Let Them Eat Workforce Training

By emphasizing job training above all else, the Obama administration’s education policies weaken the academic function and democratic ideal of the community college

On July 14, in a speech to nearly 2,000 people at Macomb Community College in Warren, Mich., President Obama unveiled a sweeping new education program aimed at boosting the country’s flagging economy. A 10-year, $12 billion program, the American Graduation Initiative (AGI), outlines the administration’s vision for community colleges and takes a three-pronged approach. First, the AGI will offer competitive grants to community colleges to spur innovation and “put colleges and employers together to create programs that match curricula in the classroom with the needs of the boardroom.” Second, the initiative will fund bricks and mortar projects to help community colleges renovate and modernize buildings and classrooms that may be in decay from years of underfunding and neglect. And lastly, Obama described how the AGI will offer an online, open-source clearinghouse of academic courses so community colleges nationwide can expand class offerings without expanding their facilities. ((“Remarks by the President on “The American Graduation Initiative,” Macomb Community College, Warren, MI, July 14, 2009.))

For followers of the Obama administration’s troublingly business-centric education policies, the AGI follows a theme Obama has reiterated in interviews and speeches on the campaign trail and since his election. As he wrote in a recent Washington Post op-ed, “Our community colleges can serve as 21st-century job training centers, working with local businesses to help workers learn the skills they need to fill the jobs of the future.” ((Barack Obama, “Rebuilding Something Better,” Washington Post, July 12, 2009.))

This theme—that community colleges should serve as job-training centers to help revitalize the economy—is a popular talking point among members of his administration. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan explained to a group of Ohio college presidents that community colleges are “an extremely important part of restoring our economy and ensuring our students can compete.” ((Kelly Field, “Obama Pick Shows Focus on Training Work Force,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 10, 2009.)) Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel described the community college as “literally a conveyor belt to allow people to upgrade their skills when they are going from X job to Y profession.” ((David Moltz, “Building Up Job Training,” Inside Higher Ed, June 19, 2009.)) In addition, Jill Biden, who teaches English at Northern Virginia Community College, and serves as an administration spokeswoman promoting community colleges, told The New York Times that “’Community colleges are the way of the future ‘ […]. ‘Now with people losing their jobs, they’re a great place to go for new training.’” ((Matthew Saltmarsh, “Jill Biden Says Community Colleges Are a Key U.S. Export,” New York Times, July 8, 2009.)) Even Obama’s pick of Martha Kanter, a former administrator for one of the nation’s largest community college systems, as an Education Department undersecretary was cast as a move underscoring the administration’s focus on job training: The Chronicle of Higher Education’s report on her selection was titled “Obama Pick Shows Focus on Training Work Force.” ((Kelly Field, “Obama Pick Shows Focus on Training Work Force,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 10, 2009.))

And this vision has ample support beyond the Beltway—from politicians, national community college organizations, community college presidents, and at least one private philanthropic organization. ((Scott Jaschik, “Gates Foundation to Spend Big on Community Colleges,” Inside Higher Ed, November 12, 2008.)) The Association of Community College Trustees President and CEO J. Noah Brown says, “Community colleges serve as economic engines, strengthening the fabric that binds our communities together—jobs”; the American Association of Community Colleges adds that the President’s policies will provide a “big win for [community college] job-training programs.” ((“In Tough Times, Colleges to Spotlight Economic Ties,” Community College Times, November 24, 2008; Megan Eckstein, “Community Colleges See Stimulus Bill as Bonanza for Their Students,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, February 17, 2009.)) A recently released College Board report, “Winning the Skills Race and Strengthening America’s Middle Class: An Action Agenda for Community Colleges,” from The National Commission on Community Colleges, a group made up of ten current or former community college presidents, places job-training and workforce development at the core of the community college’s mission. The commission’s chair, Augustine P. Gallego stated, “We have to win the skills race, and we have to reply on the nation’s 1,200 community colleges to do that.” ((Elyse Ashburn, “Community colleges are Key to Shoring Up the U.S. Economy, Report Says,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, January 31, 2008.))

The tragic flaw in the administration’s focus on job training is that it is not a panacea for political and economic policies that have created an unfair, unequal, and unresponsive economic environment, one that has seen the wages, benefits, and standard of living of working Americans plummet. ((David Walsh, “A Rising Tide of Social Misery,” World Socialist Web Site, July 16, 2009.)) The community college should not be seen as a place to hide workers during the downturn or warehouse people who need to be able to depend on their own political agency to forge a more stable and sustainable future. The American Graduation Initiative, then, is little more than a harbinger signaling the end of the academic function and democratic ideal that the community college was designed to uphold: to provide a liberal arts education that affords all students the chance to transfer to four-year colleges and universities to earn a bachelor’s degree. ((See Arthur M. Cohen and Florence B. Brawer, The Collegiate Function of Community Colleges, Jossey-Bass, 1987; Steven Brint and Jerome Karabel, The Diverted Dream, Oxford University Press, 1989; Kevin J. Dougherty, The Contradictory College, State University of New York Press, 1994; and John S. Levin et al., Community College Faculty at Work, Palgrave, 2006.))

For the Obama administration and those who support their education policies and discourse, “education” has become narrowly defined as “job training” and “workforce development.” ((Washington’s emphasis on job training and its seeming disregard for the liberal arts did not start with the Obama Administration. In citing her reasons for resigning from the Margaret Spellings-led Department of Education, Diane Auer Jones noted that the department was involved in a “misguided attempt to really narrow the focus of higher education and to almost vocationalize all of higher education.” In Paul Basken, “Liberal Arts Undervalued by Education Department, Official Says After Quitting,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, June 27, 2008. Proof? “A Test of Leadership: Charting the Future of U.S. Higher Education,” a report of the Commission on the Future of Higher Education makes no mention of the liberal arts.)) As a result, those attending community colleges are no longer viewed as citizens or learners (or even at times as students) but rather as economic entities, as “workers” or a “workforce.” No longer is the talk about teaching and the intellectual and social development of students, but rather about “high demand jobs,” “economic stimulus,” “training,” and “skill development.” The message repeated over and over again from politicians, community college leaders, and the media is that, with respect to the community college, what matters is job training and how quickly one completes it—and that what’s good for business and its bottom line is paramount.

