Monday, May 12, 2014

Size Matters: The Third Rail in Adult Ed Politics

Clearly, this is another perspective piece.  Mine.  

Do you know what a third rail is?

That's the rail on the subway tracks you don't want to touch because it could kill you.

In Adult Ed politics, it's the size of the mission.

Some are for a full mission.  CFT - the California Federation of Teachers - is.

Some are for a narrow mission.  CCAE - the California Council of Adult Education - is.

Some are for a full mission but think it's not possible in the current climate so they put their focus on doing the best they can with how things are and what they have and what they can find to fix things.

Click the "read more" link to learn more about why it is and isn't dangerous to touch the third rail.

I am a member of both CFT and CCAE. 

I run this blog - okay, I write this blog aside from the occasional guest post - and I also have a job.

(Please don't think writing this blog and my job are the same thing.  They are not.)

The blog is, technically, mine.  I started it.  I run it.  I have poured hundreds of hours into it.

It's also tied to the school where I work in that it is linked to the school website and it is on the back of hundreds of people wearing Adult Education Matters t-shirts.

Who does the blog belong to?  I ask myself every time I sit down to write.  Who?  Who am I responsible to?   I wrestle with that question every day and the answer is always more or less this:

This blog is my effort to serve the community.  It belongs to the community in that my purpose is to serve the community.  And it belongs to me in that I am writing it.  Its mistakes, it's slant, it's shortcomings, it's style, and the effort put into writing and maintaining it - all mine. But the aim of AEM is community and before writing every post and in reading every post after, I ask myself: Did I serve the community?  Did I write what I know to be true?  Did I honor the wholeness I'm a part of?

I have posted the principles I try to operate by here and here.  Do I succeed in operating always by these principles?  Of course not.  But I try to.  It is the best I can do.

I maintain the blog even when I'm tired because I don't see enough coverage of Adult Ed, especially comprehensive coverage, anywhere.  And I think in order to make good decisions about the future, you need to understand the past.  So I keep trying to gather information and post it here.  I do my best.  I don't do it perfectly.  That's for darned sure.  But no one is perfect.  So here's what you got.

Regarding the mission, I, personally, think it should be full.  I think it is a huge mistake to narrow it. 

Yes, I understand that certain things have been set into motion and I understand the mood in certain places and I know that once things are going in a certain direction, it's hard to turn things around.

I know all that but I'm also the same person who started the Rebuild Adult Education petition and this blog.

And you gotta ask yourself:  What kind of person would do that when many others had given up on Adult Education, especially Adult Schools?  When folks were walking away, saying it's all over.  You can't save it.  And you especially can't save Adult Schools.  They're all gonna go into the Community College system, anyway.  Why are you spending so much time on this? Why can't you talk about something else?  Why do you keep bugging us with all this?  Enough already.  Go away!

Yeah, exactly.  Someone half crazy.  Someone who thinks differently - maybe for better and for worse.  Someone with a deep conviction that Adult Education matters - that's why I titled this blog that, you know.  Someone convinced that if you know something is true and you put it out there and you keep things positive and your offer ideas and possibilities and action steps to make something good happen, sometimes something good happens.  Someone with a felt calling to offer those things and try to live with what results.  Someone struggling to be courageous, practice humility, aim for wisdom, and roll with the punches as they come - and they have, sometimes, believe me.

So for all those reasons, I am impelled to say:  I think keeping the mission broad is the wiser choice.

In some places, it is not the popular choice.  And in many places, it is certainly the harder choice.

To keep the mission broad, we would have to do some work.  Some big work.  We would have to find the political will, as a people, to ask our representatives to push through legislation which would keep the mission broad.

It would help to find a legislative champion.  Senator Ted Lieu actually had a petition up on his website to save Older Adults programming.  But he is running for Congress now so I don't think Senator Lieu, as good as he is, is our man.

