Friday, December 26, 2014

Raising Ambitions: The Challenge in Teaching at Community Colleges

Three years ago, Eduardo Vianna, a professor at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, had a student who passed an entire semester without speaking in class. Like many others, the student, Mike Rifino, had come to LaGuardia requiring remedial instruction.

But the following semester Mr. Rifino turned up in Dr. Vianna’s developmental psychology course. This time he took a seat closer to the front of the room. Taking that as a positive sign, Dr. Vianna asked him to join a weekly discussion group for students who might want to talk about big ideas in economics, education and politics, subjects that might cultivate a sense of intellectual curiosity and self-understanding among students whose backgrounds typically left them lacking in either.


  1. "To create a world of young people skilled at analysis you first need to create a world of young people receptive to complexity, and many of Dr. Vianna’s students, he said, 'cringe at complexity.'"

    This can be generalized past community college students. Many of my students "cringe at complexity." They want writing their papers to be a one-step process. They get antsy when I can't give them the "one right answer" about an interpretive question in literature. I had a student last semester express suspicion that I was "holding out on them" regarding a question another student had raised about the significance of a symbol in the novel we were reading. No matter how many times I told them that their ability to defend their interpretation based on the text was the most important thing, they *still* insisted that I must know the *right answer* and wanted to know what it was.

    1. God, this is so right. Well said, Snarky. Hate to just say me, too, but this comment hits the nail on the head.

  2. "It cannot be emphasized enough" that community college professors, more than any other teaching cohort, teach the lowest-performing students on a daily basis (paraphrase). And we do it 5/5.

    The article describes the diversity of one professor's classes in Queens. Again, this "cannot be emphasized enough." My own wildly diverse classes usually include: very bright kids who can't afford all four years of Berkeley but who will excel there after transferring; equally well-prepared immigrants from Asia and South America who are still pushing themselves to learn English; middle-aged, responsible adults who have suffered brain injury through strokes, chemotherapy, spousal abuse, or military service; and barely literate dim bulbs who think that labelling the X and Y axes means showing which is X and which Y, and often getting even that wrong. And almost all these students are working 30+ hous per week.

    It cannot be emphasized enough. Attention must be paid.

    Thank you, RGM, for posting this excellent link. It highlights the problems and proposes some solutions. This is one reason I keep coming to College Misery.

    1. I'll second this, as Hiram seconded Snarky's. Both comments are spot-on.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.