Yet there is strong evidence that job training (and re-training) does not provide the economic stimulus or promote the economic equality that its proponents argue. A recent study from the Labor Department found that the benefits of the nation’s largest federal job training program were “small or nonexistent” for laid-off workers.” ((Michael Luo, “Job Retraining May Fall Short of High Hopes,” New York Times, July 6, 2009.)) A Detroit Free Press editorial noted on the day of the President’s visit to Macomb Community College that focusing on job training is “not a bad idea on its face. But Michigan has emphasized job retraining for months, if not years now—and yet people keep losing their jobs, even in supposedly hot fields such as health care.” ((“Above all, Mr. President, Michigan needs promise of jobs,” Editorial, Detroit Free Press, July 14, 2009.)) Bruce Fuller took this argument even further, writing in the New York Times that “Politicians’ obsessions with making schools and college more vocational in character are unlikely to lift the economy,” citing research from the University of Chicago showing that “today’s workers don’t need vocational skills, they need better ‘non-cognitive’ skills—like the capacity to communicate effectively or to cooperatively solve problems.” ((Bruce Fuller, “Why We Educate Our Children,” New York Times, October 22, 2008.))

What’s absent in the Obama administration’s education policies and discourse is acknowledgment of the community college’s academic and collegiate mission—that is, the role of the community college in providing a liberal arts education that teaches and encourages students to become informed and engaged citizens in a democratic society. ((Unfortunately, few voices within the community college have publicly questioned Obama administration education policies and the social implications of the community college essentially assuming the role of a trade school with little, if any regard, for the liberal arts and critical literacy. Two such voices are Sean A. Fanelli, the president of Nassau Community College in New York and David Berry, executive director of the Community College Humanities Association. For Fanelli, “The situation for the humanities at two-year colleges may only worsen [… ] as politicians and business leaders turn to community colleges to help revive the economy without regard for the important role the liberal arts play in educating students.” See Jeffrey J. Selingo, “2-Year Colleges Worry That Job Training May Displace the Humanities,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 7, 2009. Berry has expressed concern “that the traditional function of teaching core subjects and the humanities can be overshadowed” by the emphasis on workforce development. See Andy Guess, “A Humanities Push for Community Colleges,” Inside Higher Ed, January 14, 2008.)) By definition a liberal arts education requires courses in a broad number of subjects in the arts and sciences as opposed to the very narrow subject matter of training. ((The role of a liberal arts education in four-year institutions, including at the traditional liberal arts college, is also under attack with more and more four-year institutions feeling pressured to offer job training. See “Victor E. Ferrall Jr., “Can Liberal Arts Colleges Be Saved,” Inside Higher Ed, Februrary 11, 2008; Patricia Cohen, “In Tough Times, the Humanities Must Justify Their Worth,” New York Times, February 25, 2009; Peter Schmidt, “Number of Colleges That Fit the ‘Liberal Arts’ Mold is Falling Study Finds,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, April 16, 2009.)) In the community college, these would be the general education courses traditionally offered in the first and second years of college, courses in American government, U.S. and World History, psychology, sociology, biology, chemistry, art history, and English courses involving writing and English and American literature. A liberal arts education teaches students that learning and knowledge itself is inherently valuable rather than simply a set of skills to be mastered for a particular job. Clearly a liberal arts education is not a cure-all for the country’s societal ills. But as Robert Reich told Bill Moyers, “There is no substitute for an active, informed citizenry.” ((Interview with Robert Reich, Bill Moyers Journal, PBS, June 12, 2009.)) In fact, it is an informed and engaged citizenry, and not jobs, that binds a community together.

The AGI also ignores the fact that a vast majority of students entering the community college directly from high school have the stated intention of transferring to a four-year institution to earn a bachelor’s degree. For them, attending a community college isn’t about getting a certificate or training for a job. That so few community college students, particularly low-income or minority students, actually ever transfer and earn a bachelor’s degree should be the focus of administration education policies. ((Stephen Provasnik and Michael Planty, “Community Colleges: Special Supplement to The Condition of Education 2008,” U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, August 2008.))

The very idea of getting an education is not to serve someone else or their interests but to identify and serve our own. John Dewey made this a cornerstone of what makes education socially viable as opposed to the views of those such as Charles Prosser, or his modern day equivalent, Charles Murray, who advocate for the separation of vocational training and education. It would be objectionable in any set of economic and political circumstances to limit the educational opportunities of students, particularly students who don’t have access to the country’s most elite four-year colleges and universities, but it is most objectionable in a time where training leads nowhere. What jobs, exactly, are these students supposed to train for? Who can say with any degree of certainty what jobs will be in demand in five years, let alone ten? Or as an economist recently told Michael Luo of the New York Times in the story “Job Training May Fall Short of High Hopes,” “I can’t tell you with any degree of certainty, and I have been doing it for 20 years, what the hot jobs are going to be.” ((Michael Luo, “Job Retraining May Fall Short of High Hopes,” New York Times, July 6, 2009.))

Instead of being educated to make informed choices of their own, community college students are being thrown back into dependent and subservient positions in an economic moment of unequaled peril. Instead of being educated to insert themselves into the political process of restructuring a society of fair values and green energy, they are being trained to stay out of the way and hope that their wages, which haven’t kept pace with corporate profits, will be enough to feed their children. ((Jeanne Sahadi, “Workers Lose Traction Over Past 10 Years,” CNNMoney.com, September 2, 2006.))

Simply put, job training and workforce development is indoctrination. It is not education. It has no socially constructive or just outcome, particularly at a time of upheaval and uncertainty. It is a failure of everything that a liberal arts education contributes to a just and democratic society.

Job training will not change the corrupt values of Wall Street or bridge the gap in wealth that has grown from unseemly to grotesque. ((Sahadi, “Wealth Gap Widens,” CNNMoney.com, August 29, 2006.)) The argument currently being made that people need jobs, any jobs, first and that justice and political enfranchisement can wait is backward. The way forward for those just entering higher education and for the millions of displaced workers is not another dead end or soon-to-be outsourced under-paid job with few or no benefits. The way forward is an educational system grounded in ideas of social justice and democracy.

