For a few reasons I’ve been thinking less these days about abstract policies, and more about how people interact with each other. One glaring example is in policing, and the problems we’ve had with officers and communities that misunderstand each other. At least half a dozen experiments are now underway around the country to give law enforcement more of the skills and tools of social work.
Public higher ed is leaning further into a service role too, especially (in California, anyway) at the community colleges, where admission is open, and you really never know who’s going to walk in. The institutional mission includes English lessons for immigrants, job training, and re-entry for the recently incarcerated, as well as preparation for transfer to a university. There’s really no predicting the backstories and needs of the people you may be there to help.
And then there’s the broader world of work, and what our students will need to do after they graduate.
In the California State University system, we require “oral communication” coursework of every graduate – it’s built into the statewide general education pattern, and in fact you need it on your college transcript before we let you transfer in.
But tellingly, we define it narrowly as public speaking. I think that’s appropriate at access-oriented institutions like ours; first-generation students often need practice before they’re comfortable speaking up, or addressing large groups. But I wonder if we should really be rejecting all those interpersonal communication courses that are also proposed for transfer credit in this area, or if we’d be better off calling it a second kind of requirement.
The world keeps getting better and better connected, and our ability to get along – at the levels of law enforcement, or educators, or distant coworkers – lags the technology, as usual.
Personally, this is also on my mind lately because a few months ago I left my job at the CSU system office to work on one of our campuses. It was a move I’d been hoping to make for a while, but it’s still a stretch. I need to be attuned to small-scale interactions in a new way.
It’s as if I’ve spent many years at an extended family reunion, mingling with many people I know and like, but with light consequences for transgression: if I rubbed someone the wrong way I could usually find someone else to talk to.
By contrast, last fall I moved back into the single-family household of a campus. Going forward, different people here will enjoy my company or not, and we may not always want to team up for specific projects. But however it plays out, we’ll be seeing each other again the next day, and the day after that.
We’ll need to find enough common ground and interpersonal trust to get along with each other, navigate difference, and make progress. If we don’t, I can’t just go sit at another table.
It’s not a bad prospect, and even feels like a particularly useful 21st century skill set I’ll be refreshing.
Image credits: tvtropes.org, CSU Dominguez Hills.