Counting Blessings and Adversity Scores

After a quick morning run, I’m cleaned up and wearing pink khakis and a white sleeveless htop. It’s spring here in Jersey’s suburbs and it’s fabulous.

Work went well this week. Two articles approved and started. I had an A+ interview yesterday that will made for a great lede in one of the articles. An article from this winter is finally going to pub next week. I’ve put some serious thought into the book project for the summer. (There’s no point writing education articles over the summer, because nobody wants to read about schools on the beach vacation.)

With some solid work under my belt, I’m taking the day off without guilt. I’ll catch the bus into the city to meet a friend from London, who is in town. She picked out a Korean place near Hudson Yards. Then I’ll kill a couple of hours. Writing in the New York Public Library? At the Met? Around 4:30, I’ll take the subway down to Wall Street. Jonah and Ian will take the train into the city and we’ll all meet up outside Steve’s office. We’ll find some place to get beers and snacks along the side of the Hudson and then take the Ferry across the river.

If I had to construct my own adversity score, it would be very low today. I’m pretty lucky, and I know it. I mean we’ve had our issues. I can’t possible quantify the impact that autism had on all of our lives. But then again, we’re lucky. Lots of people have it MUCH worse. Twenty years ago, we were under the poverty line, in (student loan) debt, and without job prospects. But, we were lucky enough that it was grad school poverty, and we were able to dig our way out of the mess.

I suppose that it’s a worth-while exercise to take a look at our lives and make columns of the privileges and disadvantages. I’m not sure how to make a science of those charts and then use them as a basis for college admission. But the thought process is still important for us as individuals. It’s the old “counting your blessings” notion. And looking around my house where there’s a pale and stinky college kid sleeping off the drama of finals week and a calendar of activities for my family, I’ve got it good.

35 thoughts on “Counting Blessings and Adversity Scores

    1. Probably should be “pink chinos.” Chino is a fabric, khaki is a color. (Like tweed is a fabric, herringbone is a pattern.)


  1. “Blessings” is a relative concept. When I “count my blessings”, which I sometimes do in an effort to keep from falling into rage and despair, it is a laundry list of fatal and/or catastrophic events that either have not happened to me, or are not currently happening to me.

    “Blessings”, in the mom-blog, Pinterest, GOOP, Oprah, etc sense….I don’t have. At mid-life, I can look back on having survived a considerable number of Lifetime-network-worthy adverse events. But no matter how hard I work, I still don’t have breathing room. I’m working a 7 hour drive from home (more if you count bathroom breaks). I don’t know if I will be employed next week, and if not…where I’ll go after that. My daughter is struggling in college to the point of it becoming painfully obvious that this isn’t the proper path for her (former IEP kid). This, in a society that only offers college graduates the jobs that manage to give one the “blessings” of life. (it’s a more-than-half-over game of musical chairs for the rest of us.)

    I’m really growing to hate the whole concept of gratitude. I’m tired of having to look toward worst-case-scenarios and thinking “well, at least I’m not there (yet)” in order to find a blessing. I’m worn the fuck out from a lifetime of the other shoe dropping, and being told how selfish I am for not thinking of it as a “blessing”, or an “opportunity”. I’m ready for some breathing room. But I don’t see it in my future (and neither would anyone else that was being honest). I could live with that, if I didn’t see a much harder life than the one I’ve had coming for my daughter.

    “Adversity score”, my ass. That’s a feelgood measure to assuage the egos of those who’ve gamed the system and built their wealth on the literal backs of the rest of us. We deserve better. I guess the ‘let-them-eat-adversity-score’ policy pukes can count their blessings that I don’t have a dragon.


    1. Lubiddu, if you want some …something (advice? a friendly ear? insight?) from someone experienced in higher ed who works a lot with very diverse (not a code word–they’re just all so different in so many ways) students, send me an email. But mainly let me just say that college might not be right for her *right now* but it could be later. Or it could be now if she has the right support or is in the right place.