Community colleges are perhaps the last bastion of democratic higher education in this country. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 95 percent of community colleges are open admission, and when compared to four-year institutions, they enroll larger percentages of nontraditional, low-income and minority students. ((Stephen Provasnik and Michael Planty, “Community Colleges: Special Supplement to The Condition of Education 2008,” U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, August 2008.)) Depending how students are counted, community colleges enroll anywhere from 35 percent to nearly 50 percent of all undergraduates and in the current economic crisis their enrollments are soaring despite cuts in state and local funding. ((Valerie Strauss, “Community Colleges See Demand Spike, Funding Slip,” Washington Post, July 1, 2009.)) With four-year institutions becoming more and more expensive to attend and out of reach for even middle class families, ((Andy Kroll, “Shut Out: How the Cost of Higher Education Is Dividing Our Country,” TomDispatch.com, April 2, 2009.)) the community college continues to offer an affordable, realistic alternative.

President Obama is right: Community colleges matter; they are vital in any economy. But not as an economic refuge. They’re vital as institutions and spaces whose mission must be to foster the democratic ideal of providing an education that offers students from all backgrounds the chance to realize their full potential as human beings.

Keith Kroll has taught in the English Department at Kalamazoo Valley Community College for twenty-three years. He has written extensively on community college issues, and edited with Barry Alford The Politics of Writing in the Two-Year College (Heinemann/Boyton-Cook, 2001). Barry Alford is professor of English and Humanities at Mid Michigan Community College where he has taught for over twenty-five years. He has published essays on language theory, postmodernism, and writing assessment. His essay, “George W. Bush’s Other Undeclared War: NCLB,” appeared in the May 2008 issue of Dissident Voice. Read other articles by Keith Kroll.

33 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Tennessee-With-Zelaya said on July 29th, 2009 at 8:43am #





    Legisladora demócrata piden a Departamento de Estado que analice compra de Refidomsa por PDVSA

    “Existe preocupación de que este acuerdo tenga efectos devastadores a largo plazo en la República Dominicana”, advirtió Loretta Sánchez en la misiva

    EFE/Clave Digital

    miércoles, 29 de julio de 2009, 10:30 a.m.

    WASHINGTON, EEUU.- La legisladora estadounidense Loretta Sánchez pidió al Departamento de Estado de su país que analice la posible compra de un 49 por ciento de las acciones de la refinería dominicana Refidomsa por parte de la petrolera venezolana PDVSA en un acuerdo que violaría los convenios comerciales.

    En una carta dirigida a la secretaría de Estado, la legisladora demócrata señaló que el convenio se firmaría en el marco del Acuerdo PetroCaribe, que permite a los países centroamericanos y del Caribe comprar petróleo a Venezuela bajo condiciones facilitadas.

    “Existe preocupación de que este acuerdo tenga efectos devastadores a largo plazo en la República Dominicana”, advirtió en su misiva Sánchez, representante por California.

    “Considerando la inquietante historia del presidente (Hugo Chávez) de interferencia en la región, solicito que el Departamento de Estado observe este situación y su falta de transparencia”, dijo la legisladora, miembro de la Cámara de Representantes.

    Además, instó al Departamento de Estado a considerar si la transacción viola los criterios que determinan la posibilidad de que un país reciba asistencia de la Corporación de Desafío del Milenio.

    Sánchez añadió que también el Departamento de Estado debería considerar si la operación viola el Acuerdo de Libre Comercio para Centroamérica (CAFTA) o algún otro convenio entre EE.UU. y la República Dominicana.

    “No se debería ignorar el impacto potencial de esta transacción en la República Dominicana, la región latinoamericana y Estados Unidos”, manifestó. E

  2. Harry Lewis said on July 29th, 2009 at 12:07pm #

    I, too, teach at a community college, and can tell you that despite the inane rhetoric of this article, it’s quite bereft of actually describing the august audience who attend community colleges. In the main, these are in the main the aimless and the dull, mostly unemployed and unemployable, who would not be able to distinguish themselves, and have proven it, in ANY academic environment let alone one which should in the mind of the author provide for human uplift! Note to writer: these people are unemployable! Will they become more employable once they realize their limitations? Where will they go to remedy that fact of life, if indeed there is a desire to work? Sadly, the commentary is tired and vapid. Large numbers of people are unemployed through no fault of the ‘system’. In that same system, others found jobs as a result of developing needed skills, which the marketplace rewards, the world over. As Edison once remarked, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” You want a job, get skilled! You want to get skilled, attend a community college with salient degree programs and finish. And then, get to work. After that you can choose how to spend your time, perhaps even in such droll activities as rehashing leftist pablum from the 1970s.

  3. Deadbeat said on July 29th, 2009 at 12:55pm #

    The American Graduation Initiative, then, is little more than a harbinger signaling the end of the academic function and democratic ideal that the community college was designed to uphold: to provide a liberal arts education that affords all students the chance to transfer to four-year colleges and universities to earn a bachelor’s degree.

    We should be honest here. Community colleges has not served in that capacity for at least 20 years. Colleges and universities have pretty much sold out to the corporate sector. This “initiative” continues that “tradition”.

  4. joad said on July 29th, 2009 at 2:42pm #

    in 1973 i applied to SOCIAL SECURITY for help from the MANPOWER DEVELOPMENT TRAINING ACT. i needed training to get a decent skill so i could get a decent fair paying skilled job. through SS the MDTA paid my tuition to a trade school for a 6 month course in welding and ship building. and MDTA paid me enough each week to survive and attend classes. i did well and was extended for 2 more months to develop special welding skills. i was pretty much guarenteed a job at a local giant ship yard with both military and civilian ships to build. i made a good living with the help from the local iron workers union. the money i recieved from MDTA(SS) i paid back many times over in SOCIAL SECURITY AND MEDICARE taxes taken from my pay checks. these taxes were not a burden to me.
    today the money that was alloted to me for living and tuition is now given directly to THE CORPORATION. for example; a person goes to work for walmart as a trainee. after 6 weeks of training walmart then receives several thousand dollars from SOCIAL SECURITY for training that new person.

