Will Belly Dancing Be Our Nemesis?
President American Association of Community and Junior Colleges
We have all bumped into citizens who raise their eyebrows and smirk as they point an accusing finger at some belly dancing or poodle grooming or macrame class offered by a community college adult education flier. There's the place to lower the boom on costs, they say. I don't know how many times I heard Gov. Jerry Brown of California hold up macrame as an example of why community funding should be scissored. An image of frivolity is planted in the public mind.
Such "hobby and recreation" classes present a knotty problem, indeed, because you and I know there is a local demand for them but little understanding about how they are financed. We know that the classes are supported by student fees, and are not necessarily a burden on the taxpayer at all. But the fact remains that many decision-makers do not realize that the so-called hobby classes are self- supporting, and the college image can suffer as a result of that misinformation. Frankly, I am ready to will and bequeath belly dancing, poodle grooming, and macrame classes to the local YMCA, YWCA, senior citizen center, or other community service organizations not faced with projecting the same kind of image that colleges must maintain for continued legislative and general public support. Indeed, some community college critics are even suggesting that perhaps the word college should be removed from the title of community colleges and that they instead be called community services centers. Now, this kind of criticism raises the hair on my neck, and I immediately move into a defensive position by saying, "Well, they just don't understand what a good adult education program is all about!" Then I moved to the attack by saying, "What about those golf, tennis, and dance classes in the universities?" But, so far, I have not found these arguments very helpful in solving the problem when I stand before a legislative decision making group asking for more money to operate our institutions.
We must deal realistically with the images or pictures that people carry around in their heads about community colleges. As a strong advocate for a broad program of adult and continuing education offerings to meet the needs of the communities we serve, I believe we must attack on a statewide and national basis those images that are really hurting us. The genius of the community college is that each one is different because it reflects the needs of a unique region. And that is as it should be. There are even wider differences among the states as to how community colleges are structured and operate. But everywhere in the nation, one of the great problems of the community services movement is how to meet the needs of our community on the one hand and on the other hand continue to create those mental images we really want people to have of a community college.
At AACJC we are stressing the slogan "Opportunity with Excellence." That's the picture in the mind I would like to see developed--an image of a college that does provide tremendous opportunities in an excellent way. Real quality, real excellence--I believe we offer that. Therefore, it is distressing to see a few community services courses diminishing that image.
There isn't anything innately wrong with teaching belly dancing (mideastern body movements, as some call it) or some of the other courses that haunt community college administrators. And, sure, there are people in the community willing to pay the full cost for these programs. But if those few programs are skewing the college's image, distorting the pictures in people's mind, then I suggest we examine some alternatives. Is it written in tablets of stone somewhere that community colleges must themselves give people everything anyone wants, be all things to everyone? Sometimes we must ask ourselves whether, even if a certain offering pays for itself financially, we can afford the true cost in terms of our public image by providing that offering.
I see a need for the establishment of linkages with many other community organizations that also offer adult education and community services programs. One of the great strengths of the community college is its placement in the community setting of park and recreation facilities, libraries, schools and galleries, churches, YMCAs, and YWCAs and hundreds of community-based organizations where resources exist and learning takes place. I am convinced that the community services requirements of the future will be best met through the establishment of linkages and collaborative efforts. The community college then moves into the position of "broker" as well as deliverer of adult education services. Many community colleges across the country are working diligently and successfully at this "broker" role.
When we examine the genesis of our community college community services offerings, we need to ask: Do they flow out of our current college curriculum? The existing college credit curriculum can provide the basis for the continuing education program in many instances. It's a two-way street. Community services, community development, and continuing education programs must flow from the curriculum to the community, and there is the advantage of having community educational needs and problems flow back and impact the college curriculum.
That approach provides our opportunity to link our faculty and the college curriculum with the real world. We can establish such linkages by encouraging our faculty to participate part time in the adult and continuing education program by offering their expertise to the community and in turn encouraging the realities of community needs and concerns to influence the classroom curriculum. What does it take for a person today to cope with real life as a consumer? What does it take to cope with the modern jungle as a citizen? How does the local planning commission or the justice system affect the individual citizen? Is our college curriculum alive and attuned to the needs of people in their life roles? We talk about lifelong learning and then we tend to disparage or at least turn people off by calling it "remedial education." I much prefer the term "developmental education" because I'd certainly like to develop better skills in reading, writing, analyzing, and remembering names, for example. Those are, indeed, lifelong developmental learning tasks. Just by some of the terms we use, we tend to create negative images in the minds of our constituents.
There is a model for the involvement of educational institution resources in community development that has worked well throughout the country for many years. Through the land-grant institutions, government has provided farm and home extension agents working in rural setting to service the needs of families in small communities and on farms as well. The extension agent links the great resources of researchers and faculty at state universities to the resources of the county courthouse to the needs of the farmer and rancher, his wife, and children. Whether it's when to spray a fruit tree or how to freeze plum jam, the extension office can provide down-to-earth, practical information and demonstrations.
I see a similar need to link the faculty and curricular resources of the community colleges to the direct solution of urban and suburban problems. Let's link our resources with the resources of local government and relate them to the requirements of contemporary living in the inner cities or the commuter fringes. Ask the community what worries people, what they need. Do they really care who sponsors their belly dancing and poodle grooming classes? Our colleges can and do provide so much knowledgeable information about toxic waste disposal, energy conservation, economic survival, improving intergroup human relations. These are issues that flow easily out of our traditional college disciplines and curriculum. These programs could be offered in modules, with different faculty members offering bits and pieces from their areas of expertise to fit a structure that's going to be useful for the individual and for community development. The use of our regular full-time faculty for such a program linked to the community cannot help but infuse the classroom with real world problems. And, in turn, our colleges can and do offer some ways to handle those problems, if not to solve them.
Now, how does that relate back to the poor, defenseless, and oft-derided belly dancing, poodle grooming, and macrame knotting classes? Well, unless you really intend to try to be all things to all people, I submit that some hard choices must be made, and the public relations cost must be carefully examined. What do you want identified with the community college image of "opportunity with excellence," and what offerings can be shared with other community institutions with your blessing? In fact, as good citizens of the community, our college certainly do assist other community-based organizations in establishing adult hobby\recreation classes.
We can't afford any kind of nemesis that undermines the "bread and butter" programs of our colleges. Instead, let's go with the flow of symbiotic partnership between community and college by establishing the linkages of community cooperation that will make our mutual survival possible.
Copyright 1992 by the National Council on Community Services & Continuing Education. Permission is given to copy any article provided credit is given and the copies are not intended for sale