John N. Gardner Institute for Excellence in Undergraduate Education

The College Pipeline is Visible Long Before…

February 19, 2014John N. GardnerInsights0

John N. Gardner
President

On purpose, my wife and I when we took early retirement from the University of South Carolina, decided to live in a small, rural, somewhat isolated, town, a county seat in western North Carolina, of 6000 people—Brevard. It was a wonderful choice. The climate is moderate. Mild summers. Is a college town with a small private institution, Brevard College. And it is the home of an internationally acclaimed classical music festival every summer, the Brevard Music Festival. In reality, it’s not all that “isolated” as it is only 24 miles from our home to the Asheville Regional Airport and about 35 from a wonderful small city, Asheville. And no buildings fly the Confederate battle flag as a state authorized act of political compromise.

Part of the attraction was our belief that some of the problems that face our country would not be quite as in our faces as if we lived in a larger community. But, of course, you can’t keep the culture out. So in that sense, we are not isolated at all.

I was reminded of this recently when my wife and I attended a community event of which we were a co-sponsor.

The event was a talent night for local youth from ages 10-18. It was organized by the local Transylvania County Arts Council. We really enjoyed seeing the talents of these wonderful kids who seem so secure in this small town, nurturing, safe, environment. But what we saw also reminded us of many college campuses in terms of who was and was not performing.

There were twenty “contestants.” Eighteen of the twenty were female. Many of the young women performed solo. Neither of the males did. And there were no children of ethnicity other than my own. Hence on both variables of race and gender this group of talent was not representative of the larger community.

The female talent primarily sang songs performed originally by female artists who were often sultry and suggestive. One twelve year old sang about “The House of the Rising Sun.” I couldn’t help but wonder if she understood what kind of a “house” she was singing about. But all of these youngsters persuaded me they were trying to be much older than they were/are.

Most of them gave credit to their parents. Three of the women thanked especially their fathers. I was especially glad to hear that. Some of us men are doing something right. One of them described how she and her father had co-written the song she was about to perform, and how they also wrote poetry together. Let’s hear it for fathers who are more liberated than mine was.

The next day I communicated with the Arts Council Director and indicated that my wife and I would gladly sponsor next year’s event; but I asked her if it would be possible to work on getting underrepresented students involved. She expressed her frustration in not being able to get young males and African American children involved. She had no explanation for why the males were not engaged (I did but I didn’t offer any); and she attributed the lack of involvement of minority children to “parents who won’t or can’t help with transportation.” If only it were as simple as that.

We can’t start too early to address the pipeline of who goes to college. I am absolutely convinced our community, as encouraging as it is, is not showcasing the talents of kids who really are talented. Brevard just celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of the racial integration of its high school, the first in the state to take this step. We still have a long, long way to go. My wife and I are playing a small part. That’s what we all must do. We have to take concrete actions in our own respective spheres of influence and do whatever our talents make possible.

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