Owning Your Education

Today’s Friday Fun Facts is about taking control of your degree program by planning.

1. Verify the program requirements and make sure that you get as many of the prerequisites out of the way.

2. Re-read number one and then start working toward the electives in your degree program.

3. Visit the program or department’s academic advisor at least once per year.

4. Ask your instructors for advice, too. They might offer you an additional important opinion.

5. Speak to other students, but do not rely on them for the regulations or requirements, as they could be ahead of you and the regulations can change and your degree program might have experienced some changes. Always review the current requirements with an academic advisor.

6. Focus on taking classes that will round out your degree program.

7. Try to take some classes that you are genuinely interested in taking.

Enjoy your education. Own your education.

Review of Feminism for Real: Part One

I finally finished Feminism for Real: Deconstructing the Academic Industrial Complex of Feminism (2011) edited by Jessica Yee. I’m not going to mince words—it was hard to read the book. This was the book that I would have loved as an undergraduate student in Women’s Studies at San Diego State University (SDSU). I was a first-generation college student like so many Latinas on campus in the late 80s and early 90s. (And, there are still lots there today—even with the extraordinary budget cuts and tuition hikes.) But, now I wear a different hat. I suppose some would say that now I am the “Asshole Academic Feminist.” Actually, I hope that no one would say this.

This book is written for the student (in and out of the university experience) who has ever felt that s/he did not fit in and was an outsider in the classroom. Other readers will love this book based on its pointed indictment about the at times vacuous nature of academe and jargon-laden discourse. I remember not feeling like I fit in and that I was the only non-white student in the classroom. I also remember the familial demands that I had that no one else seemed to have. But, by the time I graduated I knew I had my academic home and no home is completely perfect. And, I knew that my career was going to be in higher education.

I do take issue that Yee and others argue that the book is not a “hate on” feminism or Women’s Studies. The book is clearly an attack on mono-feminism (as if this exists!) and Women’s Studies. But, how can feminisms or Women’s Studies evolve if there are not the occasional moments of calling out so that introspection can take place! Now, before I get further in my commentary, I need to be more specific. I do have my BA in Women’s Studies from SDSU and a MA in Liberal Arts and Sciences from State. I ended up earning a MA and PhD in Political Science. I like to say that I’m over educated and under-paid, but that is a different blog post.

Getting back to the book, it’s not uncommon that a discipline has foundational texts and ideas. I saw this in Women’s Studies and Political Science. I did feel badly for some of the essayists in the anthology, as it sounds like a few of them had poor instructors, and some bad classmate experiences. But, I do think that it is important to understand how important foundational texts are in a discipline. They serve to provide the frame of reference. This does not mean that you have to agree or even like it, but being familiar with it is helpful for dialogue. And, having a frame of reference is useful for constructive criticism. As much as I hated the statistics series in graduate school, I also know that they made me a better teacher and scholar. Likewise, being able to counter Liberalism or Liberal Feminism required that I first know the concepts—even if they did not speak to me and my experience.

Again, maybe I have been immersed too long in higher education that what is plainly obvious to me that we learn about different things that at times do not speak to our specific experience. Then we usually (hopefully) can respond to it. Certain sections of the Feminism for Real had me frustrated. I felt like the particular author did not give the ideas, classroom or book a chance to see that there could have been something useful there to learn. Some of the sections were problematic to me, as I felt that the author was not familiar with the topic that s/he was responding to! I’m well aware of the fact that gatekeeping exists in academe and I am not supporting this. My work in the classroom, office hours, and elsewhere attempt to break this method. However, I also want people to understand that learning is not always fun—it makes you angry at times. Causes moments of disbelief for the student or reader and I know this, as I see myself as a life-long student. Learning is messy. It makes us uncomfortable. Feminism for Real made me uncomfortable. Yee and the contributors were successful. They made me think. Made me react.

Thanksgiving Monday

What are you thankful for in your life? On this Thanksgiving long weekend in Canada, many are thinking about great meals and time spent with family. And, we are reminded to reflect about thanks. I’d like to think about education. I’m thankful for my education and to have a place in my students’ education. I’m also thankful for the great education that my own children are afforded (OK, it’s not that affordable, but that is another post) here in Victoria.