      1. Ugh, I thought my name would hyperlink to the email address. I just created a burner gmail: wendyfrom11d at gmail.


      2. I hope Lubiddu gets in touch with Wendy, because Wendy should have some good ideas.

        I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately on ADHD issues because I have an eye on one of my kids. I don’t know if Lubiddu’s daughter’s issues fall under that umbrella, but college has to be approached with extreme caution for ADHD kids, because the unstructured environment combined with high organizational demands is exceptionally challenging for them.

        I just picked up my copy of Hallowell and Ratey’s “Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder” and their college chapter is entitled “Major Danger Alert: College and ADD.” It is that bad. I don’t know if this is true, but the stat I’ve seen floating around lately is that the graduation rate for ADHD kids who go to college is 5%.

        I do some work for a relative who does evaluations of people with possible mild traumatic brain injuries, and there are a lot of tools available for helping them live productive lives. I’m on the periphery of that world, but based on what I’ve read, occupational therapy may still have something to offer your daughter. My relative often mentions in evaluations that a occupational therapist should be coordinating case management for adult patients with mild traumatic brain injury.

        At this point, if your daughter has been struggling with college for a while, I wouldn’t be dumping money into that particular black hole. It might be a good time to stop, take a breather, and figure out some strategy. If you can find an appropriate specialist to do an evaluation, they can come up with a reasonable plan for your daughter. For example, it might be that she should only be taking one course at a time, or some other adaptation (like getting a quiet room for testing or longer testing time). Your area should have some good specialists.

        Good luck!


    2. Yes, talk to Wendy. She’ll tell what departments give help and what kind of help.

      My IEP kid might not be able to deal with college, so I’m preparing for college and no college. I’ve been attending evening talks about alternatives. We think we’ll keep Ian in an 18-21 high school program to give him longer to mature. If you let your daughter graduate, then she’s not eligible. In NJ, the state steps in do job training and even pays for some education, if your child has a documented disability. In September, we’ll fill out paperwork to get limited guardianship and get him qualified for social security. But everything I’m doing is jersey
      -specific, so I won’t bother explaining. You need to get plugged into local resources.

      I can’t tell you the number of Jonah’s peers who have dropped out of college. Shocking numbers of highly educated, smart, highly supported kids. It’s mostly boys, but not all. I talk to parents everyday who now say, “college isn’t for everyone.” Alternatives are popping up. One of Jonah’s friends, the drug dealer, skipped college all together and now works on Wall Street. I’m getting targeted ads on social media for online certificate programs from eCornell.


    1. But the schools want the “unearned advantage” (in the form of legacy, development, fame). They’re looking towards the adversity score to downgrade the UMC achievers.


  2. Lubiddu — I’m listening is all I can say. If you are so inclined, I would listen to any suggestions.


  3. While I appreciate the offers, rest assured that all the available resources and accommodations have already been put in play. It is what it is. Real-life workarounds aren’t always allowed in school, and the whole point of school is to get you to a good place in the real world.

    I believe that is the real problem here—that college is the de-facto gatekeeper for a decent life. Not just an UMC life; I’m not talking about that kind of extravagance. I’m talking the lower realms of Maslow’s hierarchy. Flyover country suffers from a serious case of feudalism. Feudalism that is politically supported by both major parties.

    I don’t have any suggestions for continuing to support the status quo. I think an FDR-style jobs program that incorporates half of the Green New Deal, along with an Eisenhower-style tax structure would go a long way towards solving the problems of this nation (including the non-economic ones). I liked the ideas I reac about in “Viking Economics”—the Nordic countries seem to get it right.

    What my daughter needs isn’t college so much, but the access to the well-paid, decent-benefit jobs that a college degree would give her. If she had the ability to do what I do, I would use my considerable pull within my own small world (built over the course of 30 years of hard time) to get her into the apprenticeship. But she doesn’t have the math skills and never will—that was part of the damage done via prematurity (she was a 25 weeker).

