from Inquiry, Volume 6, Number 1, Spring 2001
© Copyright 2001 Virginia Community College System
Return to Volume 6, Number 1
This study isolates factors that could positively impact the degree of success in developmental mathematics programs in two-year colleges.
Several years ago, my husband and I traveled in the Okavanga Delta region in Botswana, a place known, in the dry season, for the proliferation and variety of wild animals. One day, we had been canoeing with a guide and stopped for a break on a beach on a narrow neck of land. A herd of elephants was marching steadily along the opposite shore, obviously going somewhere important to elephants. One of those elephants, however, left the herd and slogged across the water toward the neck where we were. He then started marching down the beach toward us. With elephants, I am told, you move slowly and steadily away; you never get in their paths. We couldn’t go toward him; we couldn’t go into the water (there were both crocodiles and hippos there); we couldn’t go ahead of him since we would soon run out of land. So we did what we could do and moved inland, only to see a buffalo, reputed to be wounded, standing in front of us.
Buffalos, especially wounded ones, are the most dangerous animals in Africa. These animals¾the same as those once on the plains of this continent¾are responsible for the vast majority of human deaths by wild animals. While you walk away from an elephant and generally ignore a lion¾unless it’s protecting its young or its catch ¾you run away from a buffalo. And this we did¾back across the elephant’s path and safely into our canoe and into the water. This was our only option.
Such is the case with international education: it’s risky, it’s difficult, but we have no choice; we must get on with it.
Ten years ago, the necessity of international education was an issue. Some critics argued it had no place in the education of an American citizen. Others argued that, while it might be important, it was a luxury we could ill afford. Such people still exist, but they are, I think, those who simply will not learn. We must ignore their threat and jump into the fray¾one way or another¾of educating our students for the world that exists today. Former President Clinton told us this¾in mandating federal agencies to come together to see how they can jointly support international education, in issuing a proclamation, and in naming November International Education Month. Congress has expressed its dismay at the unpreparedness of our citizens to deal with the rest of the world. At least some of our governors have called attention to the need for Virginia to be a player on the world stage. Those who employ our students tell us this all the time. Common sense says every student must be educated to be a global citizen. I move that we ignore¾to the degree we can¾those who think otherwise, or that we find a way to go around them. We must attend to the vital task of giving our students a solid foundation in international education. A recent study by the American Council on Education shows that they won’t get it in the universities (Hayward, conclusion). We must provide those students whose entire education will be in the community colleges with what they need to live and work in a global village in which they will be affected every day by what happens halfway around the world.
I have four children, all now grown. What has happened in their lives serves as an example of what is, or will be, happening in the lives of our students.
My older daughter set off to a university to earn a degree in mechanical engineering. Her university didn’t cater to part-time students; engineering was a four-year program, and she had to get through it in four years because we certainly could not have paid for a fifth. The program was run, to a great extent, by old people, men, most of whom had taught my husband when he was an engineering student there thirty years before. Needless to say, these students got a sound education in engineering and the math and science to support it, but there were no electives and very few requirements for courses in the humanities and social sciences. In this rigid environment, one thoroughly internationalized course changed this young woman’s life. That course was a course on the history of pirates, a forerunner of the way some of the best world history is taught today. In two semesters, through studying pirates, she was made aware of a great deal of the history of the world, its economy and social structure and its culture. Upon graduating, she joined the Peace Corps and taught mathematics in a high school in southern Africa. Coming home, she traveled in northern Africa and some of Asia. She has traveled since back to Africa and in Europe. Now, with a doctoral degree in mathematics, she is working in radiation science relative to space flight, and the very small worldwide core of people working in this field includes people from almost every corner of the world.
My younger daughter works for one of the subsidiaries of the venerable Sara Lee Corporation. Even before she went to work at Sara Lee’s corporate headquarters in Chicago, Sara Lee had operations or owned companies in fifteen countries on four continents. In the few years she was at corporate headquarters, she was sent to Amsterdam and Milan and was on the brink of being moved permanently to London. Instead, however, she took a job with Sara Lee’s food service subsidiary in Greenville, S.C., which, in spite of its huge, foreign-owned industries, seems a provincial southern city. Within a year, Sara Lee decided to divest itself of its food service company, and PYA Monarch, which has offices in Hampton Roads, was bought by a Dutch company, Ahold, which owns about the same number of companies on only three continents. So much for American companies and regional provincialism.
