Special Blog Post:
Exits at the Bus Station
The comment thread for that article by konagod has been lively. The Fat Lady Sings expressed what might be the sentiment of many progressives with her comment:
I have really had it with these holier than thou hypocrites. So they want the student expelled and killed do they? Fine. Then they can get out. I mean it. Get the fuck out. Go join the Taliban in Afghanistan where ignorance is bliss and women are expected to perform like whores. I’m sure they’d like it fine there. Of course – they’d have to change allegiance form Jesus to Mohammed – but who cares - right? It’s the end result that matters – a theocracy. So I say lets all go to Kearny High School, pack up these assholes shit and send ‘em to the Middle East where their inflexibility and single-mindedness will be appreciated.As an annex to her comment, and in no small part intended as a taunt to the fundamentalists, I offered the following:
Actually, The Fat Lady Sings, it seems to me that the worst punishment to visit upon these mental dwarves is to force them to live in a culture where the age-old concept of liberal education is forced down their throats every day of their lives.Unfortunately, as perhaps rightfully should happen, that comment of mine, too flip as it was, proved vulnerable to harsh criticism, delivered in this case by the commenter Aslan365:
Lord knows, I do my part at the college level to take religionists' kids and corrupt their minds to the point where they slowly become an abomination to their parents and the culture of ignorance.
My efforts don't get results all the time, but I do get results in more than a few cases. It just delights me to no end to see my work pay off in a young person who slowly grows out of the hateful baby fat of smothering ignorance. Mom and Dad won't be pleased at all, of course; but, hey, they can register for classes, too, and get with it.
Otherwise, they can stay at home and twist their hearts out at a world moving on (and taking their kids) without them.
And as for that school, when a district gets that out of control, reputable institutions of higher learning begin to shy away from the kids: scholarships and other academic opportunities begin to dry up. Eventually, the brighter parents in the community realize that their kids can't go anywhere but to the local Bible Beater University, and the employment opportunities for grads from that place are surprisingly limited. If they've got a nearby, regional community college that has open admissions, they find out fairly quickly that "open admissions" means "we'll take your money until you flunk so many times you can't get any more student loans, and that means it's time to go to work at Taco Bell and start paying off the ones you've already accrued and have nothing to show for."
Yes, it's that harsh, and I have no problem with being a part of that long-term corrective process. Every semester, I deal with a cluster of students from a community just like the one in konagod's article, and the failure rate is nearly 100% for those kids in college classes. This has been going on for a very long time, and it's finally soaking in at school district meetings out there: something's got to give, and it isn't going to be higher education that yields. High drop-out rates; high out-of-wedlock pregnancy rates; meth abuse that's running rampant among the kids; all kinds of rumors of really weird-ass stuff going on with the teenagers and even weirder-ass stuff going on in small groups of adults in the town; and, of course, those nearly 100% failure rates at the college level.
Ouch. Yeah, something's got to give.
Eventually, deviant communities learn a modicum of self-control. If they don't, we've got plenty of kids from decent high schools who are ready to go to real colleges and then go out into the work force with real educational credentials.
That school district can put off making a serious change of course for only so long. Meanwhile, the world will move on.
The Dark Wraith bawls out, "ALL ABOARD!
Dark Wraith has his head buried. What happens is not that those students can't get into a college and fail when they get there; they simply go to the fundamentalist colleges that are springing up all the time. The money is flowing toward these schools and away from educational institutions--there are enough nuts with big bank balances to found the schools, and enough of the religiously indoctrinated to keep them going. Then they get jobs in Washington. No amount of self-satisfactory dreaming by Dark Wraith or the rest of you impedes this progression one damn bit. It's time to stop ridiculing and start actively engaging the irrational forces loose in this country.That broadside set me late this afternoon upon a sober mental journey, only partially connected in specifics to what Aslan365 had written.
I shall in the remainder of the present article set aside for some the notion that I know not what I'm talking about as far as higher education goes; but more importantly, whereas sharp criticism is the right of the malevolent commenter, I should lay my own hand to the quality and character of my life and work if I am to get something even remotely close to the condemnation I actually deserve. As such, I offer the following exposition to Aslan365 and to anyone else who can suffer the tediously long read that lies ahead.
Let's get down to business, Aslan.
I have lived this scenario throughout my professional life as a college teacher. I know exactly what I'm talking about. I've seen liberals lament the supposedly massive funding of those fundamentalist Christian colleges, and I've seen it with my own two eyes because I've taught off and on at some of those very colleges. It's just not happening the way people think, but the damage they do is far worse than if they were merely generating a legion of academically stunted, religiously zealous graduates.
Those religious institutions to which you refer are, indeed, getting money, but it's a mile wide and an inch deep. The schools use the money to construct externally attractive façades, but the core curriculum is often corrupted, as are the infrastructure and essential base of teaching tools, save for those pictured in the brochures and for the tours to sucker in the parents of potential enrollees.
