The Politics of Harry and Meghan

Like everybody else in this country, I have been fairly obsessed with the news that Harry and Meghan want out of the royal family. On the one hand, it’s completely insane that Americans, of all people, give two shits about anything to do with the monarchy. But on the other, it’s a really good drama, so shut up. This is better than Netflix.

Woke Twitter is firmly on Meghan’s side. They say that she’s been treated badly by the racist press and scheming royals. Buzzfeed has a viral article that contrasts the different way the British press has dealt with Meghan and Kate.

Truthfully, all royals get their share of roasting by the British tabloids. Kate got shit last year for having bandaids on her hands. Seriously. Bandaids. Or plasters, as they call them over there.

Is that situation okay? The love-hate relationship. The Brits support the monarchy, in exchange for ripping them down occasionally. I don’t know. That’s between the British people. It’s a situation that anyone who marries into the family is well aware of. They choose to make that exchange of money/status/privilege/nice clothes for life in a fish bowl. I don’t believe for a second that Meghan was surprised by all that.

Is Meghan a sympathetic figure? Well, the blind gossip websites here in the US have had tales about her for two years. She sacked three nannies in less than a year. They give the marriage five years tops. Again, I don’t care that much, except in a shallow, Friday morning sort of way.

The most interesting part of Megxit, at least for me, is the political and financial ramifications of this move.

In the US, our president is both the chief of state and the chief of government. Being the chief of state means that this person is a living symbol of the country. Countries have all sorts of symbols, from flags to buildings. But there is also a person that takes on that job.

In England, they divide up the job of chief of state and government. The queen is the living symbol of the country, while the prime minister runs the government. They like it that way, because it means the country has the continuity of the royal family that isn’t going anywhere, while prime ministers come and go. Whatever. It’s their system. I don’t have strong opinions on that.

But being the chief of state, a living emblem of a country, means that one has to always play the part. The Queen is never off duty. It’s a permanent, 24/7 job that is bound by rules and ritual. It’s a brand, but a brand that is entirely tied to the nation.

So, Harry and Meghan want to take the royal brand and make money with it. That causes problems. It’s like if Donald Trump changed the name of his hotels right now to The Oval Office or Presidential Suites or something. I mean, he’ll probably do that when he leaves office, but if he did it now, people would freak out. I suppose the Obamas are making a lot of money right as former White House residents, but they didn’t do it while they were in office. That distinction has always been important.

Harry and Meghan want to join the ranks of the new international Uber-wealthy, who don’t belong to any one country. The people who have empty penthouses in London and New York City. Russian mafia and Saudi princes. But those Russians and Saudis aren’t on the front page of the tabloids. They don’t need millions in security. Who will pay for all that?

And where will they pay taxes? In the UK or Canada or the US? Harry and Meghan are like a massive international corporation, like Apple and Amazon. Massive enterprises that cross national boarders.

These are complicated matters, as the Queen points out.

Excerpt From Jan. 17 Newsletter

Here’s an excerpt from my latest newsletter. Please subscribe, folks!

It’s January Jersey. Which means the sky is a greige color that all the designers are putting on their walls.

I know all about griege, because we’re in the middle of a painting project at home. Between being grounded in the house with various medical testing for Ian and a dull spot in between writing projects, I have some time on my hand. I decided that it was time to rent a steamer from Home Depot and tackle the last two rooms in our home that still had the previous owner’s wallpaper on the walls.

So, our bedroom furniture is covered with plastic tarps, and my office is inhospitable, until we can finish the job. When we embarked on this plan, I expected to finish off in a week or two. In reality, we are still a month of weekends away from applying any paint — griege or otherwise – on the walls. 

I have a writing topic on hold. The topic is all approved by an editor, but we’re just waiting for one of the presidential candidates to bring up a specific education topic. The candidate is not cooperating, so I’ve done a little background research and am just waiting. And catching up with my other job, which is housewifery. 