My older son is a Marine pilot and a flight instructor at the Naval Flight School in Pensacola, Florida. All through college, he carefully avoided anything “international”; as far as he was concerned, the action and his future were here in this country. However, even before he was sent to Pensacola, he had a ground assignment that took him to Okinawa, to Japan, to Korea, to a month-long duty on a Korean aircraft carrier, and to Australia. He’s been back in the States for a couple of years training American pilots for the Navy, the Air Force and the Marines. However, under contract, the Navy also trains military pilots from all over the world. Most recently, Joe was the on-wing¾or assigned trainer¾for a young man from Italy. It was Joe’s job not only to teach him to fly, but also to get his English to the working standard and to teach him about American culture.
With Dan, my youngest, I thought, the story winds down. Dan does advertising graphics for the Virginian-Pilot right in downtown Norfolk. His beat is the elegant Ghent section of Norfolk. Purely American, I thought, and then I looked at the things he has advertised: restaurants serving food from China, Mexico, Thailand, France and Italy; furniture from India, China, England and Japan; ceramics from Italy and Russia; jewelry from Peru; clothes from Hong Kong, Singapore, Korea and Latin America; and even exercise¾t’ai chi ch’uan¾from China.
Hardly one of our students will escape similar experiences. Therefore, we must address the special importance of global education for our students, the students in the community colleges, and propose some approaches for making it happen.
· The overwhelming majority of Hampton Roads residents has never held a passport and therefore, probably, has never traveled outside the United States, this in spite of the fact that we are home to the world’s largest naval base.
· Ironically, the overwhelming majority of the U.S. Congress has never held a passport.
· Many of our students at TCC have never been to Washington, D.C., or Baltimore or New York, and some have not even seen the Atlantic Ocean, less than 25 miles from anyone living in our service area.
Such statistics approximate those for every part of the state. Community college students will go out into a world¾or for the older students¾are out in a world at least as internationalized as that of my children.
More than 40 percent of all students enrolled in undergraduate education in the U.S. are enrolled in the nation’s 1,300 community colleges. About half, maybe slightly more, of those students will get all their higher education in the nation’s community colleges. If these students are going to be educated for the global village of which they are already a part, it must be with us. If the job is going to be done, we must do it. In most cases, we must do it within the confines of the general education core and the very specific requirements of our occupational technical programs. The evidence, according to Hayward, suggests that we are doing it no better than we did 15 years ago.
The other half or so of our students will transfer¾sooner or later¾to a four-year college or university. They are a very significant component of the students at those colleges and universities. Most students at major urban universities¾like Old Dominion and Norfolk State Universities in Norfolk, Christopher Newport in Newport News and George Mason in Northern Virginia¾will get at least some of their higher education in the community colleges. In some instances, that percentage is significantly higher. For private colleges and the most selective universities, it may be somewhat lower. But even those institutions have more students who have also attended a community college than either we or they would imagine. Increasingly, the universities are recognizing that their students are our students.
While these transfer students will not get all their higher education in our community colleges, they may get most of their international education there if they are to get it anywhere. Some colleges and universities have large populations of international students and faculty, who are completely integrated into college life and create a truly “international” campus. One thinks of the University of Chicago, Columbia, and any number of other institutions. But many universities have very isolated international student and faculty populations, who have very little impact on the life of the college. Sadly, most four-year colleges and universities consider international education to be an activity for the select few in a set of majors¾international relations, international business, area studies (Asia, Central Europe, whatever), and foreign language. According to Hayward, internationalization as an institutional concept, worthy of college-wide integration, is rare. International education at the baccalaureate institutions prepares the very few very well; it does very little for the bulk of students at the universities¾about 60 percent of whom were once, or maybe still are, our students and who need to get an internationalized education, while they are with us, if they are ever to get it.
It is important, then, for us to focus not on “why international education” but on “how” every student in every curriculum is to have the advantage of a global education. That “how” can be broken into five parts.
We have to work with what we have.
Almost everywhere, community colleges are “poor” institutions; when monetary resources are handed out, we almost always come out on the short end of the stick. For example, TCC gets about half the per-student money from a combination of tuition and state funds that go to regional, four-year institutions. Southern states fare less well, on the whole, than do states in other regions, and we, in Virginia, are pretty typical of the southern states. Without outside funding, there are not going to be significant amounts of money targeted for international education: we are unlikely to get an entire department (and probably don’t want it), our student to full-time faculty ratios are way too high, the possibility of significant release time is not good, and subsidizing study abroad with significant college funding is going to be difficult.
