Monday, May 7, 2012

What the TV show Community teaches about community colleges (my answer my surprise you)

In my recent interview on the national TV show The Daily Buzz (see below), I was surprised when they introduced the piece with a clip from the hit NBC show Community, hinting that it is responsible for some of the negative stereotypes on community colleges. 
I thought it was a fun way to open the segment. And while the irreverent show does sometimes highlight the unfair negative stereotypes of community colleges (you can watch the opening trailer here), highlighting stereotypes doesn't necessarily mean they agree with them. I think the show has a lot more good to say about community colleges than some may realize.

And in the end, the stereotypes of community colleges existed long before this show. The days of Saved by the Bell and Boy Meets World are over, and in our current post-modern TV era of dry humor and bleak futures, I think Community actually offers more hope and positivity than meets the eye.

Here are the positive messages (and maybe even some great lessons) that I see in this hilarious show (which, was actually inspired by the creator Dan Harmon's own community college experience at the age of 32):  
  1.  Actually studying in study groups isn't necessary: If you notice in the show, they don't actually seem to do much studying in their study group (wouldn't be that interesting of a show if they did, though, would it?). But I think this is actually really important. As I've mentioned in articles about study groups before, they are really most useful for creating a social circle in college, especially when you don't live on campus. (Majority of studying should be done on your own, and then brought to a group for extra discussion and help).
  2. Don't go home: The stories in this show rarely take the characters away from the college. They seem to spend the majority of their days there; they don't just go to class and go home. That wouldn't be much fun, would it? The elements that make Community an interesting show are the same elements that make college a more fulfilling experience. Do you have a study room, a home base? It can be hard to find at a commuter college, but they are there. Develop a group of people and find a space on campus that feels like your own.
  3. Know everyone: If you watch the show you'll notice everyone at the college seems to know each other in a high-school sort of way - they even eat together in a cafeteria. They have cliques, funny names, and get into all sorts of crazy activities with each other.They also know the professors, advisers, and the dean (more than they wish they did at times). But the key here is there is a community, the kind that magically draws us into sitcoms in a way we almost feel like we are a part of them - and it's this kind of community that actually can exist in real community colleges. While community colleges are growing, you can create a smaller community wherever you are by getting to know everyone around you. Can you mention people by name when you walk down the halls? Do you eat lunch with friends? Make it happen (just don't make enemies or nickname anyone Star Burns).
  4. Have fun: Community is not your average show. They often share their stories in incredibly unique and unbelievable ways. If the words epic pillow vs. blanket war, paintball, zombies, or claymation mean anything to you, you know exactly what I'm talking about. And if you've never seen the show, you'll just have to trust me - this show is creative. They do things differently, and the characters have fun. Be sure to add creativity and fun to your college experience - it can be hard to do when you're working to pay for college and find it hard to fit everything in. If Community wasn't fun, no one would watch. And if community college isn't fun, you probably won't do as well as you could. Make it fun.
  5. Embrace all kinds of people: In the end, Community isn't a show really about community college. Community college is the setting, but the show is about the people in community college (which is actually what my book is all about). And it is the people in the show and their friendships that I think give the most positive depiction of community college. The cast of characters in this show come from all walks of life and all ages. They have a purpose for being in college. They care about being involved and about each other. They encourage each other to keep going when things are tough. They support each other. And, for many of them, community college is a second chance they never would have had otherwise. Find and embrace those beautiful people in the halls and classrooms of your community college. They will offer a lot of support, and a lot of laughs.  
Before Community first aired, the creator Dan Harmon was asked if the show would portray community colleges negatively, as some were worried it might do. Dan said: "this is going to be a commercial for community college in general because this is a place where you can do anything and be anything...The flawed characters are coming into it and becoming unflawed by being in this place because it's been underestimated by the system around it."

Well said, Dan.   

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