"Even if they don't learn anything it keeps their minds occupied and gives them something to do and this way keeps them off the street and out of mischief." --A student in 1935 evaluating Detroit's experimental, free, Depression-era "freshman college."
I came across that in the archives today and the quote is not at all anomalous. One of the things I'm finding is that instructors, administrators, reps from the Federal Emergency Relief Administration and the WPA (the college was a New Deal program), and most especially students all felt that one of the great services of the program was keeping the unemployed busy and out of trouble. Today my research centered on student evaluations of the program, and words like loafing, idleness, wastefulness and even unuseful and unhealthy pasttimes kept popping up on the evals, referencing what students would be doing were it not for the freshman college.
Sociologist Burton Clark later called this the "cooling out" function of education in working-class communities, a trend Ira Shor has written extensively about. What I find striking, though, is the extent to which this rhetoric was rehearsed by the students themselves. Not a top-down mandate, but rather a trope that students relied upon to represent their relationship to higher education.
Back to the Reuther tomorrow a.m.!