On the other hand, every community college in Virginia has significant people resources¾in their faculties and staffs and in their students. There are faculty members on every campus with significant international experience¾returned Peace Corps volunteers, people who were sent abroad with the military, individuals whose business has taken them to other countries, and people who travel on their own time, at their own expense, for their own pleasure. All of us have faculty and students who speak languages other than English, and the range of those languages is likely to be startling. (Our survey at TCC, done more than 10 years ago, showed we had folks who spoke not only Spanish and French and German and Italian and Polish, but also the languages of India, Russia, China and Iran.) Many of us have faculty and students from other countries. This is knowledge and experience into which we can and must tap¾but to do so, we must take steps to find out what is there.
My experience working first in international education and now as the college grant director with a variety of two- and four-year institutions tells me that community colleges have faculties of which they can be proud. Community college faculty members are outstanding: first of all, they are almost always not only willing but eager to learn¾to consider new approaches, to undertake new teaching styles to effect better student learning, to learn entirely new subject matter. Second, they are willing to learn what they can in almost any way, at almost any time¾through additional graduate education, through travel and work abroad, through seminars and workshops, under mentoring from experts who may be at four-year institutions, from their students, on the street, if necessary. And third, they are amazingly willing to cooperate, to share what knowledge they have and to work together with other faculty to make the changes necessary to give our students the education they need.
· a tremendous base of knowledge and experience, if only we can identify what’s there;
· a willingness and, indeed, a desire to learn and change and grow;
· a willingness to share and to cooperate.
In terms of the potential for international education, we are fortunate to have these strengths and we must build on them.
We must find ways to get the resources we absolutely have to have.
Like individuals, institutions find ways to do what they must, to put their values into action, to make their most important dreams realities. We must be sure that global education is one of those values, one of those dreams and that an appropriate part of the available resources is directed toward that goal.
· Every institution can, within its own resources, do something: first, begin to build an infrastructure that will support global education.
· Every institution has some access to regional resources that can enable it to do more, whether those resources fund student study abroad at TCC, the far larger private donation that funds a great deal more study abroad at Danville, or the single scholarship contributed by the Kiwanis Club that sends a student to China in the summer.
has the ability to make a firm commitment to seek outside funding to meet its
greatest needs, and we are fortunate that many of those funding agencies have
representatives here to talk with us today and tomorrow.
We must change the curriculum, and to do that, we must first change faculty.
I am getting old¾both in years and in seniority¾and, unfortunately, I am all too typical of faculty in a system that was established and grew rapidly in the late 60's and 70's. I was lucky enough, I say, to be a liberal arts student and to major in English literature and what is now called humanistic studies. For my day, I had a fairly broad education. (And I am grateful for it.) However, what is now called humanistic studies was then called “Christian culture” because it began and ended at what had been the Christian world¾Europe and a few small parts of the Middle East. I majored in literature and read nothing that came from farther away than ancient Rome and the Anglo-Saxon British Isles. I had a wonderful History of Art course that, as one of our faculty says, is the best grounding in world history anyone will ever get, but that history of art touched on ancient Egypt; and moved rapidly into Europe; it never spoke about the vast wealth of Chinese art, nor certainly that of Africa and Latin America. I had classmates from Japan, and Ghana and Nigeria and Brazil and Argentina, but the attitude was that they were lucky to be here, to experience our life. If my classmates traveled abroad¾and I was never able to¾they went to France and England and Ireland and Italy and Spain. Even the sociology I studied in graduate school managed to focus on the theories and approaches developed in Europe and America and only occasionally, and then quite ethnocentrically, ventured out to what we then called tellingly “primitive peoples.”
Unfortunately, old as I am, many of you who are significantly younger experienced very similar educations. We, as faculty, need to be retooled.
· We need knowledge of the rest of the world, the kind of knowledge that comes from the books and periodicals we should have read years ago and the kind that is being developed in the latest books and on the Internet. Specifically, we need knowledge about the Third World, which now makes up two-thirds of the world’s population.
· We need experiences. We need to see, first-hand, the places about which we should be teaching. We need to meet the people, to hear what they say about their lives and countries. We need to learn a little, at least, of their languages and to grasp how well those languages serve as tools of communication and how much those languages shape the way people think. We need to understand how they came to do as they do and think as they think. We need to become excited about the new faces and new places we are seeing.
