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.

Storming the Castle

Imagine a castle with very high ramparts. Ramparts that grow higher every day. In the castle are suburban homes, good schools, doctors for sick children, 401K plans to protect the elderly. On the vast fields surrounding the castle are McDonalds jobs, over priced health clinics, crumbling schools with exhausted and poorly trained teachers.

There’s a siege. Commanders, with good intensions and few resources, are sending their soldiers against the walls. Some march to their doom. Others are flung on catapults or try to scale the walls with ladders. A few make it over the walls, but the majority lay dead on the field.

Right now, the best chance that most kids have to achieve that American Dream is to finish college and earn a BA. The statistics are clear. People with a college degree have greater lifetime earnings and more opportunities for good jobs than those who don’t have that degree. Workers without a college degree have been displaced by technology and global markets.

By now, all know that. So, education leaders and activists have told students that they must attend college. Students have been given sermons and lectures that they can do it. They’ve been empowered and enlightened. But they haven’t been given the weapons and tools to make it through the battle. The dropout rate is huge, particular for low income, poor students.

Because to get through college degree requires years of training. Students need hard skills — math facts, essay composition, knowledge of science and history — but most can’t pass basic standardized tests for math or reading. They need soft skills – how to organize tasks, study independently, plan for the future. They need to understand the complicated bureaucratic structures of colleges and other college hacks — where do you go when you financial aid check doesn’t come in, how do you create a balanced course schedule, what’s a bursor’s office.

Meanwhile, it’s much harder to finish college these days. Standards are higher, particularly for the STEM classes. A student with a simple college prep high school class in biology will sit in a lecture hall next to a student who took honors biology in his Freshman year of high school, took AP biology in his senior year, studied with a tutor for the Biology SATs, and may have attended a STEM camp at the local community college. They will be given the same final exam, and the kid with all that experience will set the curve. The regular student has no chance.

And students are further away from adults – adults with full time positions – than ever before. They are hurded into massive state colleges with tens of thousands of students. They attend lectures with hundreds of students, where the only person who can answer questions is a temporary worker who has no incentive to answer emails and is struggling financially herself.

The bureaucracies at these schools are Kafkaesque, unable to handle glitches in the system. The glitches are kids, who fail out of that biology class, who have trouble paying a bill, who can’t find those majors that shelter the less educated students.

The bodycounts are high. 84 percent of low income kids drop out of college. They stagger away from the schools, depressed and battered. They blame themselves, their families, and their communities for not preparing them. They are saddled with debt and no degree. They come back home and tell others to stay away. We have to wonder whether it was fair to send them to the battle with so little preparation. We have to assume some of the guilt for the wreckage.

And we have to work to change the system. K-12 schools need to prepare al kids for college in all ways from the hard skills to knowledge of the job markets to the basic college hacks. But without a major infusion of cash, that isn’t going to happen. In some states, there is 1 guidance counselor for every 700 kids. [edited] Test scores haven’t budged in decades.

Some say that the solution is for kids to bypass high schools and start sending kids to the local community college for high school classes (a growing trend). Others say that we need to boost community colleges and technical schools that can prepare kids for real jobs that don’t require a BA. Some high school charter schools are now following students into college to support them.

The conversation is starting to go beyond “free college” and “abolish student loans,” because it’s becoming clear that money, or the lack thereof, is only one small problem in this system. Political leaders haven’t caught up yet. It’s the job of writers and thought leaders to get them up to speed and to do something about the walking wounded, the students who have been chewed up by the system.

School Buildings Matter

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I spent nearly two months, off and on, researching the state of our schools for an article that The 74 published last week. When I dove into stories in local newspapers, I was shocked at what I found.

There were stories about students and teachers suffering in overheated classroom, mold on the walls, administrators begging local taxpayers to pass local bonds, boilers on their last legs. Everyone that I spoke to on the phone used words like “crisis” and “desperate” and “unthinkable.”

Local newspapers were full of these stories. It’s probably one of the biggest concerns of local school districts, along with costs of special education and healthcare costs for teachers. But there has been very little written in the national press on this topic. I think that Warren is the only candidate who addresses this problem with a proposal for additional federal spending on schools.

It’s a tragedy that isn’t getting nearly enough attention by the national press or by politicians. Students are missing school and having their instruction interrupted, because the buildings are already falling down. In another five years, the situation will be worse. And people who know about schools know this.