Quite a long while back, I told the following story in a comment here at The Dark Wraith Forums; but while that comment was a rather vague and quite truncated version of how certain incidents went down a couple years ago, here I shall be far less circumspect and much more vivid in details.
My last gig at one of those religious colleges is instructive on several levels. If I were to tell you the name of the college, you might recognize it right away. It has been the beneficiary of large infusions of cash, pretty much all of which has been spent on a few buildings, including the chapel, a student union, and the administrators' offices. These places on campus are just gorgeous, and people see these in the college recruitment brochures and on the campus tours.
The building in which I taught and had my office wasn't in any brochure and never did get included in tours given to parents and their high school-aged kids. My office was in a room on the top floor. It had no heat, so it was unbearable to be in there during the cold months. My classroom on the bottom floor of that building had water pouring into it through the ceiling every time it rained outside. In the warm months, because there was no air conditioning, the entire building was so hot that teaching and learning were quite a challenge, but no one was allowed to open the windows because the hornets would come in from their nests that had been in the overhangs of the roof for so long they could be seen from the street.
This building wasn't the exception, either. One permanent professor there told me I was lucky to be in one of the "good" buildings, falling apart as it was but protected by its status as a landmark.
Now, let's talk about the students. A handful of religious zealots dominated the campus; everyone else just stayed out of their way. During the 2004 Presidential campaign, the voter registration table was in the cafe where a group of old alumni sat around with the young religious bullies loudly yelling vile, sometimes even sick, invectives against Democrats. This went on every day of the week, all to the tune of Fox News blaring on a big TV in the corner.
Aside from the howling religious nuts, most of the students I met wanted to be elsewhere. Many, many of the kids had become disillusioned within the first couple of years of schooling there; some within the first couple of months. They hated the place, and they knew what prospects awaited them on the outside with their degrees. Only those committed to life within a religious community were very much at peace with their educational progress, but the overriding sentiment felt by students was that they were trapped by financial and psychological dependence on their parents and others. I was surprised by how many grasped that they were not getting anything remotely like a genuine, academically challenging, liberal arts college education.
It took a very short amount of time for the student body to figure out that I was an aberration there, someone who had been picked up because both the institution and I were desperate.
Let me now get to the specifics of just how much I have my head in the sand about religious colleges.
The last significant incident in my mind about that place was trying to help a girl in her first semester hide the fact that she'd gotten knocked up by one of the football players. She was scared to death, and the pregnancy was making her a total physical wreck from the get-go. She was a small, mousy girl who could have passed for fourteen. She had little, puffy cheeks that framed large brown eyes she would raise up to me as she kept her head down out of some kind of deference to male authority figures. She trembled in even the slightest chill of autumn breezes. For this story, I shall call her "Ellie."
She was a stunningly good math student, at least at first. After about a month, though, she started missing more and more classes. Not too long after her absences had become a matter of concern to me, one of her friends in the class told me about the pregnancy. An older woman in the class whom I'll call "Janice" was right there at the time and explained to me that this had to stay a secret: Ellie would be expelled if the administration found out. Ellie's friends were covering for her as best they could. In fact, they were covering for more than a few girls. Janice, who lived in the area and picked up classes from time to time at this dump, explained that it was like this every year: girls getting knocked up and trying to hide it so their parents didn't find out and the school didn't hear about it.
Janice, herself, was bitter about the college. It seems that only a matter of weeks before the semester began, she had undergone a hysterectomy, only to realize that the classes she had already paid for would be a real challenge to attend. The college had no handicap access in the old buildings where most of the classes were held. The administration variously claimed the buildings were exempt from requirements under the Americans with Disabilities Act because they're landmarks, or the whole school was exempt because it's a "private religious institution." Whatever. All Janice knew was that she had to have a couple of the big horse-type guys help her up the steep steps so she could get to classes, including mine.
Anyway, Ellie was being torn up by the pregnancy, and her emotional state was something almost indescribable. She came to class only rarely. She'd generally be there if one of her friends in the class told her I was going to do a "surprise" quiz. (I started violating my long-standing policy about not warning of impending quizzes just because I wanted Ellie to know when she simply had to show up at class.)
Meanwhile, Janicea tough broad who had been everything from a truck driver to an auxiliary law enforcement officerfinally got up the nerve to hint that she could get Ellie to an abortion clinic in the big city. I let her know in no uncertain terms that I would help. That meant I was going to stand ready to pay for the procedure.
My days at that school were numbered, even though I was still lying to myself by thinking that my great teaching would win the day. I had a religious lunatic for a department chairman: he would even sometimes stand outside the closed door to my classroom just so he could listen to my "unacceptable" use of language. In one instance that sent him into a hissy-fit, when I was about to pass back a test, a student asked me how they all did, and with a grin on my face I said, "Well, your tests sucked," to which the students laughed. All except for two, that is: young men with butch haircuts and a mission to tell the school authorities and their parents about every awful, horrible, un-Christian thing that happened at college. Both of those fellows, by the way, were failing my class miserably, and the other students hated their guts, in part because they squealed on everyone and in part because they were otherwise bizarrely withdrawn human beings. As one of them told me as he looked everywhere but into my eyes, "I am in this world, but not of it." (I replied to him with perhaps too much levity that he still had to study for my class and pass my tests or I would flunk his ass cold.)
