The world of academia is somewhat of an anomaly. It wouldn't be an exaggeration if I claimed that it is an independent sphere â€” a realm separate but not necessarily equal to the rest of society.
When I was in college, certain aspects of higher education baffled me. There seemed to be a disconnect between academicians and the rest of society. Politicians and businesspeople often discount the world of research and academics, claiming that it lacks â€œreal lifeâ€ value.
Perhaps, to a certain degree, this argument is valid. Yet it is rare that one can find a professor or a researcher who does not have any experience in the business world. Besides, what is â€œreal lifeâ€ anyway? I doubt that teaching and research are any less â€œrealâ€ than being in the business of selling condos or cars.
This disconnect with the rest of society comes from a different angle.
In many ways, the realm of the sciences has the answers to many of society's problems. Yet politicians and businesspeople are reluctant to consider these findings and address the inadequacies existing in society. In the world of monotonous political campaigns, â€œI will fight crimeâ€ sounds much better as a campaign slogan than admitting that social scientists have some answers to the crime problem or that making a positive impact in this arena may need sophisticated solutions.
Scientific theories don't often make good sound bites. So, formulas that may serve as solutions to societal problems are not always utilized.
The other oddity in the academic world, whether it's in the social or the natural sciences, is the lag between scientific findings and their acceptance as facts by society. Once a formula or a theory has been proven in the academic realm, it takes time for the rest of society to catch on to the wisdom. For example, if the academic world is in agreement that cultural differences are not the determining factor in explaining economic inequalities between sub-communities, it takes time for the rest of society to accept and internalize this vision.
The same is true in the natural sciences. Just because we have the know-how to produce environmentally friendly cars does not mean the car industry will begin putting them on the assembly line for the good of humanity. More importantly, the prospect of driving what many may see as a â€œwimpyâ€ vehicle that gets 200 miles per gallon will take time to evolve. By that time, the fuel-efficient, environmentally friendly vehicle may even be cool and smart in the eyes of the public.
Being exposed to the educational systems in other parts of the world, I also find the acceptance process to higher educational institutions here unique. We have a very populist vision of who can go to college and who can succeed. With so many choices of community colleges and universities, higher education is not exclusive to the wealthy and the super-smart in America.
Even if you are a not-so-good student in high school, you can redeem yourself by taking baby steps in a community college and use that as a springboard for bigger and better things.
If pre-college education and life experiences have not completely betrayed an individual, everyone has a good chance of succeeding at a university and beyond.
This is one of the aspects of our educational system that I truly appreciate.
On the other hand, our pre-college experience does not always compete well with the rest of the world. In contrast to our populist vision of higher education, the quality of our primary and secondary education is not always the best. Where you live in the public school system can determine the quality of the education you receive. This is odd, and means the concept of â€œeveryone has an equal chanceâ€ can be questioned.
Yet the overall average performance of students seems to be improving in California.
According to the latest Academic Performance Index data from the state Department of Education, the overall academic performance at state tests continues to improve. Students from Glendale have shown improvement on state tests for the past several years.
I already had some anecdotal evidence on this issue. Some parents have told me their children's course work has become more difficult in content and volume during the past few years. That's good: If there is no pain, there is no gain.
We may be on the right track of improving the quality of our primary and secondary education.
?PATRICK AZADIAN is a writer and the creative director of a local marketing and graphic design studio living in Glendale. He may be reached at respond@ fromthemargins.net.