Cross Talk: Child Development Edition

Cross Talk is a regular feature, highlighting three to seven items on some discipline taught at the college. We should all know more about what our colleagues know, teach, and love. Lifelong learning, blah, blah, blah, and all that jazz.

In tribute to our department’s ongoing accreditation visit, this one is all about young minds.

~Kids need more play;

~Thirty Million Words;

~On birds, babies and talking.

~On the development (and schooling (warping?)) of non-conformist kids;

~And this one made me laugh.

Child Development News (And It’s Good!)

You might remember that there’s been a bit of a thing going on with Child Development (as described in part here and here). Well, that all appears to be over now. I received this email last Friday from Jen Asimow:

Hi Dave, thought you might like to know that we had our district-wide meeting today where we were told by Alvin Bisarya that our program will not be “sun setted” and is safe.

He was also quite sincere when he told us that they learned a lot from working on the Child Development program, specifically that faculty need to be involved from the beginning, the recommendations should NOT be presented as “a fait accompli” and that faculty should be considered  “experts” in their respective fields.  I think this bodes well for the future work of the Reinvention teams responsible for program review.

For the first time since this entire thing started, the meeting felt collaborative.  It is amazing what can be accomplished when people and their programs are not being threatened.  I feel quite hopeful about the future of CD at CCC.

Huge credit goes to Jen and her CD colleagues across the district who didn’t just resign, and didn’t just freak out, but gathered their resources and made the case that they know their program and know their students and do great work. They gathered statistics, talked to experts, and developed responses to the questions and suppositions of the Reinvention team (who, it should be said, were undoubtedly working in good faith based on the research they had to come up with what they thought was the best thing for our students), and they did it all over the last six weeks while running their programs and teaching their courses.

Big credit, too, goes to the Reinvention leaders for, it would seem from here, being reasonable and persuadable, rather than merely digging in to get a Pyrrhic victory. As frustrating as the central administration has been at times, I think we have to give them credit for (seemingly) learning from their mistakes and (at least in this case) playing by their own rules. For example, our first DWFDW was awful; the second was better and clearly responsive to the complaints about the first. This first go around with Reinvention Proposals has been varied, but I trust Jen when she says that the outcome felt collaborative (even if it was a bit late in coming). We may all have to defend our programs at some future time. I really don’t have a problem with that. It’s good to know that if we make a good case for our program, we’ll get heard. Let’s all make sure that we know our areas as well (and are doing as good of a job running our programs) as the CD people.

And when you see them, you might want to say, “Well done.”

Think, Know, Prove: Child Development (Continued)

Think, Know, Prove is a regular Saturday feature, where a topic with both mystery and importance is posted for community discussion. The title is a shortened version of the Investigative Mantra: What do we think, what do we know, what can we prove? and everything from wild speculation to resource referencing fact is welcome here.

So it’s been a few weeks now (‘mazing how the time flies, eh?) but I haven’t forgotten about the incomplete discussion we had/started about Child Development, Reinvention, and pants made out of lampshades.

If you missed it, you should go HERE first and give the comments a quick read through if you can. If you’d rather not, the short and incomplete version is that one of the Reinvention proposals from the Program Portfolio Review team was the suggestion that, “Opportunities exist to expand our Child Development programs and increase the articulation to 4 year schools,” which, in concrete terms, looks different to different people. The dispute about what is being proposed revolves around the AAS degree in Child Development. Leighton O’Connell-Miller (the team leader for the task force) suggests that the proposal means encouraging students to complete the Basic Certificate so they can enter the workforce while pursuing further education and that the “further education” they would be pushed to pursue would be an AA degree (rather than a generally non-transferring AAS degree), which he and his team suggest will be better for students due to changing market preferences and requirements.

The Child Development faculty and a few others (I’ll put myself in that category), see the proposal in somewhat different terms. To them (us?), the AAS degree is an example of one of the things CCC currently does quite well, by the criteria of Reinvention. The program has solid numbers—both pursuers and completers—it’s one of a few programs to have achieved separate accreditation, their graduates learn a lot and get jobs when they’re done. The AAS degree has a general education component, but there are fewer requirements, and to get the degree students must complete a series of 8 Child Development classes that include, for example, supervised field work, most of which could not be a part of an AA degree (but would likely, instead, be completed by the student at their transfer destination rather than with us). In short, it seems that emphasizing the Basic Certificate and AA would mean, minimally, steering students away from the AAS degree and, if the decision was made to sunset the AAS degree, that it would mean a gutting rather than an expansion of the Child Development program.

There’s more, of course, lots more, actually, but I think that’s the heart of the dispute. The view of the team (as expressed by Leighton) seems to be that the AAS degree will not be destroyed but “transformed” through a curriculum development project that would allow for the content and skills from the AAS specific courses to be integrated into AA Gen Ed requirements in the form of modules or maybe disciplinary emphases. So, the success of the proposal is predicated on the development of an AA degree with Child Development curriculum built into it.

In other words, the proposal is really a curriculum proposal.

So, given that curriculum development is the purview of faculty, what do the faculty experts in this curricular area think of the possibility of such a curriculum? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that they don’t think much of the idea. Speaking as a teacher of general education courses, I’d have to concur. I might be able to teach a class in Ethics or even Introduction to Philosophy that has a Child Development emphasis, but what that means would be a far cry from what the students learn or do in the Child Development classes, and I’d be inclined to say that people who think it can be done likely don’t understand what the goals of a class in Ethics (or Child Development) is. Just mashing the two together would require unacceptable compromise on what the course is and means and what its role in students’ General Education is supposed to be.