Returning to the main story, Ellie's friends knew what we were planning, and several of them approached her with the way out of her mess. All I heard about that part was that she couldn't bring herself to reject the idea out of hand, but that she was simply horrified by the very idea of going even further into sin than she already had gotten. She wouldn't even tell anyone who, exactly, it was who got her pregnant; that part was left to one of the other girls at the party where it happened. (The young man, by the way, never suffered any punishment for his role in her pregnancy.)
If Ellie was going to get in even more trouble than she already was, she had no intention of taking anyone else with her. As November progressed, Ellie withdrew even further from those who wanted to help her. She missed the last term exam in my class, and no one volunteered any information about what was going on.
The last time I saw Ellie was in the cafe. The place was eerily empty despite upcoming finals. The TV wasn't even on. But there was Ellie. She was sitting in a chair with her legs pulled up to her; she was curled over in almost a ball. She had her back to the entrance, so she didn't know it was I who had come in until I was just behind her. She turned around and lifted those brown eyes up to me.
That smile across her pale, sunken face nearly made me choke. In her hand she was squeezing a bus ticket. She had nothing but the clothes on her back. Her light flannel hoodie was all that would keep the bitter December wind from her frail body.
I had nothing I could say to her. She'd been ratted out by one of the Christian psycho-bitch enforcers in her dorm. She was expelled, her parents were told about the outrage of it all, and everybody on campus knew she was the latest case study in the wages of sin.
She was so small that she vanished quite easily from that world of decent people.
And there I was. I could have done something about it, but I didn't. All I had was a pat solution that freaked her way too much. I could have put alternatives in front of her: adoption agencies, and not those Christian predators, either; friends who would have gladly taken her in and helped her ride it out if that was her choice. I could have offered her more than a mere cowardly professor's detached, meaningless gestures by proxy. I'd been going extra miles for years, but there I was, off my game, somehow fantasizing for too long that I could make a living for a few years by playing both sides against the middle in that dump. Ellie vanished from my sight while I was standing there flat-footed like every other useless non-player in the high-stakes game of life.
The next semester I got a gig at a regional community college. The first day of the semester, I was out in the smoking area when around the corner came three young men, all from that religious college. They'd had enough, so they were willing to drive more than an hour just to get something approximating a real education.
They all stopped dead in their tracks and stared at me with huge smiles. "Oh my fuckin' God!" one of them said.
I walked right up and shook hands with them, welcoming them to real academia. They were so macho-tough-excited-giddy-laughing-profane. They were so normal, and they were so glad to see a familiar face. I told them I was glad to see them, too; but I told them I was still going to kick their butts if they were unfortunate enough to end up in any of my classes.
They informed me that they were but three examples of a continuing leakage that religious college had of kids who manage to find a way to get out. Apparently, the community college, along with several other colleges and universities in the region, had long been the beneficiaries of that continuing stream of students escaping what would otherwise have been a miserable, pseudo-college experience leading nowhere. One of those young guys even mentioned the "bullshit" that happened to Ellie and how that's the kind of thing that makes students get out of there if they can. It's just that most can't.
There was yet another option I didn't think about in my bag of tricks for Ellie. That community college is dirt cheap, getting a surprisingly generous matrix of subsidies from all kinds of sources.
God Almighty! had I been off my game. What a dumb-ass I'd been through that whole messy experience at that religious Hell-hole.
Four years before, I was running a two-year school that trained paralegals and court reporters. It was in an urban ghetto, about as dangerous as a place could be just going to and from the parking lot after dark. The students were mostly female, mostly urban African-Americans along with low-income Whites. Every last day was a ride through rough terrain, and I was at the top of my game. I could solve any problem, I could get even some of the most hopeless cases through the curriculum and out into decent jobs. I swear, it seemed some days like I could have fixed the whole damned world one person at a time.
God! how far I had fallen by the time Ellie and others at that Christian college needed me.
Someday not too long from now, I'll leave this part of the country where so many churches dot the landscape. Too many people here love their god; they love their god more than they love the child-women and child-men stumbling and falling on the hard concrete of adulthood where they then look up with soulful eyes to see if anyone's there to help show them the way to their feet again.
Someday I'll go back to the streets that are mean in ways I handle better. I'll try to do a lot of good and little harm, and I'll finish this life trying not to think about the awful failures on my conscience. I don't think I'll do too well at forgetting, though, since I'll be seeing Ellie in every class, on every street, and in every bus station where some kid is looking up hoping someone has a good reason that one-way ticket to the end of the line isn't the only choice left.
I'm finished writing for the evening, now.