Why don’t people care? Well, maybe because the teachers unions haven’t taken a strong enough stand on it. They want money to go to the teachers first, which isn’t totally crazy. Maybe it’s because the public thinks that this is an urban-only problem and won’t affect them, which is wrong. A. Suburban schools are falling down, too. And B. Ugh.

But the fact that schools are all falling down at the same time does offer some opportunities. Opportunities to rebuild and create new learning centers that reflect modern educational needs.

One guy told me that schools should look like modern workplaces. If students are going to work in a modern workplace some day, they should be ready for it. What does that mean?

When Steve got his first job at a big named Wall Street firm, I remember stepping out of the elevation with the kids in the stroller to meet him for lunch one day. As someone who had spent most of my life in university classrooms, I was shocked.

His office building which took up nearly one whole block of Manhattan was a big open space. A football field with long desks and computers. Something like this.

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Modern schools should look like this, at least at the high school level.

Each kid would have their own desk, their permanent space. They then would go into small conference rooms in the interior of the building where they work with teachers and other students in small groups to work collaboratively on projects or to get mini-lectures on Descartes or Napoleon or The Civil War. Rooms would be filled with natural light from full length windows.

The school day wouldn’t be broken up into 8 modules made up of 50-minute classes. Instead, students would have various learning goals that they would have to master at their own pace. Some students could plug through Algebra 2 in six months; others might need two years.

There is a strong movement to ditch the old system of year-long classes and instead work towards mastery of particular topics. Oh, look I wrote about this movement a couple of years ago for Edutopia.

I talked about this concept with my brother-in-law, who is the director a major architecture company. He said that their firm does a lot with higher education, because colleges have all the money, but not with K-12 schools. He said he would hollow out existing buildings and then rebuild the floor plans to look like this.

If rebuilding schools happened simultaneously, using common plans, with well-vetted construction companies, with federal dollars, it could happen. It might even bring costs down, if buildings were constructed using green technology and modern methods of insulation.

Neglected school buildings, and their coming demise, might be an opportunity to rebuild better and more efficiently.

Skimping on School Buildings is Creating a Crisis

The aging school buildings of Arizona’s Glendale Elementary School District were no match for the late summer monsoons of 2016. With foundations made brittle after years of prolonged water damage, flooding seeped in. A structural engineer feared that walls would give way.

School leaders scrambled to find new spaces for nearly 1,500 students until outside contractors could remediate waterlogged walls and floors and reinforce foundations in two buildings. Some students were shuttled to another school in the district; others were sent to a neighboring town.

Superintendent Cindy Segotta-Jones didn’t want to make the students relocate. But with aging buildings desperately needing repair after years of underfunding, she had no choice. “You can’t tell me that it doesn’t impact their learning when they’re in a different environment,” she said. “These disruptions are not fair to children.”

America’s schools, many built in the late 1960s and early 1970s, are due for a major overhaul after decades of inadequate funding made worse by the 2008 recession. These old buildings are only getting older — in Glendale, where some schools date to the 1940s, drainage problems make them vulnerable during the rainy season and aging air conditioners frequently conk out as temperatures soar to 115 degrees.

More here

OPINION: Out of necessity, I taught my son to choose a college for its value, not its prestige or vibe — My latest in The Hechinger Report

Without photoshopping his face onto the body of a water polo athlete, like some of the parents caught up in the recent U.S. college cheating scandal, I could have prepped my older son, Jonah, for college like a prize pumpkin at the county fair.

Starting when he was in middle school, I could have taken a stronger role in overseeing his schoolwork by editing his papers, re-teaching certain subjects and hiring tutors in others. I could have checked his online gradebooks daily. I could have supervised homework and nudged him to schmooze with teachers. In high school, we could have hired one-on-one tutors to prepare him for standardized tests. I could have pushed him to take on leadership positions in clubs he didn’t care about. I could have written his essay and filled out the Common Application for him.

Lots of parents do these tasks; most aren’t even considered cheating. It’s just how things are done these days among many upper- and middle-class families.

With our backgrounds in higher education, my husband and I have more relevant skills than many other families in our community. We likely could have micromanaged our kid into Harvard. But we didn’t. Between our son’s stubborn resistance to our help, and our own ethics and laziness, we did very little to turn our kid into a tidy package for colleges. Instead, I taught my son how to be a good education consumer.

More here.

