How Parents are Reshaping College

lead_960.jpgAfter Jonah got his acceptance letter to college, we thought we reached the parenting finish line. Woot! Victory lap! High fives! Margaritas for all!

And then I started talking to people. I was a little surprised about what I found out. So, I wrote an article.

Stacy G.’s daughter was having a meltdown. Her daughter, a sophomore at a prestigious private college, wanted an internship at Boston Children’s Hospital, a plum job that would look great on her applications to graduate school. After four weeks of frantically waiting for the school to arrange for an interview at the hospital, Stacy called her daughter’s adviser at the internships office to complain.

“For $65,000 [in full attendance costs], you can bet your sweet ass that I’m calling that school … If your children aren’t getting what they’ve been promised, colleges are going to get that phone call from parents,” Stacy said. “It’s my money. It’s a lot of money. We did try to have her handle it on her own, but when it didn’t work out, I called them.”

More here

 

Is Grit Worth the Hassle?

The topic of grit has been much discussed here at the real life home of Apt. 11D for the past week, so I thought I would put it out on the blog.

When presented with an opportunity of “gimme points” in history class in the form of easy homework assignments, Jonah said, “nah. I’m done.” He simply didn’t turn in nine homework assignments this spring. It took a while for the teacher log those zeros into the online grade portal. So, we didn’t realize that he was in deep shit until it was too late. After a lot of yelling, he was urged to ask his teacher if he could hand them in late. She said no. Then there was more yelling and a week of grounding.

Yes, we’re the worst parents on the planet who can’t possibly understand the God-given right to stop doing work in your last semester of high school. As a result of this slacking, Jonah will pass the class, I’m sure, but just barely.

From Jonah’s point of view, it makes absolutely no difference if he gets a B or a C or even a D in this class. Why work for no reason? From our point of view, ARG! DO THE DAMN WORK! IT ISN’T HARD! CHARACTER DEVELOPMENT! LEARNING! CHALLENGE YOURSELF! HIGH EXPECTATIONS!

There are all sorts of books aimed at parents and educators about the value of “grit” and not eating that marshmellow.  These authors maintain that kids who know how to delay gratification and work through obstacles grow into successful adults. Jonah’s method is to weigh the pros and the cons of working hard before exerting himself. Hard work simply for the sake of personal perfection is a fool’s game.

I’m not entirely sure that Jonah is wrong. I come across people every day, who favor Jonah’s strategic effort method. Sure, they aren’t usually the ones who make it to the top of their profession or make news headlines. But they find those jobs that pay well with mediocre expectations and then hunker down until retirement. Sometimes they even accidentally do become wildly successful, because of luck or bullshitting skills. I suppose Donald Trump is an example of an accidentally successful type of slacker. He’s playing golf, not reading presidental biographies, over his weekends. And I know plenty of people with insane amounts of grit and work ethic, who complete PhDs and marathons, and have much less success.

So, who is right?

Book Gossip

So, y’all know that I have a weird weekend hobby of going to estate sales to find books for my Etsy shop. I have pretty eclectic tastes, but I am always on the hunt for midcentry children’s books.

When I first set up the shop, I imagined that my customer was a housewife with a keen sense of irony who loved the dramatic and heroic images on the covers. She recalled many hours spent at libraries in the early 70s gobbling up biographies and mystery novels by the dozens. She would pay top dollar for these books to display in her children’s rooms as a reminder of her youth.

OK, I imagined was that my ideal customer was me, but with a lot more money.

Turns out that there aren’t a lot of housewives with a keen sense of irony. Go figure. Instead, my books are being bought by an entirely different type of customer.

Who is buying my books? Answer in the comment section.

More On Our Flagship College

The boys had spring break last week. Steve took the week off, too. With three extra people knocking around the house, there was no need to even pretend that I would get work done. Even if I wanted to work, it’s impossible to have that tomb-like quiet I need to concentrate. So, we did lots of stuff instead.

First up was Jonah’s Accepted Student Day at our flagship state college. Jonah had been “meh” about attending this school. When we went for the tour last fall, it looked shabby. An old dean showed us power point slides about the school and got into the weeds about class requirements. She was wearing a sun dress with her bra straps showing. The other colleges gave us tours of the grassy campuses led by perky, preppy tour guides who made lame jokes about walking backwards. Jonah really dug those perky kids and their lame jokes.

But we made a chart of his eleven colleges and ordered it by rankings. We had a column for total cost of attendance and another column for merit aid. The chart was adhered to the fridge with a big magnet. When we were all done filling in the info, the choice was a no-brainer.

As he got used to the idea and talked to more people about the school, he started feeling better. The word about the school is that everybody gets jobs as soon as they graduate. And over and over we kept hearing, “Internships! The school has a ton of internships!”

That weekend, we sent Ian away to a sleepaway weekend camp for kids with Aspergers. We thought it would be a nice treat for him, and it would give us the chance to totally focus on Jonah. Turns out it was a bit of disaster, since the camp also took kids who had bigger issues, and Ian was freaked out by them. Sigh. But at least we had some quality time with the big kid, because there were actually some big decisions to make.

Jonah got into three difference schools at the flagship college – the environmental school, the arts and sciences program, and the engineering school – and we had to pick one. Each school was running sessions on their offerings. There were discussions on the different majors. There were tours of the dorms. The dining halls were open to everyone.

And it was all spread over the five different campuses within that one college. This is the physically largest college that I’ve ever seen. It can take thirty minutes to get from one class to another, if you catch the bus at just the right time. Class selection has to take into account that major commute time. Not every kid can manage this college. It’s overwhelming even for a college pro like myself.

