We routinely place students in positions of responsibility on our campus -- to manage money, to respond to behavioral issues, to serve on search committees and host a candidate for lunch -- and I know what many of them are capable of. I don’t always know their majors, but I know their prospects. They will find themselves in a job, maybe not the job of their dreams at first, but they will be able to manage the small, and then slightly larger, tasks placed before them. And they will think back, I believe, to some of the challenges they faced on the campus of this small college, which they often claim is not “the real world.” But it is the real world in many ways -- fraught with hassles, battles, disappointments, requiring self-advocacy, empathy, patience -- and it is preparing them for the work world in ways that their academic coursework may or may not be.I've sometimes told students that it's important to do what looks like a trivial or bulls*** assignment well and for the right reasons, as that might be a way of identifying who is going to screen for future promotion. And if the parents aren't providing that lesson, and the common schools are too distracted by testing to do the work, it's up to the colleges.
I had the opportunity to teach a class this past semester. It was a small seminar with eight students, seven of them seniors. They were all different majors, and I'm not sure I could tell you who was what. They were, though, smart and verbal and engaged in the discussions we had. They spoke, and they noticed when another person was trying to speak. They brought to the class their other academic interests, one of them using something learned in a religion and sexuality class to interpret one of our texts. Another explained to the class a landmark affirmative action case she learned about in her Constitutional law class. A third offered her own experience as a resident adviser to provide context to a discussion on race relations on campus.Yes, but ...
They are justifiably worried about their job prospects, especially since they have spent a semester with me reading about the various crises of American higher education and its roots in the global economy. I’m sure their parents are worried, too.
But I'm not as worried. I'm not sanguine, because it is difficult to find a job these days, but I believe that once they get into a work setting, they will do fine. And their chances of getting into that work setting are better than average, because they can make eye contact and put several sentences together in service to their ideas. Not all of their classmates can do the same. Those are the ones I worry about.
We need to lessen our obsession with the obvious value of a liberal arts education and instead focus on the values of personal maturity, accountability, a sense of proportion and perspective. We need to be certain our students know how to give a good firm handshake, look someone in the eye and introduce themselves. We need to reinforce the importance of deadlines. We need to address (dare I say it?) personal hygiene and appropriate dress. We must make sure they can get to their feet at a college-sponsored dinner and thank guests for coming, or introduce a speaker at a lecture, or send a thank-you note to the director of an office that has provided them funds to attend a conference.
Is this the work of higher education? Some would argue it absolutely is not, that postsecondary education is about mastering content and developing all-important critical thinking skills, about becoming self-taught, curious researchers and life-long learners. To those who would argue those points, I would say yes -- it is all about those things, and I am grateful for the liberal arts education that helped me develop those skills. But I would then suggest, respectfully, that as maddening as it might be to spend valuable teaching time engaged in building the personal economy of our students, it is perhaps the best way to support the successful launch into that life we want for them.
“Whether it’s gender, religious preference or anything that might be a group that might be coming in that may feel like there isn’t enough understanding about them, we try to make sure that our staff are prepared as our population has diversified and that we’re prepared to help our staff best communicate with those groups and those individuals,” he said.Never mind that in making the staff sensitive to class oppression and hegemonic biases and all the rest, the Western Washington graduates are never going to learn how to introduce themselves or bathe or dress properly, and they'll forever be working for Wheaton graduates. That is, unless the dynamic of rooting out privilege further destroys civilization.
These meetings are strictly for WWU staff members—no students are allowed to attend—and it is unclear if they have had any influence on the student body.
“It’s really important, I think, that somebody continues to look into these and ask people who are at these colleges if we are really preparing our young people to be prepared to be global citizens, to have that kind of exposure, and for me, if we’re asking the student to have that kind of growth and development than we without question should be making sure that our staff are equally prepared,” [Western Washington dean of students Theodore] Pratt said.