  5. mjosef said on July 30th, 2009 at 1:57am #

    Another example of how the Obama con recapitulates the DLC con of the Clinton era. The points about the fatuousness of job training for an economy that brutally sheds millions of jobs are necessary and politely stated. Community colleges are beset by huge drop-outs rates, and intimidating low pay for its teaching staff. As for Harry Lewis, he may teach at a community college, but why? He should use his “marketable skills,” which do not include editing out redundancy (“in the main” twice), to kick out widows, berate the lonely, any job where he can put his blame-the-victim anti-systemic thinking to more honest use. Many teachers and professors are perfectly loathsome, as was Edison in his dealings with competitors and subordinates.
    Lastly, though, the authors ironically quote Robert Reich, whose feed-em education “symbolic analyst” claptrap makes him precisely the worst person to quote in an article exposing Obama’s pro-corporate fascism. Reich stuffed job retraining down the doomed American worker’s throat during his disastrous tenure at the seat of power, and deserves his Errol Morris biopic: “The Fog of Academia.”

  6. Harry Lewis said on July 30th, 2009 at 1:06pm #

    You caught me Mjosef! I missed an edit. Happy? Apparently you’re quite a lonely person as well as an angry one to be writing at 1:57 AM!!! I like what I do, thank you, and it’s quite lucrative inasmuch as it’s my third career and I’m looking forward to my third pension! So I do indeed possess marketable skills, but I wonder about you other than your aptitude for modeling as a perpetual victim and left-wing loon apologist?

  7. mjosef said on July 30th, 2009 at 2:27pm #

    Excellent, Harry! There is yes, only one time code for the entire US of A!
    1:57 AM is 1:57 AM everywhere, right?
    You like what you do, Harry – casting your community college students as “dull,” “unemployable,” while you, who must have received some harsh evaluations from your “aimless” charges, inspire them with whatever neocon lunacy you’ve been heir to. Maybe your fourth career will have you better liking your charges and your station in life – I asked for no ketchup with those fries, gramps.

  8. Harry Lewis said on July 30th, 2009 at 2:36pm #

    Still angry I see. Still alone. Sad. Sad that you’re eating at a fast food place where your charges get to see you every day. Night, night…

  9. bozh said on July 30th, 2009 at 3:23pm #

    i am starting my analyses ab. life and opportunities in US from a fundament; meaning, one digs no deeper: people are, of necessary truth, OK; i.e., they are made by nature which knows neither benevolence nor malevolence.
    the nature did for us the best it cld. Want more? A genius, highly-energized, happy, honest, smart person under every bed?
    but who doesn’t? And who wants to be 5’3” tall? A hooked nose? Attention span of two and half seconds? Understanding of a toddler?
    Who wants to be fat; have jowl, temper, cancer, fatigue, flu, bad parents.
    or who wants to come into such wicked world? To which many cannot adjust? Children of afpak, palestine, and iraq want to be torn appart by american bombs?
    it’s their fault because their parents haven’t obtained wmd to defend selves?!

    we are OK. Let no one fool you ab. this fact.
    but we are ruled by a gang. A gang, no better than biker or mafia gang.
    and, folks, gangs have no pangs! More cld be said. Tnx

  10. mjosef said on July 30th, 2009 at 4:03pm #

    Harry, old boy, yes, I am angry, but in no way alone. So that is how our little tempest must end, with you yelling at the damn kids to get off your lawn, and me happy with the thought of the loss of your lawn jockey, the embarrassing descents of your fatuous Republican idols, and the chance for more classroom boredom to be loosen’d across the carpeted aisles by your kind. You can’t be failing ’em all, can you, Harry? Must hurt to be give out those B’s.

  11. Gary Corseri said on July 30th, 2009 at 11:24pm #

    A fine article; succinctly, but powerfully argued.

    The Corporate State’s attack on US education has been underway for years. Most of us forget that Eisenhower included academia in his warning about the military-industrial-academic complex. Grants and funding from our national and state governments have established and maintained laboratories, research centers and various programs directly tied into military and surveillance projects. Kroll’s and Alford’s points about democracy necessitating an informed and active citizenry need continual reiteration and reaffirmation. The way this economy and empire is evolving and degenerating, allowing the Corporate State to set the agenda and curriculum for our community colleges will result in courses like the following:

    Street-walking. 101
    Advanced Burger Flipping
    An Introduction to Homeland Security
    Repair and Maintenance of Predator Drones
    The Madoff Approach to Wealth Management
    Panhandling Technologies
    Alternative Healthcare (Pre-requisite: any terminal disease.)

  12. Harry Lewis said on July 31st, 2009 at 7:22am #

    Mr. Corseri,

    Pls include a link to the source of Eisenhower’s inclusion of academia into the military-industrial-congressional complex issue. I don’t think you can. And pls stop insulting mjosef’s resume!

  13. mary said on July 31st, 2009 at 8:21am #

    If your rant is quite finished (you seem to be very angry) here is an extract from President Eisenhower’s farewell speech. (17.1.1961)

    ‘In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.

    Akin to, and largely responsible for the sweeping changes in our industrial-military posture, has been the technological revolution during recent decades. In this revolution, research has become central, it also becomes more formalized, complex, and costly. A steadily increasing share is conducted for, by, or at the direction of, the Federal government.

    Today, the solitary inventor, tinkering in his shop, has been overshadowed by task forces of scientists in laboratories and testing fields. In the same fashion, the free university, historically the fountainhead of free ideas and scientific discovery, has experienced a revolution in the conduct of research. Partly because of the huge costs involved, a government contract becomes virtually a substitute for intellectual curiosity. For every old blackboard there are now hundreds of new electronic computers. The prospect of domination of the nation’s scholars by Federal employment, project allocations, and the power of money is ever present — and is gravely to be regarded.

    Yet, in holding scientific research and discovery in respect, as we should, we must also be alert to the equal and opposite danger that public policy could itself become the captive of a scientific-technological elite.

    It is the task of statesmanship to mold, to balance, and to integrate these and other forces, new and old, within the principles of our democratic system – ever aiming toward the supreme goals of our free society.

