Community Colleges Are Important! A Personal Memoir

It was September 1969, the first day of the Fall Semester, and I was teaching Introduction to Sociology at Atlantic Community College. After class, one of the Vietnam veterans approached me and asked in a low voice, “Is it okay if I always sit with my back against a wall?” “Of course,” I replied. “Wherever you are comfortable.” Many years later, I learned that Bill H. had become an art teacher at a regional high school. I thought of how he must have struggled to make the journey back from that long, terrible war.

During the second week when a night class met, I saw that an older woman was absent. We kept names and phone numbers for the night students, and I called her after I returned home. “Hi, Sally, I missed you tonight,” I said. “Is everything all right?” She hesitated and then said, “I decided I wasn’t going to make it in the course. You gave that short test and I thought I had failed.” First, I told her that she had done fine on the general information quiz that no one could fail. Then, I urged her to come back the following week. Sally did come back and ended the course with a strong grade. In later years, I met her in a local hospital where she was the supervising nurse on the floor.

Every class at ACC held a wide range of ages and backgrounds: veterans in their 20’s who had just returned from the Vietnam War; divorced women in their late 30’s and 40’s, seeking credentials to enter the work force; high school graduates of 18 and l9; and older men and women coming for professional credits in their fields. The student body was also a varied mix of race and ethnicity. Most students were working full or part-time to pay the tuition, and often were the first in their family to attend college. Today, student bodies are very similar. The average age at community colleges is 28 and the diverse students include high school graduates, veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars as well as divorced women switching from homemaker to income producer.

My years at ACC from the late 60’s to early 80’s taught me the reality of what the eminent sociologist, C. Wright Mills called “The Sociological Imagination”. Mills described the meeting of two lines intersecting — the personal biography of each individual crossing the time line of history and social change. The exact point at which they cross is for each woman and man their sociological imagination. I used this intriguing concept as the foundation of my teaching — and in writing essays since the l970’s. Mills’ emphasis was on developing “ a critical quality of mind” to reason and deal with one’s life in a changing world.

I saw my role as a teacher helping students weigh their lives, thinking and values within the larger scale of our society and what was happening around them. They were encouraged to draw from the knowledge presented in the course to question assumptions and myths. And to be open to alternative points of view. The basic textbooks were supplemented with outside readings and films. Classes were small, under 30, with questions and discussions as part of each session. Everyone was expected to participate. Once in a while, I still meet former students who tell me they learned “how to think” in Sociology l0l. I treasure that comment.

The late 60’s were a wrenching time of riots, burning cities, the assassinations of Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy. The nation was deeply divided over the growing Vietnam War. I approached the Dean of the college to talk about the need for a course on Race, Ethnicity, Prejudice and Discrimination. He asked me for a book to read and I gave him “The Concept of Race” by the anthropologist, Ashley Montague. He read it and suggested I prepare a syllabus. “The Individual and The Group became my signature course at the college with a second term on Minority Groups, Civil Liberties and Civil Rights”. Teaching subjects that were exploding all around us was an unbelievable experience for me and the students.

Another focus during my years at the college was “The Family” course taught against the background of the changing structure and roles of the American family. The Women’s movement had opened new vistas for girls in high school and college. It had also coincided with the economic demands for the two-paycheck family that saw married women with children entering the workforce in ever-increasing numbers. At the college, divorced women in their 30’s and 40’s were coming with important years of experience in child rearing, managing finances and running a household. However, that did not translate into credentials on a resume for the job search. They needed the college degree in nursing, computer science or law enforcement. Men’s roles were changing as well, although at a slower rate. Household duties of shopping, cooking and cleaning were still being done by the working wife in most families.