    But even so. Every time I hear someone from the UMC talk about the trades I want to slam the business end of a pitchfork through their throat. My world is dying. The loss of manufacturing to slave-wage, slave-conditions, what-the-fuck-is-an-environmental-law foreign countries has killed it. (fun fact: anti-pollution measures provide the trades with a lot of work!) Rationalize it any way you want, but know that the destruction of our country rests on that. And it was enabled by both poltical parties.

    There isn’t enough trades work to go around to last a career. What you see when you hear of “shortages”, is a temporary lack of workers in a specific geographic area, for a relatively short-term project. This is what I live, people. The life of someone entering the building trades now is destined to be one of constant travel—more frequent than military assignments, with none of the material support. Small wonder young people aren’t interested.

    It’s tough to be away from home. And breathtakingly expensive. I pay for my home at home, and pay to live on the road. This shitty, flophouse motel room (where I fortunately haven’t picked up bedbugs, unlike a lot of other folks here) costs more than my home mortgage. There’s no kitchen, so I can’t save money by cooking healthy meals (my options are expensive healthy takeout, or cheap but unhealhy takeout/freezer section. I’m at the age where opting for expensive but healthy is the safer option.).
    It’s hard to sleep (I’m on night shift).

    Bonus: this industry is rife with age discrimination I turn 52 this week. My Local brother living below me, who just turned 34, told me he never would have guessed I was over 40. (he wasn’t flattering me, he knows how long I’ve been in the Local. No one guesses me within 10 years, ever. It wasn’t much fun looking that much younger in my 30s, but I have no complaints now.) Thank you, good Mediterranean genes and Redken #2 (it is #2, right? The coyly-named “natural black”?). But eventually, when it’s time for the culling, the contractors line up the layoff list by birthday. It is what it is.

    I got really lucky. For a time when my daughter was younger, and my mom was dying (hence unavailable for child care while I was on the road), I got to work at home. It wasn’t working with the tools, but it paid the same. I hated it. It was a stroke of real luck—my daughter’s life would have been completely different had I had to take her on the road through grade school and middle school. No hope for an IEP that way.

    I love my work, I just don’t love working like a dog and having no free time to be human.

    And that’s the future I see for my girl. Only with a third of the pay, none of the benefits (like health insurance or pension), and none of the dignity that comes with being a union member. Not havijng a union means havung to live with being treated like shit all day everday. By customers, by your employer. Don’t believe me? Go do your own undercover work like Barbera Ehrenreich. That shit is real.

    That’s a lot of words to say: “the solutions will not happen. The dragons will come first and burn this motherfucker down.” But there it is. We live in different worlds. When it all burns down, we will live in the same world.


    1. My offer wasn’t necessarily about resources/accommodations but more about big picture stuff, fwiw.

      I also teach a class about work. In the last third of the class, we discuss unions and low-wage work and immigration/outsourcing. I learn a lot that way. This past term we all ended up pretty depressed by the end of one class talking about low-wage work. One of the videos I show them is this: , which is fascinating for so many reasons. They could not stop talking about it, and we didn’t even get to Ehrenreich (I do the first chapter from Nickel and Dimed) that day.


  4. I don’t have any illusion that I can give you useful advice, lubiddu, but what about advice for me? I agree that the issues are deep and structural. I also agree that college is becoming a gatekeeper in ways that are unconnected to the work done. I fully believe you that there are people living lives with no breathing room, where they see no future in which there is room, and fear the same for their children. I feel like the growing income inequality is moving us to a feudal system in which one side experiences despair and the other a level of comfort that can insulate them from the world (but, with the fear of falling out).

    I also know I don’t know your world. I am willing to give up things I benefit from (but not as a form of self immolation). What could we advocate for?


  5. Disabilities are income-neutral. Anybody can have a kid at 25 weeks or with autism. And the UMC has the same worries about their kids.

    Last week, we had drinks with a couple who we’ve known since our kids were in the same special ed kindergarten together. Their kid has cognitive issues on top of autism, and will never be able to work or care for himself. They’re terrified. They probably make at least 400K, but they have no idea what will happen to their disabled son when they die. Or what kind of an institution he’ll end up in. They have an older son, but he’s disabled, too, so he won’t be able to help.

