The statement that all men are created equal is not true, at least not in a literal sense. Even if we give the framers of The Declaration of Independence a pass on their masculine assumptions, the hope that each baby has an equal start on life is still not true. I am writing this reflection amidst cedar- and pine-edged views of the Sierra Nevada. Some parents are endowing their children and grandchildren with the beauty and knowledge of this “temple of light” (John Muir’s name), from $100,000 RVs, others are doing the same from $100 tents. But many, many children up and down the Central Valley have no exposure to this soul-expanding granite playground.
Equality is not a reality, it has not been realized, but it does speak to our moral sense of justice. We know its call of longing on our hearts.
This summer Nathan Carson, Ph.D., associate professor of philosophy, with six other faculty and staff members took 16 students backpacking in the high Sierra, many of them experiencing the wilderness for the first time. This is a call of justice. Extensive research supports the existence of what are called best practices for learning. One is immersion learning, where one is plunged into a new place 100 percent with no access to cell phones. Living and sleeping in the high country is an immersion in the garden of God. It is a best practice for learning.
Other best practices are faculty mentors, peer mentors, learning communities and summer bridges. All these best practices are combined in the U.S. Dept. of Education-funded STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) Learning Community. This past summer 83 entering FPU students, who plan to major in math or science, joined their STEM Learning Community for a one-day orientation followed by a four-week online college preparatory course in a program for open to all incoming STEM majors registered by July. In all, 40 percent of this past summer’s white students were from low-income families and 65 percent of the Hispanic students were from low-income.
FPU averages 78 percent retention from the first to the second year, which is good compared to our competitors and excellent given our low-income population. During the first STEM Learning Community in summer 2017, 40 students completed the course before beginning their freshman year. Of those students, 93 percent have returned for their sophomore year. We know what works. It is a justice issue.