On January 14, 2015, Tom Hanks, famous actor, writer and producer wrote “I Owe It All to Community College” on the Opinion Page of the New York Times. He told his personal story of being an “underachieving student with lousy SAT scores” who couldn’t afford college tuition. In l974, Chabot Community College in California did not charge tuition and “accepted everyone”. Pull up his article on Google, and read of his experiences with teachers who cared about each student and inspired him to become a top student when he graduated with his Associate in Arts degree. He ends his own story with a segue to current life. “President Obama hopes to make two years of free community college accessible for up to nine million Americans. I’m guessing the new Congress will squawk at the $60 billion price tag, but I hope the idea sticks, because more veterans from Iraq and Afghanistan this time, as well as another generation of mothers, single parents and workers who have been out of the job market, need lower obstacles between now and the next chapter of their lives.”

On January 15, the lead editorial in The New York Times was “Expanding Community College Access”. “The president’s proposal deserves to be taken seriously by the public, state legislatures, municipal authorities and, of course Congress. The editorial closes with a very significant comparison to “the skepticism that greeted 19th century educators when they began to agitate for free, universal public high schools. Their efforts proved crucial at a time when the country was moving away from farming and toward a world in which reading, writing and reasoning would be critical. Expanded access to community college could do the same thing for the country in the information age.”

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The Painters Are Coming! The Painters Are Coming!

All over America there are people living in a state of mixed emotions: equal parts of anticipation and dread. They are awaiting the arrival of the painters. This is the year to paint the inside of the house.

Just the idea of taking down the drapes, covering the furniture and putting away all the breakables has caused many a homemaker to put off the monumental endeavor for as long as possible. The final decision to paint usually occurs in relation to some other impending family event. A marriage coming up, perhaps? Everything must be ready to meet inspection by the prospective in-laws. Or the recent purchase of new furniture? A freshly painted room is definitely needed. Often, the impetus comes from having the outside of the house painted. The contrast of walking through the front door is too extreme. (The painters knew that all along.)

Whatever the catalyst, the day of reckoning is approaching for these people. To meet their needs and lower the rising levels of anxiety and tension, the following Survival Guide is offered. Consider the three options:

l. Do It Yourself . Painting the inside of a house is not as scary as it appears. Plan the task in steps. The local paint store will supply the basic brushes, pans, rollers and advice as well as the paint. Choose water base paint rather than oil. Buy a putty knife and some putty for patching cracks and holes. Choose your colors. Put on old clothes and begin. Take one room at a time. Do the walls and ceiling first; then tackle the woodwork. Call the paint store if you need help with problem areas. The main advantages of this option of course are the dollar savings for labor and the absence of strangers who seem to take over your house as they work.

If the Do-it-yourself route is not for you:
2. Leave The House during the painting. Does this sound radical and somewhat risky? You’re right on the first count, but not on the second. Here’s how it works: Plan a business trip. Take a vacation. Visit relatives. Find a reason to be somewhere else while painters occupy your house. It is a given that you choose a painter whom you researched and trust completely whether you are at home or away. Certain painters specialize in the away type of assignment and have references for you to call. They are professionals.

Before you leave, store all the breakables and valuables in closets, someone else’s home or the vault at the bank. Cover furniture and chandeliers with old sheets. Fold up the rugs or send them out to be cleaned. The timing is perfect to coordinate that job as well. Take down drapes and store away. Put your plants in a safe place. If you choose option 3 below and stay home, follow the above plan to protect all valuables: paintings, statues, lamps, crystal . Give the painter a key and try not to worry.

3. Stay home while the painting takes place. Most people choose this option. It is important to meet the boss and each worker when they first arrive. Shake hands and learn their names. Offer refrigerator space if they bring lunches and drinks. Treat them with respect. As the job progresses, make positive comments. “The red door looks great!” “What a difference the paint makes on the woodwork.” “You really do careful, beautiful work.” Painters are people. They appreciate hearing that you like the job they are doing. If, on the other hand, you are not happy with the results, talk to the boss and tell him what you want changed. You may find that he is more demanding of his helpers than you are.

4. Don’t take out the nails that hold up your pictures. This may sound like obvious advice. Not necessarily. There are folks who take out all the nails, putty over the holes and then paint to make the wall perfect. Then, they have to start from zero and figure out exactly where they want to re-hang all the pictures. “ Just h old the picture a little to the right. Higher…higher. O.K. That’s it.” Whew!