    Another factor in maintaining balance involves the element of time. As we peer into society’s future, we — you and I, and our government — must avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering for our own ease and convenience the precious resources of tomorrow. We cannot mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage. We want democracy to survive for all generations to come, not to become the insolvent phantom of tomorrow.’

    I loved Gary Corseri’s sardonic comment incidentally which hits the nail on the head. ROTFL as they say. The same is pretty much true in the UK now. Most of the research contracts awarded to universities are connected to the military, agribusiness and the like and the estimated 500,000 or so school/college/university leavers this summer, otherwise unemployed, are going to be offered soft (dummy) jobs under a £multi million government scheme just announced.

    The Orwellian sounding names are the Graduate Talent Pool and the Backing Young Britain initiative. As an alternative they could of course sign up for the Army and return later to the UK from Afghanistan in a body bag or on a stretcher.

  14. Harry Canary said on July 31st, 2009 at 8:54am #

    Harry Lewis,

    Below are two links discussing the point including text of the speech. It was not too hard to find. I would have thought that a scholar like yourself could have come across these and more.

    As far as the availability of jobs, you are full of crap. The country has been pillaged by the corporations since the reaganoid coup. If you had worked in any productive capacity rather than being in the cocoon of publicly subsidized academic employment you would realize that. I fear for my children and their ability to find useful, paying jobs despite university and community college education. And if they had teachers like you I would fear even more.

    Fortunately they did not. Neither did I, at a community college and two universities. Nor did I blame my students, when I taught in the evenings, because I was able to motivate them by showing them there was something of value for them to learn. Try it, but it will only work if you actually have something of value to teach.

    We will not see any recovery of significance till the focus is returned to a productive economy rather than an economy of financial bubbles. That would mean an economy which does not pay finance thieves thousands of times more than mechanics, farmers or builders let alone engineers, nurses or doctors. It would mean and economy based on something other than marketeering, sales hype and finance manipulation. Casinos would no longer be considered significant investment. Flipping real estate would be considered disreputable and dishonest. And community college instructors would quit blaming their students for their own shortcomings.


  15. Gary Corseri said on July 31st, 2009 at 9:07am #

    Here’s the link to Ike’s prescient warning:


    He doesn’t specifically mention an “academic” complex, but it’s implicit in his final words: “Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals so that security and liberty may prosper together.” How are we to have an “alert and knowledgeable citizenry” if academia is out of the equation?

    As for the accusation that I’ve attacked someone’s resume, I don’t see it in my previous statement. I don’t get into ad hominem arguments; I try to volley ideas, not sentiments or people. I have stated this before and I’ll state it again: the comments at DV and other good sites that allow for comments would be stronger and more helpful if the commenters stuck close to the original article and did not go off on tangents attacking each other and defending themselves ad nauseum. It gets to be a bit adolescent.

  16. Melissa said on July 31st, 2009 at 9:28am #

    “Who’s to stop the youth from gettin’ out of control? Full uppa education, yet no on no payroll?” -buju banton

  17. Harry Lewis said on July 31st, 2009 at 11:24am #


    Were it not for the DEFENSE Advanced Research Projects Agency there would be no Internet, no e-mail, no Google, and no, Al Gore did not work at DARPA.

    Don’t like the military industrial complex here, try Israel, an entity almost entirely constructed and supported by warfare innovations and ideologies, perpetuated thanks to it. You might want to read a few stories reported today about their use of white phosphorous munitions against non-combatants during the recent massacre.

    Sorry, but Eisenhower lost the argument about tying military might to economic and national prosperity and only with Kennedy’s grand scheme to outspend the Russians in a race to space did sufficient funds flow into education as a result of the NDEA, which trained the scientists, engineers, and technicians to bring to you and others writing here the life you enjoy now. And the race itself began with Russian scientists and engineers doing something OUR educators could not prepare our students to do.

    Don’t enjoy life here? Don’t want to clean up your own mess of world-topping illegitimacy rates, world class crime rates, third world like education achievement levels? Leave. You’ll be moving in an opposite direction from the vast majority who would rather be here than in hovels.

    And to Mr. Canary, your name bespeaks your chirping rant. Try replacing fear with reason and see what happens. Would recommend your coming to grips with the inexorable force of social Darwinism wherein there are winners and losers, and where the losers are indeed sent packing. Life is not T-ball. Not everyone needs to feel important. Social promotion does not make sense. Hiring by attributes as opposed to abilities is in the long run suicidal.

    Don’t like competition, don’t like developing skills to make yourself competitive, to create your own sense of well-being and support, then of course, blame others, seek handouts, and lament the current state of affairs.

    You sound so much like my students – aimless yet accusatory, confused yet certain, busy but irresponsible, annoyingly superficial but pompous, conversational but tedious, and simply academically unqualified to answer a simple question: how many pints make up a gallon? Ask that question of most high school and community college students and see what you get for an answer. It’s a standard question I use throughout my travels and the responses are more tragic and poignant than any bit of sham accusation you can pitch my way. And then tell me, in front of a mirror, how the military-industrial- congressional complex has created this macabre situation…

  18. Harry Canary said on July 31st, 2009 at 12:43pm #

    Mr. Lewis
    I work for my living. Unlike you, I am not an academic. I taught courses as a sideline. If your students do not know how many pints make a gallon, what are you doing about it? My tax money unfortunately pays the salaries of instructors like you, busy blaming the students for your inability to teach.

    Competition is wonderful. Why don’t you get out of government employment and try getting into a field with real competition. That is allowing the very doubtful assumption that anyone in the private sector would employ someone so full of excuses. And of course there would be the wage and benefit cuts you would have to suffer.

    You sound like a marketeering teacher or perhaps a motivational guru. All sound and fury signifying nothing. I have found in teaching at the community college, in tutoring university students, in training within industry for complex technical fields that every person I have taught has been open to learning. You have to have something to say. People have always listened to me and learned. Why is it you have had a problem in that area?