He’s thinking about majoring in bio-engineering, so we went to a presentation on it. He could major in that at two different schools within the college. One takes four years, the other is a five year program. Good thing we went to the presentation and figured that out.

The woman who gave the bio-engineering presentation was smart and helpful. I whispered to Jonah that he should go talk to her when he has questions next fall. Afterwards, she asked if anybody had questions. Hands shot up. All parents’ hands. One guy with a thick Jersey accent asked if his daughter would get a masters with the five year program (no, but two BAs), what was the typical salary for a graduate with this degree (shrug), and what jobs were available for people with this major (cleaning up New Jersey’s superfund sites). His questions and questions from other parents were tightly focused on jobs and money and time spent at college. The other presentations we attended that day hammered on the internship opportunities and job prospects over and over.

I was rather surprised by A. the high parental involvement in their kids’ college decisions and B. by the job training mission of the college. Neither are bad things, but clearly a major shift in college life.

In the end, Jonah decided on the arts and sciences school, because it will give him some flexibility. We walked out the bookstore with all sorts of branded t-shirts and stickers and caps. The school definitely does have some eyesores (hello, ugly dorms!), but it also has the green fields, greenhouses, and new lecture halls that he wants so badly. He hasn’t taken off his branded baseball cap since that weekend.

He’s all in.

Chicago’s New Graduation Requirements

Mayor Rahm Emanuel proposed a new high school requirement for the kids in Chicago. They need to have a post-graduation plan.

Emanuel’s proposal would add one more big item to the graduation checklist for high school seniors: proof they’ve been accepted into college or the military, or a trade or a “gap-year” program. The requirement would also be satisfied if the student has a job or a job offer.

The point, the mayor said, is to get Chicago Public Schools students in all parts of the city to stop seeing high school graduation as an ending and get them to consider what’s next.

There are a couple of important stats in the Chicago Tribune article:

  •  The district’s five-year high school graduation rate last year hovered at around 73 percent, despite broad race-based disparities.
  • As of 2015, the University of Chicago’s Consortium on School Research concluded an estimated 18 percent of CPS ninth-graders would graduate from a four-year college within ten years of starting high school.

Will Emanuel’s plan mean that fewer kids graduate from high school? Will Emanuel’s plan dump a bunch of kids into the community college system who will spend years floundering in remedial classes?

Meanwhile New York City is struggling with the same problems. What do you do with kids who have been badly educated in the public schools? How do the community colleges pick up the pieces?

In NYC, the kids are shuffled along to CUNY’s community colleges, which immediately plop them in remedial classes because they can’t read or add.  80% of incoming freshmen at CUNY school need remediation.

But the kids get stuck in those remedial classes. Only 50% complete the program in a year. And the kids who do make it through the years of remedial classes AND then basic classes in the community college system AND THEN, finally, get to a four-year CUNY college, can’t finish. You know why? Because they run out of loan money. They’ve spent thousand and thousands of dollars just getting the basic education that they should have gotten for free in the public schools, and then don’t have anything left for college.

CUNY is revamping their remedial programs, so the kids don’t get stuck in them for too long, but then they’re just going to end up totally unprepared for the regular classes and will fail out.

It’s easy to make policies. It’s hard to actually make change.

Mike Pence’s Marriage

Emma Green at the Atlantic sums up a Wash Post article on Mike Pence. (I’ve used up my free articles at the WaPo for the week.)

The Washington Post ran a profile of Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, on Wednesday. The piece talks about the closeness of the Pences’ relationship, and cites something Pence told The Hill in 2002: Unless his wife is there, he never eats alone with another woman or attends an event where alcohol is being served. (It’s unclear whether, 15 years later, this remains Pence’s practice.) It’s not in the Post piece, but here’s the original quote from 2002: “‘If there’s alcohol being served and people are being loose, I want to have the best-looking brunette in the room standing next to me,’ Pence said.”

Steve and I never ever considered such a move. Not going anywhere were alcohol is served without my spouse would SEVERELY impact my social life.

But I’m not feeling that judgy today. I spent some time over the weekend with friends who were divorced, and if that kind of craziness keeps the Pence marriage strong, then whatever.

I suspect that Pence isn’t that unusual. I’ve been to parties where it was assumed that the men would socialize in one room, the women in the other. I was given the eyeball, if I talked to the guys for too long. I doubt anybody thought I was trying to snatch up their man, but socializing with the other gender was considered weird. Typically, we try to avoid those sorts of affairs, but they do exist.

How a New Supreme Court Ruling Could Affect Special Education

In a stunning 8-0 decision in the case Endrew F. v. Douglas County School District, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favor of a higher standard of education for children with disabilities. Advocates and parents say the case dramatically expands the rights of special-education students in the United States, creates a nationwide standard for special education, and empowers parents as they advocate for their children in schools. But critics say the decision will not have any impact on schools, arguing that the vast majority already provide a good education for those kids.

As I explained in January, the parents of Endrew F. removed him from his local public school, where he made little progress, and placed him in a private school, where they said he made “significant” academic and social improvement.

In 2012, Drew’s parents filed a complaint with the Colorado Department of Education to recover the cost of tuition at the school, which is now about $70,000 per year. The lower courts ruled on behalf of the school district on the grounds that the intent of the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is to ensure handicapped kids have access to public education—not to guarantee any particular level of education once inside. But the parents appealed, with the case eventually landing at the Supreme Court.

More here.