5. Take photographs of arrangements of bric-a-brac, books, pictures and other decorative views you want to keep as is. Don’t strain your memory to put the plants back as they were or the stemware in the etagere. Having the photos makes it a simple exercise.

6. Cover the clothes inside the closets with sheets. This may seem over-protective. But the painters will cover them with their own ubiquitous spattered drop-cloths when they paint the inside of the closet doors. Some clothes are both personal and fragile. You will probably want to do this yourself.

7. Ask the painter to mix a drop of vanilla into the paint. This fascinating maneuver will cut down the lingering odors. Unless you have an aversion to vanilla, it solves the age old problem for allergy and sinus sufferers.

8. Expect noise, disruption and upset. The less you watch, the better. As soon as a room is completed, put the furniture back and re-hang the drapes. Keep the vacuum cleaner handy.
Many painters like to work with high decibel music or radio in the background. If this bothers you, suggest a lower range, close your door and remember things will be back to normal in a few days.

9. Keep your mind focused on the end results. Day-by-day progress may appear slow. “Are they still in the kitchen? We’ll have to go out for dinner.” However, most painters will finish in the estimated time period. As professionals, they have to plan their jobs and their schedules.

10. Have a written contract. When the job is completed to your satisfaction, pay the bill. Then walk through the front door, look around slowly and enjoy. You’re all done!
Until next time….

“Selma” and President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Legacy

“Selma”, the new movie about the Civil Rights Movement, casts Lyndon B. Johnson as a villain. This view is being disputed by historians who write that L.B.J. was committed to the goals of the movement and responsible for passage of the Civil Rights Act in l964 and the Voting Rights Act in l965. Here is L.B.J.s record according to the historians.

After the shock and trauma of John F. Kennedy’s assassination on November 22, 1963, Lyndon B. Johnson had only eleven months to serve as President before the 1964 election. He had been the Majority Leader of the United States Senate for years before he became J.F.K’s Vice President. He was one of the most powerful men to ever hold that position, using his abilities of intellect, persuasion and sheer force of personality to convince members to vote on measures he wanted passed into laws. The Democratic party controlled both houses of Congress when he assumed the presidency, and his experience and influence were of great importance. When he developed his plans and programs, he presented them to Congress as the continuation of J.F.K’s legacy.

On January 9, 1964, President Johnson delivered his first State of the Union address to the joint session of Congress. His words were slow and deliberate in contrast to J.F.K’s brisk cadence. However, L.B.J’s vision for America’s future was clear, strong and optimistic. At the heart of his speech, he announced in dramatic tones, “ This administration, today, here and now, declares unconditional war on poverty in America. I urge the Congress and all Americans to join me in this effort. It will not be a short or easy struggle, no single weapon or strategy will suffice, but we shall not rest until that war is won. The richest nation on earth can afford to win it. We cannot lose it.” Johnson presented a moral crusade to eradicate poverty and inspire his listeners He would expand the federal government’s role in health care, education and economic opportunity with the largest reform agenda since Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal brought Social Security to the aged and disabled in America.

Before l935, Will Rogers had quipped, “ The U.S. is the only country where people go to the poor house in an automobile.” Today, many Americans don’t even know what “the poor house” was in towns across the country. And Social Security is taken for granted. This sea change is largely due to laws that were enacted during Johnson’s two terms in office, building on the New Deal. Here are the major laws:

*The Economic Opportunity (OEO) Act was the administrative agency of the War on Poverty programs: Job Corps, Head Start, VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) , Legal Services and Community Action Programs. August 20, 1964
*Medicare and Medicaid were created on July 19, 1965
*Food Stamp Act (SNAP) -August 31, 1964
*Elementary and Secondary Education Act – April 11, 1965.
*Pell Grants: post-secondary federal grants to help low-income families in receiving financial aid as under-graduates in college. November 8, 1965

When Johnson campaigned for his second term in l964, he challenged Americans to build a “Great Society”, incorporating his war on poverty programs as building blocks to the future. His opponent was Barry Goldwater, the wealthy archconservative Republican Senator of Arizona. A popular cartoon of the day lampooned Goldwater as a well- dressed figure whose coat was being tugged by a poor small child in rags. The man looked down and said, “Why don’t you show some initiative and inherit a department store.” Goldwater, as the heir to his family’s merchandising empire, was the obvious political target of the Democrat’s war on poverty. Johnson’s huge electoral college and popular vote victories were the high water mark of his popularity as president.

