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Opinion

Dual purpose

SoVaNow.com / August 28, 2019
Allow us to ponder what fresh goodness the new day brings:

» Last week, Mecklenburg Countyl trustee Dora Garner read aloud some pointed questions at the School Board’s monthly meeting — questions offered with the clear intent of highlighting educational disparities at Bluestone and Park View high schools. Among other things, Garner wanted to know why it’s basically impossible for Bluestone students to earn two-year associates degrees through the school’s dual enrollment program, while Park View has the teaching resources to provide full DE, allowing its graduates to head off to the next level with two years of college already under their belts. Garner’s question is not a trifling one, even if it may not lend itself to a clear-cut answer.

How did dual enrollment become a point of local controversy? It’s bad if, as Garner is obviously suggesting, students at one county high school are able to earn an AA degree and students at the other school are not. It’s especially a sore subject insofar as Garner’s narrative fits into a long-running grievance of unequal treatment by geography, which right there describes the history of east-west politics in Mecklenburg County.

First off, let me concede that I have no idea what the answers to Garner’s questions are. (Neither, apparently, did Superintendent of Schools Paul Nichols, who responded to Garner’s inquisition by saying he’d look into the matter and get back with a response.) Mecklenburg County’s situation notwithstanding, many school divisions are scaling back their dual enrollment programs. One reason for this is the perception that dual enrollment too often lacks rigor, maybe even getting out of hand at times, resulting in students going off to four-year universities and receiving a rude awakening when they find out they aren’t as prepared for college-level work as their high school credits made them out to be.

The other problem is one of resources: with the effort to increase the quality of dual enrollment, community colleges are requiring teachers to hold masters degrees in their field of instruction. This is a hiring and credentialing challenge that many school divisions are finding difficult to meet, so it’s hardly a surprise that Mecklenburg might struggle with it, too.

I’ll say this much: there’s something to be said for teaching high school material during high school and college coursework in college, while making it easier than ever for students to make the jump from one level to the next. The big selling point with dual enrollment is that it allows families to save on years of college tuition, which genuinely is a great benefit. But instead of shoehorning college into high school, why not simply strive bring down the costs to families of a four-year education, the more dramatically the better? This is by no means an argument for letting high schools off the hook by saying they shouldn’t have to provide high-quality, college preparatory classes — obviously they should. (Schools also need to up their game on career prep, too.) But there should be a difference in high school classes, even the best ones, and college work (unless the latter is dreck, which alas, also happens.) Point is, rather than watering down academics at one level or another to save a buck, why not invest in education at every stage and knock it off with the workarounds?

There’s a debate going on in the Democratic presidential contest about student debt forgiveness and free college, which many will dismiss as just another instance of politicians offering free stuff to voters. This, however, ignores the fact that for many decades, college wasn’t terribly expensive in America — indeed, you only have to look to the GI Bill, one of the greatest government programs in the country’s history, to see what happens when college is made essentially free (as it was for millions of World War II veterans.) Another excellent example is the University of California system, which provided access to a low-cost, high-quality college education for almost anyone who could do the work. The UC system bred great universities — Berkley, UCLA and others — and laid the foundations for Silicon Valley and other enviable aspects of the Golden State. It’s not that we can’t do this stuff any more. It’s that we don’t.

This, however, is a discussion for a different day. With respect to the issues that Dora Garner raised last week, allow me to venture one other thought: It will be a watershed moment in Mecklenburg County history when the question of who has access to what, in terms of educational benefits and resources, is finally put to rest with the opening of a new high school and middle school to serve all county students, equally and alike. I look forward to the day when the tiresome debate of which end of the county gets the goodies and which end gets the shaft is no more. It’s a question, mostly recently dragged to the surface by Garner, that should have been buried long ago.

Better late than never, I suppose.

» I couldn’t help but to laugh at the lead-in to a very good New York Times article this week: “Farmers’ Frustration With Trump Grows as U.S. Escalates China Fight.” From the Aug. 27 piece:

Peppered with complaints from farmers fed up with President Trump’s trade war, Sonny Perdue found his patience wearing thin. Mr. Perdue, the agriculture secretary and the guest of honor at the annual Farmfest gathering in southern Minnesota this month, tried to break the ice with a joke.

“What do you call two farmers in a basement?” Mr. Perdue asked near the end of a testy hour long town-hall-style event. “A whine cellar.”

A cascade of boos ricocheted around the room.

Don’t you just hate it when some Washington elite dumps on ordinary citizens like they’re a bunch of rubes? I suppose we shouldn’t really be surprised to see the leader of USDA telling a bad, infuriating joke, when said cabinet secretary works for a libertine Manhattanite who routinely enriches himself and his family in office at the nation’s expense and cares not one whit for working people. Sonny Perdue’s not-cute, snide little crack is an insult to our hard-working farm families that surely won’t be soon forgotten or forgiven.

Oh, wait … the Times article continues:

But many farmers continue to support Mr. Trump and express hope that the president knows what he is doing in his dealings with China. A July survey from Farm Journal found that 79 percent of 1,100 farmers still back Mr. Trump despite the lack of progress in negotiations with China. However, his support dropped to 71 percent in August.

For now, Mr. Perdue largely remains an effective emissary, with the industry still hoping Mr. Trump can pull off the kind of trade deal he has been promising.

“He’s one of us; he’s a farmer,” Brad Kremer, a Wisconsin farmer who is the treasurer of the American Soybean Association, said of Mr. Perdue. “I think he’s got a tough job in a tough administration.”

“Treasurer of the American Soybean Association” sure sounds like a high-powered job; too bad the organization hasn’t found someone to fill it with the analytical capabilities to match. Seriously, if anyone still thinks that “trade wars are good, and easy to win” — scratch that, if anyone thinks Trump has any idea what he’s doing — I have a corn patch under the Brooklyn Bridge to sell you, cheap.

It is encouraging to know that some in the farm community understand better than others exactly what’s going on. Again, from the Times:

“We’re not starting to do great again,” Brian Thalmann, the president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, told Mr. Perdue at the event. “Things are going downhill and downhill quickly.”

On Monday, after a 72-hour period during which Mr. Trump twice escalated his trade war with China, Mr. Thalmann said he could no longer support the president as he did in 2016.

“At some point we have to quit playing games and get back to the table and figure this out,” Mr. Thalmann said. “There’s no certainty to any of this.”

The only certainty is that losing isn’t winning, no matter what our president says on Twitter. As for the part where Mr. Thalmann urges the Trump administration to quit the game-playing? Good luck with that.





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