“I was raised into believing that money is everything,” said Maire Mendoza, 19, crying at her own tale.
Her parents are near-invisibles in this city that they’ve heard called a city of dreams. They left Mexico before Maire was born and have toiled anonymously ever since — her mother a baby sitter these days, her father a restaurant worker.
They raised their girls as pragmatic survivors. So it was startling when Maire came to them not long ago with an epiphany: “I now know that I don’t want to work for money,” she said, to bafflement. But her father, sensing his limitations, deferred. “You’re probably right,” she remembers him saying, “and it’s because you go to school and you know things that we don’t know.”
Ms. Mendoza’s self-discovery was no accident. Such discoveries are the goal of an audacious experiment in New York that seeks to improve the fortunes of community college students by demolishing and rebuilding their perceptions about work.
Community colleges are the bedrock of American higher education. They often take all comers — clever teenagers, 25-year-old ex-drifters, middle-aged downsizees in need of retraining — and let them study as needed: a class at a time or a full load, for a degree or for fun. In a nation whose mythology declaims that all who try can make it, community colleges are among the last hopes of proving the mythology true. (Read more.)