I never planned on being a stay at home parent, who works gigs on the side. I planned on having a prestigious job in the university or a policy think tank. That’s why I wasted most of my twenties in graduate school and finished the PhD. But here am I. Drinking rosé with the soccer moms and spinning away the muffin tops on Monday mornings. 

On most days, that’s just fine. I have time to paint walls, check in on my mom, make sure the college kid has filled out the right forms for next year’s dorm assignments, attend IEP meetings, talk with the lawyer about the guardianship papers, and arrange appointments with a contractor who has to fix the hole in the foundation by the garage. 

Other days, I get impatient with my situation. Freelancers don’t get the choice assignments or get paid very well. I miss teaching college classes, even six years later; though I don’t miss grading papers, which always sucked. I miss the identity of a full time job. 

As a neurotic progressive, I also feel guilty. Others don’t have the option to have a flexible job. I’m able to support my kids, both the special ed and the typical one, so they’re two steps ahead of kids who don’t have a parent like me. Which is totally unfair. In a world that is falling apart, I’m staring at Benjamin Moore paint colors so long that I have actual opinions on Grey Owl grey versus Metropolitan grey. I should be out there in the thick of things, making changes, instead of looking at Pinterest boards. 

I handle the guilt by writing. Writing is a source of guilt, too, because writing is becoming more and more of a rich person’s game; there are fewer and fewer traditional journalism jobs. But it is an effective soap box. I also join local political organizations and progressive parents groups. 

There is a growing parental political movement happening. Parents — okay, mostly women — are showing up at board of ed meetings and state house protests. They’re forming letter writing committees. They’re organizing fundraisers for political candidates. Not all of them are progressive, of course. One group of parents in New Jersey just pushed back against a new vaccination law. Other groups are too focused on changes in our own privileged town, and aren’t advocating for all kids. But there are other parent groups that line up more with my political leanings. 

This situation isn’t getting a lot of attention from the press, because most journalists have full time jobs in the cities. Even the education reporters aren’t showing up to Board of Ed meetings. I am. And so, weirdly enough, being a stay at home parent gives me a professional advantage. Life is funny that way. 

So, on this greige day, I’m working and not working at the same time. At noon, I’ve got a date with Lauren at the hair salon who will make my hair a more uniform red and give me a good Jersey blowout. And we’ll talk. She’ll tell me about her mixed race family and her husband’s contracting hustles. We’ll talk about her middle school son and his struggles in school. I’ll walk out of the salon with sleek red hair and some fodder for half a dozen articles. 

At some point, I’ll figure out how to make more money from all this working and not working, but that’s for another day. 

Having It All, Means Having No Sleep

Helaine Olen writes a great column about Ada Calhoun’s new book, Why We Can’t Sleep: Women’s New Midlife Crisis.

…Calhoun’s subject is exhaustion and anxiety, experienced by all too many women who were brought up in the 1970s and 1980s to believe we could somehow “have it all” — domestic harmony and perfection, children and fulfilling, lucrative work that mattered.

It turns out that promise was a fairy tale for the early years of feminism’s second wave. But, as Calhoun recounts, the myth was accompanied by a simultaneous ratcheting up of expectations placed on women, even as government and societal support crumbled. Parenting turned into a vocation, with the result that, even as the number of mothers with jobs has swelled over the decades, mothers of today spend more time with their children than the mothers of 50 years ago. The millions of Gen X women who have given birth in their 30s and 40s have found themselves confronted by the double whammy of needing to care for those children — as the cost of child care has surged — while also caring for older parents. (Let me note here that men, on the other hand, rarely fall for the tripe that they can do it all. Gen Xer Beto O’Rourke claimed his wife, Amy, raised their children “sometimes with my help,” while Andrew Yang, of the same generation, routinely references his wife, Evelyn, “who’s at home with our two boys.”)

My Fitbit measures my sleep. I have never scored higher than a “fair.” Usually, I get a poor. Partially, it’s due to hormones. But when I’m wake up at 2:00am, I find that I’m thinking about the chore list. I’m making lists in my sleep.