Equally significant in Lyndon B. Johnson’s legacy were the passage of the Civil Rights Act of l964 and the Voting Rights Act of l965. These two landmark laws came after long years of struggle and dedication by the men and women of the Civil Rights Movement. They were the result of the freedom riders who were stoned and attacked on the buses, the arduous Montgomery bus boycott, the marchers who were beaten on the Edgar Pettus Bridge , and the historic 1963 March on Washington. Lyndon Johnson knew that the key to passage of the two Civil Rights laws was to convince Democratic Southern senators who supported segregation to vote in favor. He used every ounce of his influence and persuasion to accomplish this objective although he knew the Democratic party would lose the South in future elections as a result. His prediction came true, but he was successful in bringing an end to segregation nationwide in all public accommodations: housing, jobs, hotels, restaurants, movies and swimming pools. The Voting Rights Act brought an end to literacy tests and other methods of discrimination against African Americans. It regulated the practices and policies of elections at all levels, federal, state and local.

The “Great Society” programs and legislation brought social improvement in many facets of life during L.B.J’s second term of office. They included:

*The Immigration Act ended discriminatory quotas in effect since l924 based on ethnic origin. The quotas had favored immigrants from Northern and Western Europe while people from Southern and Eastern Europe were severely restricted from immigrating to the U.S. Immigrants from Asia had been completely excluded since 1882.
*An Omnibus Housing Act provided funds to construct low income housing.
* Clean Air and Clean Water Quality Acts tightened pollution controls.
*Standards were raised for safety in consumer products.
* The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities was established to use public funds for artists and galleries.
* The Wilderness Protection Act saved 9.1 million acres of forest land from industrial development.

By 1966 – 1967, the escalation of U.S. involvement in the Viet Nam conflict began to overshadow domestic achievements of the Johnson administration. As casualties mounted, the president met continually with his advisers who almost all backed a continued increase in American military personnel and fire power. The fear of a “domino effect” of all of Southeast Asia falling to the Communists was the argument of the generals and senior Cabinet members. The American public was dividing into two camps: the hawks and the doves — pro and anti war, with protest rallies and vehement denouncing of Johnson. American units were using napalm, and a devastating picture was taken of children –literally on fire– fleeing down a dirt road from their destroyed village. Angry groups would chant outside the White House gates, “L.B.J… L.B.J.. How many kids did you kill today?”

Johnson watched as the dollars needed for his domestic programs to fight poverty were being diverted to finance the war in Viet Nam. In addition, the conservatives were angry with him for the costs of programs at home, while the liberals were furious for his increasing troops while casualty numbers spiraled. General Westmoreland, the supreme commander in Viet Nam, brought him numbers of those killed and wounded that turned out to be far below the actual losses. Johnson was faced with a war that appeared to have no military solution. Graphic pictures of him at his desk during those months showed a man in deep anguish with his face in his hands.

By 1968, with prospects of campaigning for a second term looming, Johnson saw his dream of a Great Society in danger of being overwhelmed by the Viet Nam War. He also felt that the anger directed at him personally was harming the country. He made the hardest decision a president could make. On March 31, he stunned the nation by announcing on television that he would not seek re-election in November. He would devote his full efforts to working toward an end to the Viet Nam War.

Lyndon B. Johnson gave the American people his legacy of the Great Society and the War on Poverty — as well as the two landmark Civil Rights Acts. All these laws would touch every area of our lives with lasting beneficial effects for generations to come. Keep these historic L.B.J. achievements in mind if you decide to see the movie, “Selma”.

