Chatting Up Chattahoochee: Educating head and hand and mixing young and old
by Roger Hines
March 16, 2014 12:00 AM | 1371 views | 0 0 comments | 28 28 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The old song “I Overlooked an Orchid While Searching for a Rose” probably has more application than we could ever imagine. Its words came to mind recently as I read an MDJ article by reporter Hannah Morgan. Morgan was reporting on a talk given by Chattahoochee Technical College president Dr. Ron Newcomb to the Smyrna Business Association.

In his address, Dr. Newcomb appealed to Smyrna business owners to hire Chattahoochee Tech graduates. He touted the quality of Chattahoochee’s programs and allowed business owners in his audience to tell about their good experiences with Chattahoochee graduates. To those in the audience who spoke well of the college, I can add my own endorsement.

In 2005, I became a full time English faculty member at Chattahoochee Tech. The president of the college was respected educator Dr. Harlon Crimm. Upon his retirement, he was succeeded by another effective educational leader, Dr. Sanford Chandler. Chandler came from Appalachian Tech at Jasper and presided over the considerable task of merging Appalachian Tech and North Metro Tech at Acworth with Chattahoochee.

My experience at Chattahoochee was a totally positive one. English teachers live their lives under loads and loads of writing assignments, so there’s no need to cry about that. There are pleasures that more than offset the constant sitting at a desk and killing your eyes.

One of the pleasures was the age mix of students who walked into my English classes. Each fall there were the fresh out of high school students, and at the beginning of other quarters, other high school graduates, having worked awhile right after graduation, joined them. Normally, these recent high school graduates were enrolled in one of Chattahoochee’s two-year study programs, but some were there to take courses that would prepare them to transfer to a university.

The mix was brought about by older adults who were either just now entering college or who were returning to finish up a program they had to abandon earlier. Eighteen- and 19- year olds sat beside 35-, 45-, and even 55-year-olds. I wish everyone could have seen the educational benefit, the social reward and the general pleasantness that resulted from young people and older people being together.

Perhaps I can best cast it by saying that the younger students respected the older ones, and the older students took delight in the younger ones. The goodwill was always mutual and it doubtlessly increased the learning.

It always helped, also, when a Cobb County cop or firefighter came to class in uniform. We knew they knew so much that we didn’t, and students and teacher alike pelted them with questions.

Often, the evening classes brought men and women of all ages in business dress, having come from a day at the bank, an accounting firm, or an insurance office. The work ethic of students was heartening. They were not looking for two or four years of fun, but for serious learning and gainful employment.

I’m a humanities guy, and I believe in the value of the liberal arts. At Reinhardt University, I once taught a course for English majors called “Victorian Poetry” which is about as specialized, esoteric and non-technical as academic studies can get. In its defense, however, the world these days could use a good dose of Tennyson, Browning, and Rudyard Kipling.

At Chattahoochee, I saw the good blending of liberal education and job training. Not once did a single cosmetologist, nursing student, AC technician or any other tech-oriented student complain for having to study the language or literature. Not once were we humanities teachers asked by the administration to diminish our requirements or alter our subject matter in the training of workforce-ready students.

As for orchids and roses, I’m afraid that too many people overlook the nearby, inexpensive technical colleges. That could be because education is so status-ridden that some think they must have a degree from a famous, sizable university. But the fact is we can’t eat status. Nor does status exalt character.

As for that stimulating mix at our technical colleges, people are divided because we divide them. The middle school monster was created because we separated 11-, 12- and 13-year-olds from older students they could look up to. Now with “academies” we have separated ninth-graders from the rest of their high school peers. In our churches we’re now “traditional” and “contemporary,” which means nothing but older and younger. If the old and the young can’t worship together, what else can they do together?

Chattahoochee Tech and our other technical schools have the right idea: educating the head and the hand and mixing the young and the old. That’s real world.

Roger Hines is a retired high school English teacher in Kennesaw.
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