The Atlantic has a moving piece in its most-recent issue exploring the pitfalls of adult education. Written by an anonymous adjunct professor, “In the Basement of the Ivory Tower” explores the experience of overscheduled adult students taking classes they don’t have the time, money or aptitude for, all in the interest of an upward mobility that may be illusory.
The author explains:
But my students and I are of a piece. I could not be aloof, even if I wanted to be. Our presence together in these evening classes is evidence that we all have screwed up. I’m working a second job; they’re trying desperately to get to a place where they don’t have to. All any of us wants is a free evening. Many of my students are in the vicinity of my own age. Whatever our chronological ages, we are all adults, by which I mean thoroughly saddled with children and mortgages and sputtering careers. We all show up for class exhausted from working our full-time jobs. We carry knapsacks and briefcases overspilling with the contents of our hectic lives. We smell of the food we have eaten that day, and of the food we carry with us for the evening. We reek of coffee and tuna oil. The rooms in which we study have been used all day, and are filthy. Candy wrappers litter the aisles. We pile our trash daintily atop filled garbage cans.
I taught Freshman Composition when I was in graduate school, and the toughest experience I had was trying to help students that simply didn’t have the tools to write at a college level. Many were non-native English speakers; they worked hard and wanted to learn, but they were often stunned to discover they were deficient in an area where they’d assumed they were fine. Most ended up passing, but future pitfalls loomed down the road. If they’d been adults, I think the process would have been much tougher for all involved.