January 30, 2018 Newsletter

Three Miles

“Less than one fifth finish in six years.”

The statistic refers to “poor kids who make it to college.” The quotation is from Chana Joffe-Walt, a producer of the radio program This American Life. Jaffe-Walt hosted the show “Three Miles,” originally broadcast in 2015. Just after I published the last CTL newsletter, one of our colleagues sent me the link. I highly recommend giving it a listen.

The title “Three Miles” refers to the distance between two high schools in the Bronx. “University Heights High School,” says Joffe-Walt, “is a public school. It’s 97% black and Hispanic. It’s located in the poorest congressional district in the country, the South Bronx. . . . Fieldston is also in the Bronx. But it’s one of New York City’s elite private schools. It’s 70% white. It’s known as a progressive school. One in five kids gets financial aid, which is helpful because last year tuition was $43,000.”

Students from both schools are involved in an exchange program. The University Heights students get to see what an expensive education looks like. Some apply to college; some of those who apply, go; some of those who go, finish. Jaffe-Walt interviews three of them along with their high school mentors.

The interviews make the show worth listening to. There is nothing like hearing these young people tell their stories, especially for those of us who don’t usually hear such stories or who don’t have a similar story of our own.

Also valuable are Joffe-Walt’s observations.

About the college experience of “poor kids”: “They were dropped into a foreign land and asked to mentally imagine themselves as belonging.”

About a University Heights student who went to Bard College: “She is a mental gladiator. . . . She has to ignore the fancy [Fieldston] library that she did not get to enjoy in high school, the bad grades she got in college, the fact that she can’t afford books, the fact that she’s the only black kid in class, the fact that her peers in college already knew how to use a semicolon correctly, the Facebook stream of high school friends dropping out of college one at a time, and the boyfriend who deeply, more deeply than her, believes the message confirmed again and again by all these things, that he is unworthy. Raquel has to not look at the mountain of evidence that what she’s working toward will not be possible, and instead has to repeat to herself, you do deserve this. You deserve this. You do deserve this.”

Her conclusion: “Education is the best way to cross class barriers. And in many cases, education seems to be the barrier.”

— Jocelyn McWhirter
Director, The Newell Center for Teaching and Learning


Three Miles. It’s not that far. Or is it?

“It’s Not Enough for Working-Class Kids to Get into College,” by Nick Morrison. “The problem lies not so much in whether they can afford to study at university but in how they feel when they are there.” Published February 26, 2017 by Forbes.

Promoting Inclusion and Identity Safety to Support College Success,” by Mary Murphy and Mesmin Destin. This 2016 report begins with observations from Michelle Obama and Sonia Sotomayor. From The Century Foundation.

New on the GLCA/GLAA Website: GLCA Faculty Survey: Concerns, Strengths, and Directions for the Future,” by GLCA Program Director Greg Wegner. Find out what our GLCA colleagues are doing and thinking.


News from The Newell CTL

Spring Coteries. Look for an invitation to join one of four book discussion groups for Albion College teachers. Featured books:

The Discussion Book: 50 Great Ways to Get People Talking, by Stephen D. Brookfield and Stephen Preskill
Small Teaching: Everyday Lessons from the Science of Learning, by James Lang
Creating Significant Learning Experiences: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses, by L. Dee Fink
“Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?” by Beverly Daniel Tatum

Talking about Teaching. You can always talk about teaching. Find a partner, trade classroom observations, and talk about teaching while having a Baldwin Cafe lunch on The Newell CTL. To register, just reply to this newsletter.

Teaching Reflections. We already have two volunteers for this semester! If you’d like to join them by contributing a brief essay about teaching and learning, reply to this newsletter.

About Jocelyn McWhirter

Jocelyn McWhirter is the Stanley S. Kresge Professor of Religious Studies at Albion College in Albion, Michigan.
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