Tear-outs. Pull-outs. Fill -outs. How Can We Read?

Have you noticed that insert cards are threatening to take over our magazines? Cards of all shapes and sizes — tear-out cards, pull-out cards, fold-out cards — and the final intruder: the perfume sample cards. I used to love to read magazines, to leaf through the pages of new, slick glossy ones, skimming the pictures and titles with a delicious sense of anticipation and adventure. It was a totally relaxing and enjoyable pursuit, before deciding which article to read first.

I could even be described as a magazine addict. If one falls into my hands or within my gaze, I am seized by an uncontrollable urge to flip through its seductive pages. This can happen anywhere: home, office, airplane, beauty parlor, newsstand. “Lady, are you going to buy that magazine?” I switched from reading cereal boxes at breakfast to children’s magazines at an early age, a sure sign of the developing addiction.

Alas, my wonderful world of magazines — and yours — has now been attacked, encumbered and overrun by insert cards and pages. A veritable obstacle course of stiff paper hurdles has been created to thwart the leisurely pursuit of turning pages, skimming and reading. In the old days, one or two discreet cards were tucked away near the back of an issue, reminding us that renewal time was close or encouraging us to take out an introductory gift subscription. Current proliferation goes far beyond that.

Never mind that the cards are usually perforated and can be removed as one flips along. The cards seem to appear relentlessly and stick right up when the pages are turned. Not only do they destroy the kinesthetic flow, but they also obscure the pages themselves. Sometimes I’m not sure if I’m reading the magazine or the inserts. And as for the full size fold-out pages. Help! A magazine is supposed to go in a certain direction — forward. The fold-out page used to be reserved for particularly impressive and very expensive advertisements or the rare panoramic picture.

Certain editors have chosen to continue the text of an article and the pictures into, over, within or on the back of the fold-out page. On reading an entire issue of one of my favorite travel magazines, I thought that some of the articles were very short and choppy — that is before I discovered there were fold- out pages containing the rest of the articles.

But it is the perfume same that has pushed me over the edge. There it lies, cradled in its diabolically clever fold-out envelope, complete with ‘pulse points’ and instructions for rubbing gently on one’s wrist to “experience the fragrance”. The real rub, of course, is that the entire magazine is already aromatic before I tear off the magic tab. And I want to go on record with the categorical statement that I do not want my magazines to smell. It’s enough of a hassle to avoid perfumed tissues, hair sprays, fabric softeners and other unmentionables without this latest perfumed dimension in our lives.

As a magazine lover ot long standing, I have felt a growing concern over this entire matter of inserts. And after a prolonged period of brooding, I decided to do something about it. I have conducted my own random, completely unscientific survey. Since sound research first measures and investigates the nature of a problem. I systematically tore all the inserts out of all the magazines I could find in our house. Then I counted and classified them. Our family must rank among the Big Time Subscribers. At last count, we receive more than 40 bona fide publications, excluding the catalogues that arrive in full color with tempting wares from Tiffany, Neiman-Marcus and L.L. Bean.

Tearing out all the inserts took exactly 5 hours and fourteen minutes. Not only do we subscribe on a large scale, but I am a hoarder. The grand total of inserts of all shapes, sizes and kinds was 436 and included: Introductory subscriptions, gift subscriptions, subscriptions to other magazines, travel destinations, sweepstakes, books, porcelains, dolls, gourmet foods, model cars, sculpture, computers, and the ubiquitous perfumes. Since my survey was limited to our personal supply of magazines, there are still all the other publications left to be surveyed. Heaven only knows what lurks within the pages of the X-rated best sellers.

Would you like to help? I certainly would appreciate your input and data on this urgent subject. All you have to do is:
1. Collect all your magazines.
2. Tear out all the inserts.
3. Count them and send the total number — not the cards— to me.
I’m planning to send the results as a protest to the editors and publishers of a cross-section of our leading publications. With an insert card, of course, for their response.