Furthermore, the AA is touted by Leighton as being the better route (as opposed to working to make the AAS more transferrable—the faculty preference) owing to its “instant IAI articulation.” But that IAI articulation is dependent on the students having taken the IAI approved general education courses, not some new hybrid version. And anyone who’s submitted a course to IAI knows that they are super squirrelly about any sort of non-general focus. For example, we tried to get IAI approval for a course in Jazz Appreciation for about three years without success. Why? They said that the focus on Jazz was not general enough (which if you know anything about Jazz is laughable). So what are the chances that a general education course with a major Child Development component would be IAI approved? Not likely, I’d say—which brings us back to the starting point.

In his comments, Leighton suggests that this model is viable, using the model of a legal writing course in Child Law or Intellectual Property Law, but without noting some significant differences between the GECC and a core law school course—among them the fact that law schools don’t have to have their courses approved by anyone else, and a host of others. (Brief digression: Furthermore, I wonder about the curricular purpose of those courses, i.e., whether students take them in order to explore an are of the law that they might be interested in, or whether it is a starting point (but not meant to be the only substantive exposure to the field) or whether the student takes that section and figures, “I know that field” and so moves on to others, and finally, what employers think of those sorts of courses. In other words, I have lots of questions). It seems to me that there are more relevant dissimilarities than relevant similarities in that analogy, and, besides, if I’m right about IAI, it’s a moot point.

Thus, no matter what the “intention” of the proposal might be–and setting aside the metaphysics/semantics of whether the AAS is being “developed” or destroyed—the end results seems a lot more likely, to me, to be a gutted program rather than an expanded one.

Leighton talks about the proposal being sort of like a proposal to sew pockets onto pants and turn them into cargo pants, but it seems to me like they’re saying something more like this. Imagine a company that makes regular pants, cargo pants, and backpacks, and the company’s best seller is the cargo pants line. Imagine one day that the Marketing manager walks in saying, “Pants are great and pants with pockets are great and backpacks are great at carrying things, even better than pockets. So let’s stop selling cargo pants and, instead, tell our customers that if what they like are the pants, they should buy the plain ones with no pockets, because that’s all they need. But for the ones who want to carry stuff, we’ll sew six backpacks onto pants to be the pockets. With backpacks as pockets people won’t need backpacks anymore, nor lunchboxes or grocery bags or anything, and they’ll be able to carry all of their stuff in their pants. So we’ll simplify our pants design into ‘basic’ and ‘transformed’ and stop selling cargo pants and backpacks.”

What do you think will happen to that company? I have my prediction.

The Reinvention team also points out that A) the students (in my analogy, the marketplace) actually want a four year degree, and not a two year one (on the evidence of surveys of incoming students), and B) that the AAS students suffer from transfer credit loss (or would if they transferred), and C) that the employers are increasingly requiring four year degrees.

I’d be more persuaded by A if the students surveyed were at the end of the program rather than the beginning. When I went into my Master’s program, I would have said, “I want a Ph.D,” largely because I didn’t really understand what that meant. At the end of my program I would have said that, while a Ph.D. would be nice, it was not what I really wanted. If you asked me what I wanted when I enrolled in undergrad, I would have said, I want to go to law school, but three years later that wasn’t true at all. I have students who say all kinds of things about what they want when they come in and who, upon learning more about the field or job or requirements, not to mention about themselves, change their minds.

I’d be more impressed with B if the case could be made that this transfer credit loss is actual rather than hypothetical. Are there students who try to transfer with the AAS? If so, where do they go? How many of them find themselves losing credits? How many credits? That students might lose credits if they were to transfer is a very different sort of “problem” than if students do lose credit when they transfer.

And I’d be more impressed with C if I saw more evidence of it in the external interviews. In the slides I see Barbara Bowman say that the BA is crucial for anyone who wants to be something other than a teacher aide or child care worker (i.e., teacher?). But that doesn’t say that the AAS will keep people from getting jobs as child care workers. Actually, it seems to be the opposite. Tom Layman says that CCC is a crucial pipeline for childhood workers and counsels against disruption of the program. I’ll admit that I don’t know anything about Bright Horizons or, really, the rest of the hiring market—my point is just that I don’t see the same overwhelming consensus that Leighton and company seem to.

And so, you might wonder, what has gone on in the intervening month since the proposal controversy and our interesting dialogue about it? Well, to me, this is the most troubling part about the whole thing. The Child Development faculty wrote and sent a letter to the Chancellor and her colleagues (including our new Provost and Leighton, I’m told). The letter was respectful and expressed their unanimous objection to the team’s recommendation, and counter-proposed maintaining the AAS degree and Advanced Certificate. They also requested a meeting to “discuss common areas of agreement, input and information from local and state agencies, and our clinical colleagues in the field.”

UPDATE: To date, to my knowledge, they have not received a response. (See comments below–they are scheduled to meet and present on Wednesday at 226.)

And so, after all that, I reopen the conversation (a day late—sorry about that), saying: What do you think? What do you know? What can you prove?