I do a lot. I’ve got a various writing projects — some for fun, some for money, some for promotion. I’m managing kids’ issues. Even the college kid still comes with responsibilities, because college has way fewer supports than in the past. It’s terrible to think of our loved ones as ticking time bombs, but our parents will need more help soon.

As Helaine’s article sort of points out, some of this is our fault. Do we really need to putting so much time into parenting? Do we really need cool, but poorly compensated jobs? Why can’t we just admit that we can’t “have it all” and make some compromises?

I still do “want it all” though. I’m not ready to give up yet. So, after an hour of sponging off wallpaper glue off the office walls, mapping out the weekend schedule, and signing up the younger kid for a sports program, I’m heading to the coffee shop to work for a while. All with about five hours of sleep.

Lucky: Excerpt From January 7, 2020 Newsletter

Here’s an excerpt from the last newsletter. (Subscribe, folks!)

January 7, 2020

The new decade has started with a bang here at Apt. 11D. Of course, we don’t actually live in Apt. 11D anymore. We live in an undisclosed location now after learning a while back that one shouldn’t actually name one’s blog after a real life address. Apt. 11D is more of a metaphorical home. But that’s neither here nor there. Let’s just say that things are pretty crazy at home. 

My younger son was diagnosed with epilepsy yesterday after suffering a mild seizure last November. I wrote about the details about the first incident and how we found out the news on the blog. You can read it about it there, if you like. 

Today, I just want to say how fortunate we are. That sounds crazy, right? My poor kid is saddled with autism and epilepsy. He’ll have to take medication for the rest of his life. We’ll be going to more doctor’s appointments and managing medication. Bad news for all, right? 

Well, yes, of course that is true. Ian has handled this news with grace and dignity, and we love him hugely. There’s no doubt that this diagnosis is an added burden on his already complicated life.

At the same time, we know that we’re lucky, because Steve and I can handle our end of the burden without losing our heads. I have a flexible job and work from home. We’re not dependent on my salary to pay the mortgage, so I could stop work entirely for a year to concentrate on Ian’s troubles, if necessary.

Fifteen years ago, when Ian missed the “speaking in full sentences” milestone at age 2, we entered into the world of parenting “kids who don’t fit into neat boxes.” In a yahoo chat group, I asked other parents like me, “how does anybody without an education and time deal with all this stuff?!” It was so overwhelming at that time. Another mom responded, “yes, it’s horrible, but you can’t think about others right now. You have too much on your plate. Just deal with your own problems.” 

So, I can deal with this hurdle. I can give myself the time to process this information and keep myself mentally healthy. I can read up on the latest treatments for epilepsy. I can schedule doctor’s appointments without losing a job. I can manage my other responsibility at home — making sure my college kid has his head on straight, keeping everyone dressed and fed, making sure that the house is repaired and sturdy. I can even maintain my writing job by taking on projects with longer deadlines. 

I am lucky.

Yet, it is still possible to think about the bigger picture. While taking care of our own situation, I can also manage to advocate for those who are struggling to educate and care for family members with disabilities. Those parents, my counterparts in the Bronx and Newark, are always my people. My votes, my political commentary, any power that I have as a writer on the national stage, is always with them in mind. 

Blaming Parents For Inequality in Schools

In education circles, pundits are currently making two arguments simultaneously that don’t sync up.

First, school choice advocates have pointed towards Democratic political candidates who send their own kids to private schools, while publicly opposing charter schools, and accused them of hypocrisy. Elizabeth Warren, for example, sent her son to a private school in Texas.

You can’t have both – private schools for your own kids and public schools for everyone else — conservatives say. The left says, let’s ignore the choices of these political candidates, because these people are parents first, politicians second. It is possible to do the right thing at that moment for your kid, while advocating for better schools for everybody else.

Second, several articles lately have said that parents who use rating systems, like the Great Schools website, to help choose their homes, are… well… let’s just say it… basically racist. Great Schools evaluates schools based on state standardized test scores, number of kids taking AP classes, SAT scores, teacher-student ratios, and some other publicly available data. Then it assigns the school a grade from 1-10. The 10 schools tend to be in more affluent, white neighborhoods. The lower scoring schools tend to be in low income, urban areas.