· Finally, we need to rethink whatever it is we teach in the light of what we have learned and experienced. It is not enough for us to know and to experience; we must change what our students learn to meet the realities of the global village. We must include the Third World¾or our students stand to become its victims rather than its friends.
None of this will happen on its own, not in my lifetime, not in yours. Even if we replaced every aging faculty member tomorrow, many, most of those who replace us would still come from educations far too narrow for the world today. We must create ways of learning¾seminars, workshops, international visitors, graduate experiences and opportunities for faculty to have significant experiences¾work and study¾in our countries, especially third world ones. And then we must find time for them to reflect and to change what they teach. Finally, we must show that we value international education by rewarding those who move us toward it¾through evaluations and merit pay (such as it is), through increased opportunities and through recognition.
Every student must receive an international education: not just those students who graduate having completed transfer degrees, not just those students who graduate from our occupational technical programs, not just the students (and we have a lot of them) who get what they think they need from us and transfer without having completed a degree, not just the students in general studies or education or social sciences, and not just those who complete the general education core. Every student. This means students who come to us for only a handful of courses to meet some particular career objective. This means students who enter one of our certificate programs, rather than a degree program. This means students who come to us to study art, the health sciences, horticulture, engineering, agriculture, automotive mechanics, or mathematics. Every student lives in the global village. Every student will pursue his or her career, no matter what it is, in a global context. (Remember my four children.) Every student has a right to an international education.
What this means is very profound and is understood far better by the community colleges than it is by their four-year big brothers. It means that
· We internationalize the education of all students, not just those who self-select themselves into a curriculum with “international” in the title.
· We internationalize a vast range of courses, not just those like world history and foreign language and political science that seem to be “naturally” international.
· We start with those courses that are taken by the most students: developmental and first-year college English, basic mathematics, American history (which many of our prospective teachers take in lieu of world history), introduction to business. You know the list, and it will vary from college to college.
· We look at the technical courses: TCC has internationalized two math courses, and its horticulture courses have a strong international component as do its courses in nutrition. Business courses are on board.
· We encourage a variety of truly international electives¾geography, the literature of Latin America and Asia, cross-cultural communications–-that meet the requirements of the curricula in which our students are enrolled and that offer them the opportunity for a second or third, more in-depth experience.
· We look outside the curriculum as well¾to the nature of student activities, to the resources in our libraries and on our web sites, to the students and faculty whose faces appear in our publications.
· And finally, we find time for faculty (and staff) to do all this well. In a climate where fifteen class hours, a bunch of committees, a stack of papers to read and a line of students to see are the norm, faculty cannot do this as an add on. They need time, or they need money that will enable them to “buy” time, particularly during the summer term.
We must create opportunities for students to experience other cultures and other countries within the time and money budgets of the typical community college student.
They say one picture is worth a thousand words, but in reality, one good personal experience is worth more than any number of pictures. We must find ways to get our students abroad in ways that involve them in meaningful interaction with the people of the countries they visit and that lead them to a deeper understanding of the people, languages, and cultures of those countries. We must be sure that those countries do not include only those most like us, but also those with very different cultures and very different standards of living. I remain forever changed by the narrow streets and the students marching for freedom and democracy in China more than 10 years ago. My daughter, the Peace Corps volunteer, is not the same person she was before she taught young people who live in round grass huts with dirt floors and usually no water or electricity. One student who studied Spanish in Costa Rica and lived with a Spanish-speaking family talks of a life-changing experience and recognized it when she began dreaming in Spanish. Another student, one of those who had hardly left Portsmouth, Virginia, realized her own ability to do anything, anywhere, when, after experiences in England and Greece, she found herself helping others find their way around Prague.
Our students usually cannot go abroad for a semester or a year. They lack the money, and if they had it, they could not take the time away from the work that supports themselves and often their families, nor could they leave their children for that period of time. Given a little help, they can, however, go for ten days to three or four weeks. And we can plan experiences that give them value in that short amount of time.
In conclusion, this article stresses the importance of a particular kind of international education which affects every one of our students and every corner of our curricula and which offers them experiences the typical community college student will get nowhere else.
Hayward, Thomas. Internationalization of U.S. Higher Education: Preliminary Status Report 2000. Washington, D.C.: American Council on Education (funded by The Ford Foundation), 2000.
Mary Ruth Clowdsley is Associate Professor of Sociology and Director of Grants at Tidewater Community College. Prior to 1998, she also served as Director of International Education at TCC, a program she helped to found in 1987.