    Money helps a bit. For example, the paperwork from the state is seriously horrible. They’ve paid a lawyer to do all that for them. They both work/travel a lot, in part to escape from the horror show, and also to pay for everything. But no amount of money will increase their son’s IQ by 50 points.


    1. Laura wrote,

      “Disabilities are income-neutral. Anybody can have a kid at 25 weeks or with autism. And the UMC has the same worries about their kids.”

      …and if anything, certain disability issues are more prevalent among older (and perhaps more affluent) parents.


      1. I’m pretty certain there’s no statistic that disabilities are more prevalent among more affluent parents. There is data showing a correlation between autism diagnosis and affluence, but that result could quite plausibly be explained by a higher rate of diagnosis in affluent communities in the US (the correlation isn’t seen in other countries).


  6. In the past, there were places for people who weren’t totally perfect. They could work in the back of the family’s hardware store or on the farm. If they screwed up, people would be cool about it. The tasks were simple anyway, so even severely cognitively impaired people could be useful. There were large extended families around, which included older grand folks, to care for the workers and children in the family. Now, we’re all on our own.

    People, who for whatever reason miss an essential step on the road to the middle class, find it extremely hard to backup and check that box.

    And kids are super stressed. Jonah isn’t totally sure what he wants to do when he graduates. He’s losing sleep over it.

    I do think things are changing though. I’m talking to parents who are sending their kids to CTE programs, and they’re happy. Maybe it’s a regional thing. Not sure. Maybe there are more opportunities for younger people. No clue. But I do think it’s super important for writers and researchers to find models that are working and to inform others. Where are the jobs? What skills do you need? Yadda, yadda.


    1. Laura said,

      “And kids are super stressed. Jonah isn’t totally sure what he wants to do when he graduates. He’s losing sleep over it.”

      Husband and I have been in talks about our oldest for a while (as there’s no clear dotted line between her specific interests and talents and remunerative employment), and one thing we’ve decided is that she may need some trial and error in college and perhaps a fifth year.

      I used to be die-hard on the subject of four years of college support and done, but allowances need to be made for reality (like we don’t really know how well our oldest is going to take to certain college coursework).

      Jonah doesn’t need to have this figured out until he graduates (at the earliest) and he doesn’t need to graduate as fast as possible.

      I don’t love the 7-year BA plan (and would really like to avoid it), but the 5-year plan may be the best for a lot of kids.


  7. Having trouble posting a comment, so…forgive me if this is a multiple post:

    Money helps a bit? Come on. Money helps *a lot*. Money is the difference between night and day. Money saves lives. Money provides better outcomes. Money provides respite. Money reduces stress.

    And “money” isn’t just income or wealth, but the constellation of benefits that attend to it. The power to decide one’s own work hours. Health insurance that pays for therapies, or even mental health coverage. Connections with other powerful people who can smooth the paths.The benefit of the doubt.

    I have no doubt your friends with the $400k income are stressed. But their blues ain’t like mine.

    To answer bj’s question on what we should advocate for:

    1. An end to credentialism. College degrees should not be used as a stand-in for culling applicants for “shows basic ability and work ethic.”

    2. A return to on-the-job training. Quit outsourcing the responsibility for job training to individuals, especially those who can least afford it, and whose primary source of advice for what is needed is subpar and out-of-date.

    3. Free public school education through college, which would also include technical and/or vocational school. No penalty for persons who change their course of study when they realize the original path they set upon is not working out. (this would also benefit adults returning to the workforce after child-raising or illness/injury,. Current programs for displaced workers are designed to return them to work “as quickly as possible”. Translation: minimal education or training to pump workers into low-wage, no-benefit jobs. Time to derail that poverty-track train, and provide real education instead.)