Geographic Inequality

Steve’s folks called with good news over the weekend. His mom’s brother and wife are going to retire just 20 minutes away from them in North Carolina. Steve’s folks retired to the area from Cleveland about ten years ago, and we’ve always been worried about their distance from extended family. Now, they have people to spend holidays with, when they can’t make the trip up to us.

They sent me a link on Zillow to their new house, so I spent a little time checking out the other homes in the area. Those homes — perfectly nice places with a couple of bathrooms and three bedrooms — are a quarter of the price of homes in my neck of the woods. This is why people are leaving the metropolitan regions, like Chicago and New York.

Not really a big deal, I suppose. If North Carolina can offer people a better quality of life than the older cities, then good for them. Families, like mine, that need alternative schooling options for disabled children and have work tied to the big cities can never go there, but there are many families who are more flexible. So, good for them, right?

However, if some areas of the country are homes of the rich and others are homes of the middle class, working class, and retirees, then it does open up some political problems.

Imagine if the representatives from some states become advocates not for the interests of the particular local industries, ie Iowa farmers, West Virginia coal miners, but for entire economic classes, ie New York Rich People and North Carolina Retirees. Then political debates would be less about opposing commercial interests and directly about class. I suppose it is that way now, but those economic tensions could be more obvious and competitive than they are already.

Any discussion about changing the electoral college or representation in Senate would also become strongly charged with these economic tension.

Sidenote — If we limit the voice of small population states in the electoral college and the Senate, it might make affairs more democratic, but it would also mean a massive disinvestment in the entire center of the country. There would be no federal projects for highway construction in Nebraska, say or farm subsidies in Iowa. There might be really cheap homes out there, but there would be no way to drive to those houses.

The growing affluence of big cities is going to have long term political implications.

Free College and Student Loan Forgiveness in the Democratic Debate

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., talk during in the first of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN Tuesday, July 30, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

Last night, education policy was front and center. But only higher education. Both Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have various proposals that aim at reducing the burden of college students and recent graduates. On the table are free college and student loan forgiveness.

Now, college tuition rates are insane. Some colleges are $73,000 for full cost of attendance. Yes, there are tuition discounts for merit and need, but lots of students pay full freight. That’s their sticker price. And some students do rack up significant amounts of debt, particularly if they tack on masters degrees, take a long time to graduate, and just make bad decisions.

You know that I’m highly sympathetic and have ranted about those issues for a while. But I’m worried about blank checks for college for a number of reasons.

It penalizes people who made hard choices to avoid debt: A school teacher who doesn’t take vacations but puts money in 529 accounts for her kids since birth. A college graduate who takes a boring job, rather than the dream job, to pay off the loans. A student who attends a community college for two years, before transferring to a four year college. The kid who goes to an in-state public college, solely because of cost.

It does nothing for students who can’t finish college, which may be even more of a serious crisis than debt.

It does nothing for students who need a degree from a trade school. Or don’t attend college at all, but still need training and employment support.

It does nothing to stop the cause of the problem – colleges. They are allowed to keep raising tuition, even at in-state public colleges, without any checks. Even, as they do in my state, waste buckets of cash on losing sports teams. And there is no pressure on them to improve quality. They keep replacing full time faculty with adjuncts.

There is no distinction between public and private colleges in their plans. A public college is a right, a private college is not.

As many have pointed out, it benefits the middle class without much trickle down help for working and lower class citizens.

Steve and I attended a grad school program that didn’t provide any funding for its grad students. Not even tuition. (Yes, majorly stupid, but let’s move on.)

I kept my loans manageable by working part-time, sometimes full time, at a policy institute at the same time as taking classes and writing a dissertation. I also taught a few classes. Steve taught a great deal, while doing his classwork. While students at other universities were building their CVs, we were ghost writing papers and teaching 50+ students at the Bronx Community College.

Even with all that, our combined student loan debt when we got married was over $75,000. We paid it off around my 50th birthday. We’re better off than most of our classmates, who were looking at bigger numbers. That debt was awful. It had a big impact on our careers and other life choices (children, homes). Grad school was a MAJOR financial train wreck. (I’m not even going to talk about the impact of beginning to save for retirement in your mid 30’s, rather than your 20’s.)

So, I am highly, HIGHLY sympathetic to anybody who wants to ease that burden on others. Yet, I’m not entirely happy with the current proposals, because they don’t check the colleges themselves, don’t distinguish between public and private colleges, penalize good behavior, and don’t help people who choose alternatives to college.