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Congratulations and Good Luck as you Climb the Mountain?

Brenda and I had to pleasure of attending a send-off event for area (Raleigh, Durham, Chapel Hill) high school graduates who will be entering their first years at our alma mater, Western Carolina University. The whole “going off to college” thing has certainly changed, since my day of packing my clothes in a backpack and tossing it and a wooden crate of books into the back of my Fiat and hoping that it makes it up the mountains to Cullowhee. (Point in fact, I attended the local community college for two years, and one and a half years at East Caroline University before going to WCU.)

Unfortunately, none of the youngsters there were familiar with Western Carolina’s celebrated and accomplished 300+ instrument marching band

We were there last night to congratulate the youngsters, 15,000 applicants and just less than 1,500 admitted, and wish them luck, since only 35.1% of incoming freshmen at North Carolina public universities graduate in four years. It is encouraging, though not comforting to parents, that 59.1% gradate within six years (“College completion,” 2012).

The second reason that I attend these things is to count the number of alum who graduated before I did.  I counted one, by six years.  admittedly, It did take me six years to get my four year degree – for a wild variety of reasons.

At the beginning of the organized part of the event, led by WCU admissions and alumni officials, the youngsters were asked to introduce themselves, name the high schools they graduated from and their majors.  All graduated from Raleigh, Chapel Hill and Durham high schools, plus one from a school in up-state New York and one from somewhere in Florida.  Surprisingly, only two said, “Undecided” when reporting their majors, with a majority aiming for carriers in criminal justice, psychology, broadcasting, and one sociology.

Out of about 30 entering WCU freshmen from the Research Triangle of North Carolina, not a single one hopes to become a teacher.

Even though I am outraged, I am not surprised.




College completion. (2012, March). The Chronicle of Higher Education, Retrieved from http://collegecompletion.chronicle.com/college-stats/

Too Many Universities? Too Many Graduates? Too Much Debt?

This one’s been knocking around in my head for a few days, and it’s one of those “thinking out loud” posts where I’m not sure about the track I’m on. It’s OK.  I think that it was Bertrand Russell who said something like..

What’s wrong with the world is that fools and fanatics are so sure of themselves, while wiser men are so full of doubts.”

It started with a conversation I had with one of my younger brothers. He is writing a family book about the life of our father (I’m doing the one about our mother). He reminded of a particularly difficult time when my Dad and I were not on the best of terms. It was a strained period, partly because he spent much of his world-view-forming years with the flag-waving culture of World War II while I spent pretty much those very same years with a flag-burning culture – Vietnam.

After spending two years in college, I’d felt that I needed a different kind of education, a real-life schooling that a university was not going to provide. I had been attending a community college, and most of my friends where working real jobs at the same time that they attended class, which in that part of the country meant working in a mill or a factory.

To make a very long and complicated story short and sweet, I put a hold on college to work for a while, getting a job at a Gastonia factory that made chain saws. My father was crushed. He was certain that I was stepping into quicksand, and that once I left school, I’d never be able to return. His dream was that all his sons would earn their eagle badges and college degrees – and I was turning my back on that dream and choosing failure.

Working in that factory was an education. Among other things, it convinced me that without an education, I would never be able to choose my work. I would never be able to mix passion with vocation. But that’s not the point of this writing.

Mostly, because I had taken drafting in high school, I pretty quickly moved up; from machine operator, to materials handler, to set-up man and finally, quality control. It is a track I could easily have continued, moving up, and having opportunities to creatively contribute to the success of the company, and perhaps even, one day, make my father proud.

But I was smart and better than that.  I had always been destined for college, not a factory.  I returned to college (in no small part because I love my father) and graduated a few years later with a history degree and a teaching certificate. What I’m trying to say is that for decades, we have convinced ourselves that success meant getting a college degree, because nothing less than that degree could bring success. Has this notion of college-or-nothing led to a brain drain, of sorts, from other important and critical quarters of the economy. I am grossly generalizing here, but this thread of thought has reminded me of a story that Bill Clinton told in his book, about how the smartest person he knew in his home town, was the man who pumped gas at the local service station.  Today, the smartest man we know is majoring in philosophy at the University of…

It was Audry Watters’ Wednesday blog post, Don’t Go Back to School… Or Do that provoked me to go ahead and write this down. She describes her son’s decision not to pursue a college degree, and I think of my own son’s decision to leave campus and rethink what he wants to do. I have faith that they will both find their ways, and make us proud. But I suspect that contributing to our problems are the myths about formal education that have guided our parenting and that persist in being part of the framework of our culture.

At least all of the sons of my father earned their degrees and we all got our eagle badges. What’s left, is that we all become Presbyterians. :-)


Photo taken by Ewan McIntosh in a Taxi in Shanghai

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Books Written

Cultivating Your Personal Learning Network
2nd Edition (2012)

Redefining Literacy 2.0 (2008)
Classroom Blogging
(2007) • Lulu
• Amazon
Raw Materials for the Mind

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