    4. Massive spending on infrastructure. Right now, there’s a billboard on I-80 outside of Joliet, warning drivers that they’re crossing a particular bridge at their own risk, since its likelihood of collapse is immanent. But “infrastructure” doesn’t just mean roads and bridges. It also means what we call in the building trades “vertical construction” Major urban areas with outrageously-priced housing need government housing projects because the “free market” isn’t going to build it. Medium-sized cities throughout flyover country need light rail and what used to be called interurbans, and the “free market” isn’t going to build that, either. Smaller cities and rural areas need high speed internet, and the “free market” isn’t going to do it. All areas of our nation need more renewable energy sources. All areas of our nation need pollution cleanup and control. All areas of our nation would benefit greatly from protecting public lands, and bringing ecological balance to those lands. Those are all job opportunities that would be geographically widespread, thus pumping money into local economies that are seriously hurting. And many of those jobs wouldn’t even require a college education—workers would be trained through already-existing apprenticeship programs (like the one in my Local).

    5. Universal childcare and preschool. If you don’t need it, you don’t have to use it—but it’s there if or when you do. Besides providing jobs, this would automatically provide the most benefit to families who most need it—working class families.

    6. Single-payer healthcare. Sweet bedda matri the rest of the world has this. WTF, USA?

    7. More manufacturing in the USA. Good Lord am I tired of hearing people who consider themselves “progressive” gushing over “buy local” initiatives and lectures on the circulation of money within local economies, when all the “local” (including urban farmer’s markets) is boutique-priced. Here’s a news flash: people still buy household items and appliances, clothing, tools, etc. For local economies to thrive, we NEED to see more “made in the USA”. Outsourcing that work accelerated class stratification.

    8. Hey, while I’m taking a long walk though dreamland here, might as well mention this: our so-called representatives in government don’t actually represent us. Abolish lobbying, and abolish the “representative-to-lucrative-corporate-position” pipeline. Institute a requirement that legislative bodies resemble the populace by social class. It’s the only way we’re going to get class-integrated representation instead of legislatures looking like country clubs. And class-integrated legislatures are the only way we’re going to get legislation that assists the working class instead of the Dream Hoarders.

    Yeah…that’s a start.


    1. The alternative to credentialism is hiring people based on word of mouth and personal reference, i.e., hiring people who belong to the same religious, social and ethnic group as the person doing the hiring. Or hiring based on ethnic stereotypes. (Both of which things do happen, but not as much as they could and did.)


      1. That is certainly one of the main arguments against the arguments for credentialism (i.e. a method of avoiding bias), and it credentialing might help avoid bias in some environments (it’s one reason reason teachers argue so strongly for it, because credentialing is something in their control, as opposed to pleasing a particular individual like a principal). But, it might also be possible to cast wide nets and give people an opportunity to prove themselves on the job.


      2. y81 said,

        “The alternative to credentialism is hiring people based on word of mouth and personal reference, i.e., hiring people who belong to the same religious, social and ethnic group as the person doing the hiring. Or hiring based on ethnic stereotypes. (Both of which things do happen, but not as much as they could and did.)”

        That’s true.


      3. It is ridiculously untrue that credentialism is the only alternative to racial, ethnic, or religipus discrimination in hiring. Setting aside that “credentialism” in practice means hiring only the overqualified, for positions unrelated to the job at hand…

        Look, the IBEW has the book system. Journrymen aren’t listed by race, ethnicity, sex, religion, political position, geographical or national origin, etc. If you are a contractor, and you call the hall for help, they send you a journeyman. So….only the qualification required, no extranaenous, irrelevant “qualifications.” They get the workers, the workers get the work, everybody’s happy.


      4. That’s not an end to credentialism, since journeyman is a credential. Your complaint is with the wrong credentials being used.

        I realize that’s not helpful to anybody, but in my defense, reading things closely is one of my most important job skills and my actual credentials have very little to do with my job.


      5. MH, credentialism does not mean “requiring the proper qualifications for the job”, but rather “requiring over and above the proper qualifications for the job as a point of entry, and/or yhe assumption that the loftier the credentials, the better the candidate (no matter how unrelated the credentials are to the job at hand).

        In my field, it would be like assuming a journeyman wireman with a PhD in history is a better journeyman than one without a college degree.

        It is reasonable to expect someone to have the necessary education, skills, and experience to do a particular job. Credentialism is an unreasonable barrier.