During the last month, I have received the annual array of Facebook messages or emails from former students. These contacts share one major theme: thanks. Now, I’m not going to make this about me. Instead, I want to focus on how these former students are thinking about their university educations and how they are thankful. This puts a smile on my face for numerous reasons. One month into the school year they are reminiscing and somehow reminded that they are thankful for that education and that they miss it–warts and all (assignments/deadlines, oh my).

Well, I’m thankful for the contact. That they remember me and that they look back fondly at their time during university. But, if anything, I am also reminded that an education is a life-long process. And, we all should know that education takes place in other places than the classroom. My education cup runneth over and I feel content.

A Better Life for Latinos: Reports, Reality and Movies

The other night I saw A Better Life and today I re-read the April 201 report “Winning the Future: Improving Education for the Latino Community.” The two are related, as the film depicts the hardships and lack of opportunities noted in the report. The movie is centers around a father and son who are trying to make it in East Los Angeles. The community cold be Boyle Heights or El Sereno or Montecito Heights. The IMDB description does not do the movie justice: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1554091/.

“Winning the Future” explains how the Latino population has the lowest education attainment in the US, but is also the fastest growing demographic (2). This equation is not a good one if it continues at the same rate. Statistics continue to offer that Latinos will constitute the majority population by 2050; yet the income possibilities remain flat given the low rates of graduation from high school, low college attendance and graduation rates. And, the disparities in education begin early for Latinos. According to the report’s findings I read that, “less than half of Latino children are enrolled in any early learning program” (2). Anecdotally, I can share that my sister, who teaches in Southern California in an economically depressed area has repeatedly shared that more than half of the kids at the junior high are on the school’s meal program.

With A Better Life, we see that the two main characters, Carlos and Luis, merely want the basics: a good education, a car, food, security and to have the American Dream. To this end, Carlos struggles for work as a gardener and Luis is maneuvering high school and the precarious line between straight life and street life. Two telling scenes have stayed with me: Luis is arrested and the Anglo cop wants him to take his shirt off so that he can take a photo of his tattoos. Luis exclaims, “Not every Chicano is a gang member.” He takes his shirt off and his tattoo-free skin is not photographed. He says to the officer, “See.” Another scene is when Carlos is explaining to his boss that the dirty lawyer took his money and didn’t get him papers. This commonplace for undocumented workers—the unsavory stealing from them and knowing that without papers the undocumented will not file a police report.

The report notes that education is important and President Obama is ear-marking block funds for children and has repeatedly acknowledged the importance of the Head Start program and the Early Head Start to ensure that poor or minority children have a better chance of matriculating easily into Kindergarten. The numbers, though, are staggering. From the report, “1 in 5 students in the public school system is Latino. Yet almost half of Hispanic (sic Latino) students never receive their high school diplomas” (6). How to rectify this? Leave Arizona? That is said with a note of sarcasm. Here, he have programs attempting to fix the problem—programs that are preventative, but this is coupled with in a culture that is enamored with Neoliberalism. The two are strange bedfellows and looking at who supports each philosophy it is clearly drawn along partisan lines or class lines at the very least.

The Debt-Ceiling debacle only clouds this discussion more. While our Congressional Representatives, Senators, talking heads and the President have these lengthy discussion and some pontificate on television, the real Carlos, Luis, Maria, Gloria, Emma, and Sam’s are barely scraping by and wondering how they are going to make it. Their concerns are about Food Security, Human Security, and Human Rights. While I am keenly aware of real politics, I also know that the report and even this movie speak to real politics, as well.

I am thankful that my parents made sacrifices so that I could go to better schools. I am also aware of the trail-blazing that I did as a first-generation college student. When I see movies of this sort, I feel humbled and damn lucky. Then, I read these reports or journal articles and wonder about the state of public policy. I leave you with these heady ruminations.

Department of Education and White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics. 2011. “Winning the Future: Improving Education for the Latino Community.” Washington, DC: GPO.