    As far as military industrial academic complex and the problems created thereby. Every penny put into the military is a penny taken from something else. We live in a country spending more on the military than all others combined by a huge margin. We hear continuous excuses about haw there is not enough money for infrastructure, health care, job creation, care for the aged, etc. etc. ad nauseam but there is always plenty for the military and banksters. It is all priorities and the priorities are backward.

  19. jeb said on July 31st, 2009 at 1:45pm #

    Lewis, you seem to suffer from some sort of intellectual inferiority complex, is it because you teach at a community college? Why else would you so angrily berate the very students whose minds you are supposed to be filling with the pints and gallons of your experience, and whose fees and taxes pay your bills?

    Why else would you wander the country, putting random people to your ludicrous “pints and gallons” intelligence test, if only to make yourself feel superior to the “common trash”? I don’t see any other reason why you have memorized an increasingly useless and utterly basic piece of trivia about liquid measure that is irrelevant to the rest of the world and increasingly unimportant in ordinary lives?

    What community college do you teach at? I would like to see the course catalog:

    “Obsolete Liquid Measurements 101, with a heaping dose of derision and smugness,” by Professor Lewis; 1 credit

  20. Harry Lewis said on July 31st, 2009 at 2:30pm #

    The priorities are backward IN YOUR OPINION!!! Tsk, tsk about my not ‘working for a living’ but you are correct in a sense: I don’t live to work, never have. I’ve worked, at least two jobs always, splitting between teaching and consulting and I actually perform manual labor. You should try it some time. I continue to learn and use that labor as the exchange medium for the positions I am hired to execute; I don’t use excuses. If I continue to learn and my employer benefits from what I know and can do, we both win. The same goes in teaching. I’ve learned from pompous boors like you, usually what NOT to do, and I’ve learned from the most inscrutable but brilliant professors. It took work but I learned. Do you even know what that process involves? Perhaps you think it involves feeding predigested must to veal sitting in a classroom? The key to the point is *I* learned because I wanted to learn. The people in my classrooms today are like those coming into my store during a rainstorm seeking not to purchase anything but to get out of the rain at my expense, creating puddles for others to slip on and then sue me for negligence. When it rains, I lock my doors and place the ‘CLOSED’ sign on the window. When it’s raining pain as it is today for those who failed to see the storm clouds forming, I’m not in the habit of handing out free umbrellas. Perhaps you are and you should continue to do so. Knock yourself out. What’s unfortunate is that I know what a pound of C4 can do; I’ve yet to understand how pouring money down a rat hole achieves anything for the rat, for the hole, of for the pourer. Just don’t ask me to donate any more than I’m already reluctantly shelling out for those unwilling to help themselves to the boundless opportunities this nation offers.

  21. Harry Canary said on July 31st, 2009 at 3:05pm #

    I can think of two ratholes that the money is pouring down.

    One is teachers who smugly blame their students for their own inability to teach. I have never met anyone who was unwilling to learn. There are teachers who expect their students to hang on their every incrutable word and bust their butts to mine micrograms of gold from mountains of fecal waste matter. Then there are the good teachers who give clear expositions of useful information and did not waste students time with the teachers ego. I have a good idea which one you are.

    You are like the professor of russian languages and literature who continuously wrote right wing diatribes on the evils of government and the importance of unregulated capitalism as op eds in the local paper. He had never worked for a private employer. He was always protected by tenure in a publicly funded university. I wonder what his salary would be in a private enterprise system without government propping up the wages in his field. But that’s just good for other people, not the glorified academic.

    The other rathole is the multitude of weapons we have to destroy the world 100 times over, most made to enrich the military contractors. There is nothing wrong with a strong defense. This has gone far beyond a strong defense and weakens us. It is used for offense in preemptive war. This will be our downfall.

    It is unimaginable to me that you go around asking people if they know how many pints in a gallon or thousandths of an inch in 5/32 inch or furlongs in a fortnight for that matter. I would suspect the people you do that to either feed you silly answers to mess with you or walk off thinking “psycho”. How many Angels can dance on the head of a pin, anyway? I’m sure you know the answer.

  22. bozh said on July 31st, 2009 at 4:01pm #

    unfortunately, the gang without pang in US also controls ‘education’ and the ‘teachers’ who ‘educate’ children and teens.
    most gangs in other lands also control ‘education’ and the [mis]educators.

    in a wicked society like US, the more wicked people do much better than honest folk.
    in fact, a number of people in US cannot adjust to american way of life and regardless degree of their intelligence, energy, motivation; wishes to belong, adjust, contribute, etc.

    the reason for ‘maladjustment’ of honest people to americanism is the fact that they are assiduously handed dwn a fictive reality.
    and honest and dishonest people [save narrow circle of gangsters] are, ergo, near-totally at sea.
    at least 90% of USans have no clue about what is going on. tnx

  23. Harry Lewis said on August 1st, 2009 at 7:18am #


    I’m sorry someone stuck you with that name. It explains a lot probably in your makeup. Tell you what: ask a chemist if weights and measures are unimportant to their work. Ask someone, anyone, who works with fluids in transportation or medicine. The question I ask speaks of mathematics and logic, basic reasoning and comprehension. Obviously my students echo your views: these abilities are completely useless and for that reason they remain unengaged and unemployed. And then, if you can, rethink your notion of what makes a trivial question. Better yet, send me a question, a relevant one in your view, that you think my students should be able to answer. I’ll test them on it and report the results. And my first name is Harry. You see, the name in front is usually the person’s first name, unless a comma follows it which would then make it a person’s LAST name. Would you care for some remedial grammar, English, writing?

    And to the Canary: the answer is 14. 14 angels. Same challenge to you: send me a question you think my students should be able to answer. Both of you completely miss the point I’m making: most community college students do not possess either the academic or the behavioral skills to compete in a modern job market. Most who start, never finish. They quit actually. I don’t need to fail them. They fail themselves. The smart ones, in a relative sense, ask someone to read the writing on the wall and when they figure out that they a)need to come to class regularly, b) prepare to participate by reading assignments, c) complete assigned work, d) ask questions if they don’t know what’s going on, and e) don’t get an ‘A’ for wardrobe selection, they leave, just as dumb as ever. I’m not running a day care facility. And then sending them to these places and then ‘hoping’ that somehow, some way, a transformation will occur is beyond fantastic, it’s shameful. Remember, one letter separates ‘hope’ from ‘hype’. Speak of…

    You’re both so angry!!! Have *you* thought about attending an Anger Management course at a Continuing Education facility, that or some craft course where you won’t be around sharp objects?