It will have to be someone else.  Or some ones else.  People working in groups is always good.  That's one of the reasons I'm for a broad mission, actually.  I know the value of community.  Americans can talk all they want about independence but none of us start out that way and few of us go out that way, either.  Or live it in between.  We need other people.  We just do.  And not just people we can pay to do the things we want done for us.  We are a group species that operates in groups - all kinds of groups.  Families, neighborhoods, cities, schools, places of work and places of worship, regions, states - all a series of groups.  And we do better when the people in those groups are healthy, supported, and educated.  We save money that way.  We make money that way. And we enjoy life and think about things besides crime, prisons, and addiction that way.  We can actually, when the majority of our community is strong and healthy, think about other things.  Crazy stuff like green energy or music or art or a great new series on HBO or knitting or managing rising tides due to climate change or cute new dog breeds or whatever else tickles our fancies.  All that energy going into managing social ills can go into creating social health.  Imagine that.  Yes.  Imagine it!   Do!

So...  keeping the mission broad.  A hard choice.  A tough choice.  Not necessarily the popular choice.

None of which makes that a foolish choice.

As I often tell my students, the long way is the short way.

Meaning, doing things slowly and patiently, working hard, making effort, this brings results which create speed and freedom.  The long, slow way brings ease and joy.

This, in my opinion, is the way of the broad mission.  Both in practice and in saving it.

To spend money on Parent Education and Older Adults and Financial Literacy classes, yes, costly.  But huge on results.  Lowered social costs.  Increased physical, mental, family, civic, and economic health and prosperity.  It's spending money to save money and make money.

Can I say a word about Financial Literacy, by the way?  In the midst of financial turmoil, why are we getting rid of Financial Literacy classes?  How about all those folks who purchased balloon and interest only loans before the housing market crashed?   What if they had taken a financial literacy class?  Now I know:  Wall Street.  They're pretty financially literate.  But maybe if their parents had had some Parent Education classes.  Maybe, just maybe, their kids wouldn't have grown up to think of only themselves and not the larger community and we wouldn't be in this place to begin with.  Just an idea.

To speak up and say, Whoa!  What are we doing?!  Why are we getting rid of Parent Education and Older Adults classes?  Let's stop and think.  Let's amend or write a bill.  Let's do what is necessary to fund these programs - not through soft money and grants but through dependable state funding.  This would be hard.  I also think it would be wise.

Some background info:

About five years ago, the financial world melted down on a global scale.  The trickle down effect, which might or might not work in prosperous times, definitely works in hard times, and difficulty rained down on California.

Gov. Schwartzenegger, in an effort to deal with a budget crisis, removed K12 Adult Schools from their protected categorical status.

The result was devastating.  Over 70 K12 Adult Schools were closed.  And all of them were cut.

In 2012, when Adult Ed was hanging on by its teeth, the LAO (the Legislative Analyst Office) did a report on Adult Education.  They recommended that the two branches of Adult Education - the K12 Adult School branch and the Community College non-credit branch - come into alignment and work together.  They recommended that Adult Ed narrow its mission .  And they recommended that K12 Adult Schools be returned to protected categorical status.

More or less, through various means, two of those things are happening. 

Through the new Regional Consortia system, the two branches must now come into alignment and work together to deliver Adult Education region by region. 

And through AB86, the mission has become more narrowed.  Because AB86 allows only funding of
  • Elementary and secondary basic skills, including classes required for a high school diploma or high school equivalency certificate
  • Classes and courses for immigrants eligible for education services in citizenship and English as a second language and workforce preparation classes in basic skills
  • Education programs for adults with disabilities
  • Short-term career technical education programs with high employment potential
  • Programs for apprentices

  • The return to protected categorical status or something similar for K12 Adult Schools, in other words, some form of dependable Designated Funding for K12 Adult Schools...  we're still waiting on that one.

    The Regional Consortia part of things is a done deal.  This is how things are now.  There is no going back.

    The narrowed mission is possibly a done deal, too.  Unless the Legislature amends AB86 or puts through a new piece of legislation, after 2015, there are no state funds for Parent Education, Older Adults, Financial Literacy, though they are still listed as being part of Adult Education on the CDE - California Department of Education - website.

    That shift away from a broad mission to a more narrowed college and career readiness, workforce training, plus disabled adults mission is part of a larger trend in public education. 

    Because the mission of the Community College was changed, too.  In 2012, the Board of Governors voted to restrict repeating non-credit courses.  The emphasis is now on getting people in and through to jobs and/or degrees.  Sounds fine, perhaps, on first reading.  But remember that the original purpose of the Community College system included building and maintaining strong communities.  This is why there were non-credit courses which people could take repeatedly.  The idea was that an engaged, educated, healthy in mind and body population led to stronger civic, community, and economic life and lowered social costs.

