the philosophical debate on schooling, will we have the political courage to stand against the rationing of education in the midst of a powerful anti-welfare, austerity climate – will working-class only get functional education geared toward work?

Enough for tonight.  Next we see the possible solutions he sees.

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