I will post a new entry every week or two. Some will be new writing and some will be past work that has relevance today. The writing will deal in some way with the themes that have been part of my teaching and writing life for decades:
•teaching and learning; •educational opportunity; •the importance of public education in a democracy; •definitions of intelligence and the many manifestations of intelligence in school, work, and everyday life; and •the creation of a robust and humane philosophy of education.
If I had to sum up the philosophical thread that runs through my work, it would be this: A deep belief in the ability of the common person, a commitment to educational, occupational, and cultural opportunity to develop that ability, and an affirmation of public institutions and the public sphere as vehicles for nurturing and expressing that ability.
My hope is that this blog will foster an online community that brings people together to continue the discussion.
On June 11th, NPR aired
a story on the more than half a million veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan
conflicts who are attending college. Host Melissa Block reported that “some
veterans say the transition is like landing on another planet” and that
“college staffs are having trouble adapting, too.”
story featured Sierra Community College in Northern California and the laudable
efforts of one counselor, a former Marine herself, to establish support
services for the college’s 800 veterans. Click here for the NPR story.
years ago, I wrote about a program for returning Vietnam vets that I taught in
as a young man. Looking back on it, I think the program offered a remarkable
model that should be replicated today – though as the NPR story made clear, the
awful budgetary conditions in most colleges make such replication unlikely.
Still, if you’ll indulge me, I would like to reprint this post, originally from
November, 2009. It seems especially timely today.
* * *
the classroom full of veterans wanted most was, as one of them put it, “to help
our families understand what we went through.” The course was in communication, and it was part of an
educational program for veterans of the Vietnam war. The teacher – my colleague in the federally funded program –
had asked them what they most wanted to learn, and that was their primary
answer: to explain to those closest to them the hell they endured.
newest generation of veterans are returning to a warmer welcome than those who
served in Vietnam, but the kind of war they fought is similar, and their needs
are as great. By one count, over
30,000 are injured, some severely.
(And this number doesn’t include, or significantly undercounts,
traumatic brain injuries.) Others are or will be torn apart by psychological
trauma. And many others will
experience terrible distress as they try to find their way with family and
community, the economy and education.
What kind of
support is our society providing for them? As a young man, I taught English in that program for Vietnam
vets, so I got a sense of life after service is over, after physical wounds are
healed, after the ceremonies – if there were any – and handshakes have receded
into memory. Then soldiers have
their lives to pick up or to create anew.
for veterans have brought to public attention the inadequate funding and
delivery of health care for newer generations of veterans; less public until
the deliberations preceding the new GI Bill were the limited resources for
education and the many problems young veterans face as they try to reenter
school. The rising cost of living
combined with rising costs of tuition, textbooks, and supplies dash many hopes,
but even those who can make it financially typically face significant academic
and social problems.
program that contained the communication class could serve as a model for how
to help the men and women returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. Fortunately, a
number of colleges are responding to this new generation of veterans with a
range of support services: financial aid assistance, counseling, orientation
programs, and social clubs. These are valuable resources. But my sense is that
returning soldiers would be better served through a program that includes significant
course work as well as services. One such effort is the laudable SERV
(Supportive Education for the Returning Veteran) program at Cleveland State.
But there are few others. The programs I’d like to see could run through some
part of the first year (as SERV does) or could function as a preparatory or
bridge program that precedes but is linked to further matriculation.
key idea is to treat a complex educational issue in a comprehensive and
integrated way. To respond adequately to educational needs, the program has to
address psychological, social, and economic needs as well. And, hand in glove,
some social and psychological problems – inability to concentrate, feelings of
intellectual inadequacy – don’t fully manifest themselves unless one is in a
classroom, immersed in English or math or poly sci.
Veterans Special Education Program was a twelve-week crash course in college
preparation. The veterans called
it academic boot camp. The
curriculum included representative freshman year courses in English,
psychology, communications, and mathematics, so students got a sense of what
lay before them – a reality check – and were able to begin college with some
credits, a leg up. The courses
also addressed fundamental cognitive and social skills: critical writing and
reading, mathematics, human relations, and communication.
courses were supported with tutoring.
A number of the veterans had poor academic backgrounds, so some needed a
good deal of assistance with their writing, with reading academic material, or
with all the strategies for doing well in school: managing time, note taking,
studying for exams. But the
tutoring also made the academic work more humane, no small thing, for many of
the students carried with them a history of insecurity and anger about matters
were being asked to write essays analyzing poetry or comparing sociological or
psychological theories and to read more carefully and critically than they had
before. The challenge stirred
strong feeling. Some of the
students shut down and withdrew and others erupted. One marine scout I was working with got so frustrated that,
in a blur of rage and laughter, he bit off the corner of his paper before
handing it to me.
wasn’t enough for us to do our work within the confines of the classroom. The staff would follow up when a
student missed a few days, making phone calls, driving over to an apartment or
hotel room, finding someone in awful shape. We had a rich network of referrals for psychological
counseling – the nearby V.A. hospitals but also local agencies and civic
organizations. And for those who needed it, we had referrals for financial
counseling as well. Finally, the program included advising to assist the
students in selecting and applying to appropriate colleges and
universities. With help from our
counselor, the fellow who sank his teeth into that essay got into UCLA,
majoring in Sociology and East Asian Studies.
this created a sense of community, something the veterans often noted. For all their social and political
differences, they shared the war, and now they were preparing for reentry into
the world they left behind. The
staff put on social events, but the real community, I believe, was formed
through a course of study that was intensive, generous with assistance, and
geared toward the next phase of the veterans’ lives.
have been awash with “support our troops” rhetoric and told to always “thank
veterans for their service.” Politicians use such language as a patriotic trump
card. One grand irony in all this
is the shameful level of health and psychological care some veterans have been
getting and the resistance a number of conservatives and the Pentagon itself
displayed a few years ago during legislative deliberations for a new G.I. Bill.
patriotic talk, I’d like to hear about programs that are comprehensive and
address the multiple needs our troops have when they return home. Programs that provide knowledge and
build skill. Programs that are
thick with human contact. Programs
that meet veterans where they are and provide structure and guidance that
assist them toward a clear goal.
Programs that build a community while leading these young men and women
back to their own communities.
for special populations tend toward single-shot solutions: a few basic skills
courses, or tutoring, or counseling.
But the best programs work on multiple levels, integrate a number of
interventions. Such programs
emerge from an understanding of the multiple barriers faced by their
participants, but also from an affirmation of the potential of those
participants. The richness of the
program matches the perception of the capacity of the people who populate it.
is how really to support our troops. And it is how we should think about an
education that, of necessity, has to go beyond the classroom.
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