      6. Employers vary, and obviously not all of them have good judgment, but certainly demanding excessive qualifications is far from universal. In fact, employers often shy away from overqualified people, because they fear that the people will not stick with the job. For instance, during a recession one encounters lawyers willing to work as paralegals, but we would generally avoid hiring such people if possible, because we know that they will quit as soon as the economy improves. This can be frustrating if you are the person out of work and desperate for even a modest income.


      7. There is also an argument that lawyers receive excessive training in this country, that law could be an undergraduate major, as it is in some countries, or as architecture or accounting are in this country. Less radically, law school could be reduced to a two year program, which would supply more than enough training for 90% of the legal jobs in America. That kind of credentialism, to the extent it is widespread in other fields, could be reduced. But those are not programs that an individual employer could implement.


      8. lubiddu, are you encountering the kind of credentialism you describe? Are people requiring a credential irrelevant to the work for journeyman wireman positions? I’m guessing the PhD in history is not a hypothetical example, but are they looking for associate degrees? college degrees?

        My work experience is entirely in education and science, in which credentials are a necessary but not sufficient requirement for the jobs in which I have hired. There are times when I found the specific credential process not meaningful. But, in the parallel of not giving paralegal jobs to lawyers (who are seen as overqualified), technician positions are rarely given to PhDs (and, if they require a visa, never, because a PhD can get a visa to work as a post-doc, but not as a technician).


      9. bj: I do not experience credentialism; the book system of our hiring halls circumvents that process completely (the hiring hall system is one of the reasons the trades were so attractive to me.). But credentialism is a frequent complaint of young adults in my part of the country. There are many, many entry-level jobs that should not require a college degree (let alone a four-year degree), but good luck trying to get hired without one. That is amplified when it comes to supervisory or “lead worker” positions—there is a thick glass ceiling that people without a four-year degree can’t break through.

        The “old boy network” is not the only alternative to credentialism (meaning: requiring higher qualifications than necessary). The interview process still exists. One of the things we screen for when interviewing apprentices is level of interest. How interested they are in pursuing this line of work as a career, as opposed to a temporary means of earning money until something better comes along, or as a cool credential they can gain in pursuit of another line of work after “topping out”. Credentialism is a choice—there is no evidence that it is a better method of selection.

        (in any case, the “old boy network” still operates alongside credentialism, and sometimes hand-in-hand with it, as posted job qualifications are written to fit a specific person’s already-existing credentials. The book system by contrast, is more akin to a blind audition.)


  8. #3-#6 are actual policy initiatives of some of the democratic candidates for president (though which should be prioritized and details would still be an interesting additional conversation).

    I wholeheartedly agree with the idea of avoiding false credentialing as a method of outsourcing both identifying and developing talent. Truly it can’t be the economically efficient thing to do, to rely on a random degree rather than evaluating and training an individual yourself. If I am in a position to hire, I will consider that advice seriously (though unfortunately I’m not, mostly, except for a few jobs where credentials are relevant). (an article on how less competent elites are evaluated as having greater abilities than they actually do). From the article:

    “social class was measured by students’ assessment of how they saw themselves relative to others in the United States, their parents’ income and their parents’ education. Researchers found that students of higher social classes failed to outperform their peers in a trivia exercise. But once again, most were certain they had.”

    Not really sure how to make 7-8 happen.


  9. Disability support (and even incidence of disability) clearly is inter-related to affluence. There’s plenty of data on the effect of being poor on diagnosis, availability of support, . . . . (for autism, downs, asthma, . . . ).

    What I think disability does do, is that it can occur in affluent families, and, absent the resources to say, start a foundation to uncover the origins of, say autism (Simons Foundation), even a very affluent family can do little to obtain supports that don’t exist, or to change the world by themselves. It’s an example where self help fails to meet pretty significant basic needs (say, like wanting your child to have a full life that includes living in the community and working at a job) by your self (though there are the families affluent enough to start businesses for their children, that requires a significant commitment and altering of their own lives).


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