In the old days, real estate agents used to steer white parents towards white neighborhoods and black parents towards black neighborhoods in a practice known as redlining. I’m not sure if I’ve written about this on the blog, but when we were little, and my parents moved from an apartment in the Bronx to our first home, my dad forced his real estate agent to show us a home in a neighborhood that had been redlined for black families. He bought the house, and we moved into a home next a lovely African-American family. The dad was a hotshot at IBM. But mostly stories like that didn’t happen.

Redlining was vilified, and the practice ended. Well, sort of. Now, parents self-segregate into towns that have people with similar incomes and use websites like Great Schools as a shortcut, when making those decisions. It’s de facto segregation, rather than de jure segregation. Still, not wonderful, but de facto segregation always been tolerated in our society, because of argument #1 above, which states that parents have to do what parents have to do. Also, it’s a matter of freedom, a value that is highly prized by Americans.

We moved to our current town about nine years ago, primarily because we were seeking better schools for our kids. We didn’t need a website to tell us that our town had a good school system, because anybody who lives in Northern New Jersey can tell you exactly which schools get their kids into college and which ones don’t.

Of course, there are limitations to those ranking systems and reputation. We’re in a town with very large schools, so that meant that oddballs like Ian are lost in the shuffle. Our school now ships him off to a smaller public school about 30 minutes away, where he is thriving. I think Jonah might have done better in a smaller school with less stress, too, but he survived.

Schools aren’t the only reason that we moved to this town. We like it well enough that we will probably stay here, after Ian finishes school. But schools were a major factor in our original decision to move to this town.

By moving here, it meant that we’re not in a school that could benefit from me — I’m a big mouth at school board meetings, and I volunteer a lot, too — and that my good test taking kids aren’t boosting test scores for that hypothetical town either. But, like Elizabeth Warren, I had to do what was right for my kids.

Now, I would just like greater consistency in edu-punditry. If we give Democratic politicians a hall pass for choosing private schools for their kids, then we can’t vilify middle class parents from making those same choices. Rather, I think we should look at ways to make schools in poorer neighborhoods more desirable, to offer parents positive reasons — better school facilities, higher quality teachers, unique school offerings — to move to low income, urban areas.

But we’re entering a dark time for schools. It’s clear that no more money is coming. Reforms aren’t working. Reformers are walking away. When that happens, parents who make rational choices for their kids become the bad guys. That’s just not cool.

More on Charter Schools

Here’s an excerpt from yesterday’s newsletter (sign up, folks!)…

This week, I’m juggling three or four different articles, which range in quality from really rough to really, really rough. Next week, I’m going to focus on the article that is merely really rough and get it out the door. It’s about high school marching bands, and I’m having a lot of fun with references to Ester Williams musicals and such — references that will be certainly cut by a wise editor down the road, but for now, I’m amusing myself, so don’t judge. 

One topic that I’m not writing about is charter schools. Which is weird, because I’ve been studying charter schools since the mid-1990s. I put myself through my PhD program working at a policy institute at CUNY Grad Center. There, the director (and my dissertation advisor) got some nice sized grants from the Ford Foundation, which she used to employ a small crew of students to travel around the country and find answers.

Looking back on it, we were given an insane amount of responsibility and had some incredible experiences. We traveled in groups of two or three around to the roughest parts of Chicago, Philadelphia, Austin, Boston, and talked to community and education activists. Then we wrote it all up and gave presentations in an modern glass building on the east side of the New York City. If we weren’t so poor and so stressed out about finishing our dissertations, I might have enjoyed it more. 

Anyway, one of the topics that we looked at was charter schools. I talked to everybody about them. Those activists in those rough spots of Philadelphia and Chicago liked them. They also didn’t have very nice things to say about the teachers’ union.