  24. Melissa said on August 1st, 2009 at 10:52am #

    Mr. Lewis,

    Just for the record, I appreciate your honesty and refusal to patina what is really going on in “higher” ed with the typical euphemisms, platitudes and projected excuses. I entered a local community college to in order to get some generals on the cheap and I was disgusted as well. Classmates were prodded along and accommodated for their own laziness.

    There is a culture of “it’s someone else’s fault”, and I found most disgusting the enabling in which the professors engaged. The expectations are LOW. I was equally disappointed to find the same attitude at our local University. I suspect that inflation has hit the post-secondary arena as well. Everyone is pressured to get there, get through, so it loses value.

    There needs to be, in my opinion, a way to dignify all kinds of work in our society. Not everyone is, or should be deluded that, we are all academically astute, and some are meant to labor, tinker or nurture. Wages must reflect the value of real work. Think of daycare providers . . . think of garbage collection . . . think of food distribution . . . these are valuable ways to contribute to society, but it is not well acknowledged by society nor by wages.


  25. Harry Canary said on August 2nd, 2009 at 9:04pm #

    Mr. Lewis
    I work in private industry. I am not allowed to make the excuses you do. For example I am currently working on an assignment in which a particular piece of equipment and a manufacturing process had not run effectively from the time it was purchased over five years ago. If I took your approach I would complain that the manufacturer of the equipment was not prepared to produce the equipment in the real world. I would complain that the previous people who had attempted to get this process running were not trained and did not understand what they were doing (despite the fact one had a doctorate in engineering from Queen’s College). My complaints might even be valid. I have chosen instead to work on fixing the problem instead of whining. So far the results have been an outstanding success in the view of the company president and engineering and manufacturing leadership. If I followed your approach I would have failed and the company would be one step closer to failure.

    You could work on fixing the problem instead of complaining about your students. But that not what academics do is it? These students have had a succession of teachers who complained about lack of standards and what horrible material they were given. And it appears they have one more in that line. I hope you never are pushed to work for any private employer. With your attitude, like most academics, you will not last long.

    It appears your anger management classes failed you. I suspect that teacher is whining about the poor caliber of students he was handed. He would be absolutely correct.

  26. Harry Lewis said on August 3rd, 2009 at 7:19am #

    Mr. Canary,

    A few pointers *from* the private sector which might help you in the future: lease things that depreciate in value, purchase things that appreciate in value. If something is defective, send it back! That’s what most firms do when they receive defective equipment. Attempting to fix something that’s defective makes little sense. Why are you suddenly responsible for manufacturer’s errors? That or they ensure that a warranty exits to provide for successful resolution. Perhaps you’re dubious of warranties or don’t realize how much pressure they put on a firm or organization to stand behind their work and by association their workforce? Are you sure the equipment wasn’t broken by someone ill-trained in *YOUR* organization? Are you trying to cover your own mistakes? But then where would you send *them* back? That someone could attain a doctorate tells me (and, surprise now, you) nothing about their ability to perform in a competent manner.

    Again, you’ve got a limited and faulty perspective on problem solving, so you ‘fix’ your things the way you want, and I fix things the way I want. Ever heard of a ‘lemon law’? When someone purposely creates defective products they are responsible and they can get sued should their negligence create disasters. In my classes, I don’t let the defectives leave with my endorsement of achievement. I would be negligent sending a person to a job site who I knew could not assemble a sandwich on a good day. But if you want to spend your time, and the company’s money – frankly, I’m surprised you’ve not been fired for wasting resources – be my guest. Students are not hardware. Hardware, I can fix. It’s engineered in a certain way and one can get a bright group of Purdue engineers – not Queen’s College poseurs – to analyse the design and the environment in which the equipment operates and then another bright group from Duke to assess the ability of the workforce to employ, operate, maintain, and support the machine as intended. Only then would you know why the equipment is malfunctioning.

    At the stage many community college students enter the classroom, as my southern friends often say, ‘You can’t fix stupid’. Still, they show up, because they can, with no implied or expressed warranty. All I know is that most of them come without the skills necessary to WORK in a classroom or anyplace else and I am a teacher not an exorcist or miracle worker.

    If I had not worked in the private sector, I would not be in the position to make these statements about what happens in both spheres. I know about work and I know about competency. Once defined, work expresses its need. Once expressed, I know who to hire to perform those work tasks. And so I sort and cull, send a few ahead, those I would vouch for, and hoping that some bright Carnegie-Mellon engineering group advances automation so that I won’t need to worry as much about the inefficiencies of the human in the loop. Meanwhile, you keep polishing those turds…

  27. Harry Lewis said on August 3rd, 2009 at 7:51am #

    Mr. Canary…

    Hote off the press and just for you and the other apologists on this thread:

    College Grad Can’t Find Job, Wants $$$ Back
    Updated 6:16 AM EDT, Mon, Aug 3, 2009

    She went to college to boost her chances of finding a great job once she got out of school, but now that that hasn’t happened, Trina Thompson wants her money back.

    Thompson, a graduate of Monroe College, is suing her school for the $70,000 she spent on tuition because she hasn’t found solid employment since receiving her bachelor’s degree in April, according to a published report.

    The business-oriented school in the Bronx didn’t do enough to help her find a job, Thompson alleges, so she wants a refund. The college says it does plenty for grads.

    The 27-year-old information-technology student accuses the school’s Office of Career Advancement for not living up to its end of the deal and offering her the leads and employment advice it promised, according to The New York Post.

    W”They have not tried hard enough to help me,” the beleaguered Bronx resident wrote in her lawsuit, filed July 24 in Bronx Supreme Court.

    Thompson’s mother is proud of her daughter for completing her college education, but acknowledges Trina is upset that all her high hopes haven’t panned out.

    The mother and daughter live together, but Trina’s mother, Carol, is a substitute teacher and the only one of the two who makes any money. They’re barely scraping enough together to get by, reports the Post.