    But here's the thing.  While the shift in focus for Adult Education - from broad and community based to narrow and workforce-focused is part of a larger shift that includes changes in the Community College system... it is just one shift.

    There are other shifts.

    There is also the shift found in the passing of Prop 30 which demonstrated broad public support for education.  And the shifts both for and against charter schools.  And the shifts both for and against privatization.  And the shifts both for and against charging fees.  And the shifts both for and against Common Core.   And the shifts both for and against increased testing.  And the shifts both for and against increased collection of data.  And the shifts both for and against using the PIAAC to determine Adult Ed's future.

    There are many shifts. 

    That is why choice is so important. 

    Which is something else I've thought a lot about as those of us who have struggled in this time of crisis and austerity thinking to save and rebuild adult education have agreed and disagreed with each other about how to save it.

    Your way, my way, his way, her way.  Often I think:  Is there a third way?

    Some way that honors all?

    I even sometimes think:  Is there a way the third rail could become the third way?

    I don't know.

    But these are the things I ponder as I struggle to better understand what has happened and is happening with Adult Education in California and across the country... changes which exist not in isolation but in a larger context - just as we do.

    And one of things that comes to me, as I ponder, is that perhaps the very things considered dangerous hold the answer.

    Perhaps the things which divide us - because they hold such intensity - also hold the way to unite us.

    For a while now, talking about this issue of the mission - narrow or full - has been a third rail.

    We are not supposed to talk about it because we are supposed to be grateful if we survive.  That is enough.  If we don't all make it through the door, we should be quiet.  Or we should agree that those who made it through were the ones who deserved to get in, anyway.  Or we should agree with some ideas that some people have about how things should be.  Because they are experts.  And we aren't.
    It's a little like how the entire subject of Adult Education used to be a third rail.  We should be happy if K12 survives.  If Adult Ed doesn't survive, we should be quiet about it.  Kids don't need families, anyways.  They just need schools.

    Given the fact that community schools are seen as the newest and best means to help at risk kids, that one drives me nuts.  What about strengthening the actual communities through Adult Education as well as strengthening the schools?   Why imagine that children exist in isolation?  They don't!  Nothing and no one, in fact, exists in isolation.  We all live in circles within intersecting circles.  Families, neighborhoods, schools, workplaces, etc. etc. etc.  Children are indication of the health of the groups of which they are a part.  You don't fix their problems by removing them from their communities.  You support their communities in regaining health and the problems fix themselves.  Okay, sure, there are always some problems to be solved.  But you know what I mean.  No one is taking rich kids away from their rich parents to fix their problems.  Why do low-income kids need to be in schools with longer and longer days, away from their families and communities?  Why not strengthen the communities so that low-income kids have the option to spend time with thriving families and communities if at all possible? 

    That's another third rail topic, I know.  But having already touched one, I'm connected to all them.  That's how electricity works.  It just sort of floods through you and the next thing you know, you are the conduit between things.

    My point is:  What is considered unmentionable changes.

    Which means it's not truly unmentionable.

    It's just unmentionable some times for some reasons.

    So why not look at what's unmentionable and think about it?

    Why not ask:  Why are we not supposed to look at, think about, or talk about this?

    What else is considered risky?

    And what else is considered set in stone?

    What is considered impossible?

    What is considered the way things are going?

    Unless we look around and see there is a whole other way things are going?

    In which case, we are faced with that very important and very scary and very liberating and very limiting challenge we can never escape:  choice.

    Life is all about choices.

    What are they?

    What are the choices available to us?

    And of the choices available, which do we choose?

    You can read about the choice for a full mission and the reasons for it here and here..

    And you can read about the choice for a narrowed mission and the reasons for it here and here.

    And you can make a choice.

    What's yours?

    I'll tell you one thing for sure:  It's your power.


    1 comment:

    1. Thank you for creating and maintaining this blog site. It is unfortunate that some of the programs you addressed are slated to be cut. Government does not seem to fully comprehend the need for adult education programs. You make a valid point that the wealthiest communities are not the ones in need of funding, rather those where we find our less affluent citizenry - those that still face marginalization.