Somewhat simultaneously, I spent two years studying school voucher politics in Ohio and Pennsylvania as part of my dissertation. On one memorable trip, I waddled (I was was eight months pregnant with Ian at the time) around Philadelphia and Harrisburg by myself. And those activists told me that they would happily take vouchers, charter schools, ANYTHING, but their local public schools, which sucked terribly. Their kids didn’t have time to waste in those schools, while reformers spun their wheels. 

****

In early 2018, Cory Booker started thinking about running for presidency, but he had to deal with some skeletons in the Newark closet first. His career so far in the Senate has been short and uneventful. The lion share of his political experience comes from being the mayor of Newark. What was one of the biggest things he did as mayor? He instituted a pretty ambitious education reform, which included a plan to streamline the application process for charter schools in the city. Parents could much more easily apply for a charter school in the city, including the KIPP and Uncommon Schools.

Those two charter schools have hit it out of the ballpark with getting kids into college and then getting them through it. They do some super incredible stuff, like placing staff on college campuses to help get those very vulnerable first generation kids through college. Those programs cannot be scaled up and only help a handful, but their successes are amazing just the same. And the parents in Newark all know it. That’s why 1/3 of the parents in Newark choose to send their kids to a charter school. 

Now, you would think that this would be something to brag about. A feather in his cap, right? But no. There was a book that came out about five years ago that pointed to problems in Newark’s reform effort. The author said that the community wasn’t involved enough and that outside consultants squandered money. When the book came out, Booker didn’t address the controversy, but when he started thinking about running for office in early 2018, he needed to deal with it.

He brought me down to Newark and told me about it. And then I wrote about it. In our conversations, Booker said pretty clearly that he was agnostic about the forms of school — public or charter — he just wanted schools that worked for kids. Which was basically the same message that activists had told me back in my grad school years. At that time, Booker was mostly concerned about pointing out that Newark reform was a success. We didn’t talk THAT much about charter schools, because they didn’t feel that controversial at that time.

But then, just a few months later, the mood around charter schools changed. Around the same time as the Democratic Primary began — it sure feels like twenty years ago, doesn’t it? — education reporters who spent a year covering teacher strikes heard nothing but bad things about charter schools, and published articles to that effect. Suddenly, charter schools became toxic. Booker was on the defense about them for months in Iowa. Nobody cared whether Newark was a success or not. They only wanted to talk to him about charter schools. 

But then things changed again. 

There was a great article in the NYT by Erica Green and Eliza Shapiro last week about how the large base of support among African Americans for charter schools. You know who is “meh” about charter schools? Suburbanites. You know why? Their schools are decent. I wrote a quick article in The Atlantic about that awhile back. The NYT article put charter school critics on the defense. 

Then there was a lot of chatter about how voters were looking for a more moderate candidate than Warren and Sanders. So, Booker wrote an op-ed in the NYT showing his support for charter schools

Meanwhile, Warren, who had taken a very strong stance against charter schools, is now taking some major hits. Turns out she sent her own kid to a private school and then wasn’t entirely super open about that fact. And just the other day, she gave an interview with the NEA that said that parents should do something about their broken and crumbling schools. Charter school advocates said she was blaming the victim. 

So, in an election that is growing increasingly pointless and depressing, suddenly there’s a small skirmish about charter schools. But I’m writing about marching bands instead. Don’t ask. I can’t explain it. 

SL 677

Me elsewhere… The latest newsletter. Check out these pretty books that turned out to be worth more than I thought. (I paid $4 for them. Shhhhhh.)

Share your favorite Thanksgiving recipe. I do the Ina Garden method, so I already brined my bird. And Pioneer Woman’s stuffed mushrooms for an app. We actually roast our own pumpkin for pies; I discussed the process (and handled criticism) before here and here.

We just signed up for our local Turkey Trot. It’s going to be really lame, because I was actually lame for two months and am now totally out of shape.

Just calling it now — I think the final ticket is going to be a mayor — current or former — whose name begins with B. Oh, wait! There’s three of them. Who knew? Have there ever been this many majors in a primary before? Not sure. Anyway. Based on my highly scientific polling of people I drink with and/or am related to, I think it’s going to be Pete with VP Cory.