    On top of her unemployment woes, Trina now faces mounting debt from student loans.

    “This is not the way we want to live our life,” her mom told the paper. “This is not what we planned.”

    Monroe defends its career-advice programs and is adamant that its staff assists young professionals in their careers.

    “The lawsuit is completely without merit,” school spokesman Gary Axelbank told the Post. “The college prides itself on the excellent career-development support that we provide to each of our students, and this case does not deserve further consideration.”

    On the school’s Web site, the career program boasts that it provides free services for graduates at any point in their lives.

    First Published: Aug 2, 2009 8:05 AM EDT

  28. mjosef said on August 4th, 2009 at 3:02am #

    Harry “I know about work and I know about competency” Lewis, alone against the invading hordes – a “teacher”? Rather than blaming a highly conditioned system, he sees sloth and “dumbness” in the youth. Community colleges suffer from terrible dropout rates, serving lower SES students who are short-changed from birth in a supersystem that produces vituperative meritocrats like the allegedly hard-working “teacher” HL. Who, then, represents the antithesis to these immigrant or first-generation slackers? The liberal arts elite college student of today? Let’s send Harry Lewis to teach them at one of our $50,000 a year credential mills (he clearly has no hope of ever being allowed on campus there), do some bong hits with them, see them prepare to invade Wall Street, work for the IMF – now there is where the pathology lies, in all that money that attracts the young mountebanks ever aiming for wealth and superiority. Harry, you’ve been a champ!

  29. Harry Lewis said on August 4th, 2009 at 7:28am #

    I’ve taught at Rollins University and Webster University among other 4 year institutions at both graduate and undergraduate levels. Most of the students there are no better than most of those at community colleges, save for their trust-funded tuition. Don’t ask me to defend a bunch of self-absorbed cretins who think Darfur or anyplace else is worth saving, or who flock to the latest cosmic clown, the Dalai Lama comes to mind, for inspiration. That community college students don’t engage in such indulgences is a testament to their lack of disposable income rather than insight. And speaking of someone on drugs, your paranoia at a ‘highly conditioned system’ seems to apply to your brain rather than anything economic. As far as those ‘short-changed from birth’ I think you need to direct your comments to those who decided (or not~~~) to bring them into the world. I suppose they too were shortchanged by an oppressive system? Can’t feed ‘em, don’t breed ‘em!, as my non-white-trash southern friends suggest. Continuing on the recreational use and effects of drugs in your commentary, just last week, two of our erstwhile scholars in residence were rolling a joint on the steps of an academic building while I was walking slowly to class. I smiled at them as they tried, feebly, to hide their stash, then said, ‘don’t worry, you probably need that for the class you’re planning to attend’. Smoke ’em if you’ve got ’em. Mjosef, you’ve been a chump!

  30. Max Shields said on August 4th, 2009 at 7:42am #

    I think the “children” of America are the result of the over-indulgence in a ME first society. Even when they appear to be grabing on to an issue of human rights, that lack the ability to think critically and discern one issue from another. It’s still, first and forefost about “me”.

    I do think it is the result of an overindustrialized, implosion of US community. Add to that the full throttle imperial empire which doesn’t even cover up its illegality as it invades and kills innocents and talks endlessly in Orwellian terms about peace and sustainability and justice.

    This breeds a certain dumbified culture that would rather communicate through messaging, than with the person right in front of them.

    This will end, and it will not be pretty because look what we have to work with!

  31. bozhidar balkas vancouver said on August 4th, 2009 at 10:04am #

    methinks, that we cannot get answers for better living with the old ‘thinking’: god spoke to moshe and revealed to him eterne verities; jesus is savior; laid dwn own verities; some of which may have contradicted moshe’s laws and ‘truths’.
    and then comes another truther, mohammed, with still more eterne verities with some eternal truths contradicting moshe’s and jesus’ truths. And the mess is on!

    yet all a pious person needs to do to be truly pious is a bean stalk, flower, tree, or own basement [i have my own fantasy basement].
    joining an org, which is structured like an army such as islam, christianity l, or talmoodism and listening to the biggest and [c]laziest criminals talking in circles, will, without fail, produce more sharons, faisals, emirs, pat robertsons, and even hitlerlike people.

    thus, ?all christians, moslems, and talmoodniks/mosheists are criminals.
    ‘religions’, of course, is not sole criminal makers of people from tothood on, but also mass of misteachings by the ruling classes just about anywhere.
    and an innocent and thoughtless tot bcomes [note the word “becomes’, please] a guessful criminal.

    and to add insult to injury, both the clergy and politicos, turn on the deluded people; on the same innocent tots before they got to them.
    they are lazy, stupid; want s’mthing for nothing; are unmotivated, etcetc.
    but we need to recall that priests, biggest enemy of humans were selves innocent tots.

    no, no! we are OK. All we have to do is stay away from clero-polical [c]lazy class of sublife [but only becoming such after about 4 yrs of age] tnx

  32. mjosef said on August 4th, 2009 at 3:13pm #

    Harry, you’re losing steam, and it’s a sad sight, like when an adjunct loses the room. No, you say, there is no “highly conditioned system,” accusing me of being on the drugs like the alcohol you must, surely, drown your dyspepsia with every night. Sorry to disappoint you, but one shot glass of red win is all I indulge in, and the world looks all the same to me. Have you managed to avoid being called a racist for your blood-dripping anti-poor Malthusianism? Blaming poor people for having the nerve to have children – how far back into eugenics are you reaching?
    Max, you might be a more suitable respondent, but if the young are failing, it is because of the world the old set up. If the Leave it To Beaver world had been all that wonderful, it would have fended off the “dumbified” tendencies. If listening to Dad around the dinner table had been so great, the TV would never have assumed primacy over the meatloaf dispensary.
    And that concludes my little engagement with the lawn-yelling Harry – have fun with your pensions – maybe some poor community college student will take you under his wing and show you that your life wasn’t totally in vain.

  33. Harry Lewis said on August 5th, 2009 at 7:40am #

    mjosef, dropping the race card, the common resort of all fools, ends this discussion.