Tom Hanks and the School of Life

Last week, Tom Hanks wrote an op-ed in the New York Times about his positive experiences at Chabot College (in support of Obama’s proposal to offer two free years of community college  for all students). Chabot is in my college’s district, so of course everyone was really excited. Hanks talked about the specific lessons he learned from his instructors, the classes he loved and those he hated, and how community college gave him the opportunities to do the same things students at more expensive, prestigious universities did: study, learn, goof off, explore, and find temporary and life-long passions. One of the most interesting parts to me was that he called Chabot “my alma mater” and told his children, “That place made me what I am today.” After Chabot, he transferred to Sacramento State, but never completed a degree: “After a year there I moved on, enrolling in a little thing called the School of Hard Knocks, a.k.a. Life.” The last course of schoolwork he completed, evidently, was at Chabot College. 

Hanks wouldn’t be considered a failure, I don’t think, for ultimately dropping out of college. And yet, in the last few years of lean budgets, the California community colleges have cut their funding for people who don’t want to get a degree or certificate but just want to take some classes. The state can’t afford to pay for retired people to take art classes or for confused eighteen-year-olds to try out a bunch of different majors before one sticks. My college’s mission used to have the words “lifelong learning” in it; now they are gone, replaced by the word “completion.” 

One of my favorite aspects of community colleges, one of the reasons I chose to teach in one, was the way they served as a resource for all the community’s educational needs, whether they added up to a degree or not. If community colleges gain funding through Obama’s plan, I hope some of it can go not just to the students trying to complete their degrees, but also those who just want to drop in and learn a few things. 

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Back to School

nice art in our office

Next week I go back to school. The transitions from break to semester and semester to break are always hard for me. I’m very routine-oriented (if you know me, you might have noticed this just a tiny bit), and I like things to just stay the same. Getting a new semester started is hard and stressful, with all the planning, scheduling, meeting new students. And getting your brain readjusted to multitasking and keeping track of a billion assignments and appointments and duties, in contrast to vacation which is simple: write, work out, see friends and family.

 But changes in my schedule are good for me. They are good practice in not turning into a robot. And there are tons of good things about going back to work: my old students, my new students, my exceptionally awesome coworkers, getting paid to read books and discuss them with people, getting paid to read about other people’s thoughts and ideas and lives. Also I have a very nice office which my office-mate and I vacated of unnecessary furniture and filled with art and couches and tea.

 Sometimes bitter, jealous people will begrudge teachers our vacations: It must be nice to have summers off, they say. Which it is, and that is why our teaching programs are overflowing with America’s most promising young people, eager to get in on some of that sweet, sweet vacation time. I think all jobs should have three months off. Imagine all the awesome gardening and traveling and knitting and exercising and art all those people would do. Imagine how relaxed everyone would be.

Welcome, and Come to San Leandro!

Hi, everyone. I’m excited to unveil this site, which is more clean and fancy and official-looking than my Smythologies site. Please feel free to look around and make yourself at home.

I’m also excited to tell you about an awesome new literary series at one of my favorite coffee shops, Zocalo in San Leandro. Zocalo Spits: Arts in the Dro is organized by two fabulous writers: my friend/literary life partner/office wife Michelle Gonzales and my new friend and inspiration Soma Mei Sheng Frazier. It’s happening on the first Thursday of every month. 

From their Facebook pageZocalo Spits: Arts in the Dro launches February 5 @6:30 PM. Featured readers include Ariel Gore, Paul S. Flores, and Jackie Graves — Zocalo Coffeehouse 645 Bancroft Avenue, San Leandro!

Please come check out some incredible literary talent right here in the east bay!