What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning
by Ned Bachus
Publication date: October 2017
“We know about the Ivy League school, the small liberal arts college, and the state university. But we know precious little about the institution that occupies the least sexy niche in higher ed—and what we do know may be entirely wrong.”
– Ned Bachus, Author, Open Admissions: What Teaching at Community College Taught Me About Learning
About the Book
Community colleges play an essential role in contemporary America, yet their story remains largely untold.
In 2014, 45% of American undergraduates attended community college, so their slice of the higher education pie is considerable. But most of us don’t know that.
For more than half a century, community colleges have offered an affordable launching pad to academic and career achievement, especially for those most economically in need. Some famous community college alums include Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Gwendolyn Brooks, actor Tom Hanks, director George Lucas, and bestselling author Amy Tan, to name but a few. The impact of America’s 1,100 community colleges extends beyond the students they directly serve to the broader community and to the nation.
In Open Admissions, Ned Bachus seeks to elevate the often under-appreciated status of community college in the national conversation about education. Through the observant eyes of an award-winning writer and educator, this unique and hard-hitting memoir details community college students breaking through barriers in ways that parallel the author’s own growth, integrating his insights on a four-decade career spent in education. Bachus offers story after story about teaching and learning practices that transform lives—including his own.
A self-described bad student from a working-class single-parent family, the author of Open Admissions, spent his first two years after high school at Community College of Philadelphia; in time, his mother, wife, and son also studied there. Knowing that before the end of 2011, he must decide if he will take early retirement or remain indefinitely in his dream job, Bachus tracks the fall semester’s stories, his own and his students’, as if it were his final turn in the classroom. Open Admissions interweaves the story of this decision-making semester with the month-long sabbatical residency the following spring when, on a cliff-hugging cottage on the coast of Ireland, he begins to make sense of the previous fall and of a life measured in semesters.
Open Admissions offers an important window into the real lives of community college students and their professors. One of Bachus’s last students, a single-parent, who as a teenager had been on both sides of shooting crimes, told him, “I’m doing this for my little daughter.” But his success benefits all of us. Community college provides a way to autonomy. As Bachus writes, “I taught writing. But really, I taught independence.”
About the Author: Ned Bachus
Born in Quebec and raised in Philadelphia, Ned Bachus taught at the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf for two years before attending graduate school at Gallaudet College (now Gallaudet University), where he founded the first rugby club for the Deaf in the United States. A founding member of Blackthorn Rugby Football Club, Bachus has been inducted into the Blackthorn RFC Hall of Fame. During his four-decade career at Community College of Philadelphia, he won multiple teaching awards, including the Christian and Mary Lindback Award for Distinguished Teaching. His fiction has been anthologized, published in literary magazines, and presented at the Writing Aloud Series at Philadelphia’s InterAct Theatre, and has earned him fellowships from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and a residency at Ireland’s Cill Rialaig Project, where he began writing Open Admissions. His Fleur-de-Lis Press book of short stories, City of Brotherly Love, received the 2013 IPPY Gold Medal for Literary Fiction. A singer-songwriter, his songs have been recorded by numerous artists and performed on National Public Radio programs including A Prairie Home Companion. He sings and plays percussion as a member of the Louisiana-style roots rock band Sacred CowBoys. He was named honorary member of Alpha Sigma Pi, a Deaf fraternity, and of Phi Theta Kappa International Honor Society.
Previews – Open Admissions
“While reading Open Admissions, I felt like I was there with you in the classroom and that I got to know some of the students. It rang true to me.” – Judith Gay, Vice President for Academic Affairs at Community College of Philadelphia