Links: Today’s Hot Topics SL 764

This president has done a lot of crappy stuff over the past two years, but I think dooming the Kurds to Turkish genocide should top that list.

What do we think about the Matt Lauer story? Who do you believe? He said. He/she said.

Interesting article about Cory Booker. It’s more positive than the title implies. It’s hard to get attention, when the gatekeepers aren’t impressed. Right now, I think this fight is Warren’s to lose.

AOC’s haircut. Please. The amount that she spent on her haircut is totally average for color treatments. As we talked about last week, these expectations of self-maintenance is commonplace.

One of my favorite articles that I wrote for The Atlantic was about the demise of Sweet Briar college, which ended up rebooting itself with massive donations from its Southern belle alumni. Since writing that article, dozens of colleges have closed. Tiny SLACs are looking for ways to keep their doors open.


The Apple Pilgrimage

On Sunday, we tromped up to Dr. Davies farm for apple picking. We’ve gone up there every year since Jonah was in pre-school about 16 years ago. We munch on Macintosh, Red Delicious, and Romes right from the tree, and then pack up a huge sack with more. Then we live on apple sauce for months. It’s tradition. And even though our kids are big, we still like to go every year to tip our hat to fall and to remember past trips when the kids were little.

Higher Ed’s Really Bad Year

Back in 2003, I wrote a blog post on the original Apartment 11D blog about higher ed. I predicted that a lot of mid-level colleges would start closing, that prices were too high, and that the current system was going to increasingly serve the rich.


Between the college cheating scandal, which pretty showed everyone that the admissions system is rigged, and now the slowly unraveling Epstein scandal, which shows how researchers are willing to dance with perverts for money, people are getting cynical.

There are several good new books about higher education, including Paul Tough’s The Years That Matter Most: How College Makes Us or Breaks Us. The Hechinger Report has a good review. The Atlantic has an excerpt, but I can’t read it behind the paywall.

I’m pressed for time this afternoon, but I just want to point you all to one lovely report out of Georgetown. On page 4, I stole this chart.

People who go to a community college and get an AA degree in a STEM field earn more after graduation, than people who graduate from a four-year college with a BAs. (And everyone keeps telling me about the bad outcomes for those Psychology majors.) Make good choices, people!

Next Steps

Privilege comes in many different forms. The most obvious forms of privilege — income, race, and gender — are frequent topics of conversation. Other forms of privilege – intact families, educated parents, extended families, natural talents — are acknowledged, but are usually mentioned more frequently by conservative commentators and sociologists. In my world, there’s a third type of privilege that looms large. It’s the privilege of having a typical brain.

As a parent of a kid with high functioning autism, I’m in a grey area. Many of my friends have children with higher levels of disfunction than my kid. When we meet up for drinks, they tell me their stories of paperwork hell, of kids whose obsessions take their families to the brink of sanity, of their hopes that their children can one day work in a supermarket. I keep my mouth shut and listen. They don’t want to hear that my kid is taking the PSATs next month and is marching with the band.

If I go out with friends with typical kids and they tell me about their teenagers who pass their drivers’ test and shop for prom dresses, I keep my mouth shut and listen. They don’t want to hear that my kid won’t be able to get a drivers license, not because he couldn’t operate the car, but because it takes social skills to navigate a four-way stop sign.

I tend to not share too much about my kid with other parents, because he is privileged compared to some and less privileged compared to others. But since this is my blog, I’m going to spew here.

Ian’s going to graduate from high school in less than two years and I don’t have a clear plan about what to do with him. While it is tempting to see if I could get him into an elite, four-year college, I think it’s not the right path for him. He would do fantastic in certain classes, but be at sea in a dorm and would struggle with gen ed requirements.

High schools are required to educate kids until they are 21, but those programs are aimed at kids who are much more disabled. Those programs focus on teaching kids how to work manual labor jobs and how to be independent. He would be in classes with kids who have much lower IQs and would need extensive help just learning self-help tasks like making a sandwich. Ian is more independent than my typical college kid.

I spent hours researching colleges for autistic kids last week, but those programs are very expensive. I also don’t think he needs that type of education. He really just needs a piece of paper that says he can program computers and then be put in front of a computer for a job. He can program for 12 hours a day and never get tired. He’s that weird prodigy that you read about from time to time.

I went back and forth for days last week. Should he go to an 18-21 program, which would be free and would teach him basic job skills that any kid needs? Lots of typical kids have summer jobs in a supermarket, so it wouldn’t hurt him to learn how to bag groceries. But he’ll get bored really quickly.

Should I send him to a community college, where aside from the computer classes, he would be totally isolated and wouldn’t get support for his weaknesses? That unstructured environment would be stressful for him. In some ways, he’s a 12-year old, who needs grown-up support.

After going back and forth for days, I decided that instead of thinking about this decision as “an either/or,” I would think of this as an “and.” He can do both. From 9-3, he can learn to bag groceries, and from 3-9, he can go to the community college and learn C++ and Java. Fingers crossed.

My experiences with Ian have given me a taste of the experiences of people and families who have less privilege than ours. Ian will be in classes with kids who have more financial struggles. I’m worried about his ability to have a job that will pay his rent. I have a lot of other worries, too, but my concerns about the job prospects for people without a BA put us in the same boat as kids from poorer backgrounds.

I have no road map. I know about four-year colleges and careers. I can help my older son through that terrain. I don’t know much about alternatives. That’s partially why I’ve been writing about that topic a lot in the past year. I’m desperate for alternatives.

This experience also has pushed me way to the left on social issues in recent years. We need a social safety net for people who don’t have the privileges that take them to college and middle class jobs. Even if things work out okay for my kid, I know too many families who are struggling.

SL 762

David Brooks’ column about evil twitter commenters is trending on Twitter. Based on the chatter, I’m guessing that a lot of people have never read Notes From the Underground.

I’m really into stacking lots of small studs on my ears lately. It feels very 1980s.

“Just A Construction Guy” on Instagram is a fake? OMG.

Books on the shelf: How to Be A Family by Dan Kois from Slate looks interesting. Next Year in Havana was a nice summer book. I should have been tackling a new project this morning, but work just isn’t happening today. Some days are like that. I gave up at some point and read this. Then I went for a two mile walk, while chatting with my BFF on the cellphone. And now, I need to get my white streaks covered up, a haircut, and a blowout. Because it’s Friday, and we’re going out later.

Hope y’all have a good weekend. I’ve got a trip to Botanical Gardens on the calendar on Sunday. Saturday afternoon, I’ll be doing all the work that I didn’t do today.

The White Collar Blues

When the employment-robot-futurist-dystopian people start their rants about the modern economy, they usually point to traditional blue collar jobs that are falling behind. Farmers are suicidal. Desperate coal miners vote for Trump. There are sobs for the steel workers, the automakers, and electricians.

Actually, there’s a huge need for talent blue collar workers. And I’ve been hearing more and more middle class parents who are willing to explore those options for their kids. It’s probably because they all know people with white collar jobs who are having a hard time making today.

At least once a week, there’s a new story about a desperate adjunct. The Wall Street Journal has a book review today about a new book, The Adjunct Underclass. And the New Republic has a fabulous article about the adjunct-equivalent in journalism, the freelance writer.

What do adjuncts and freelance writers have in common? Well, they are highly skilled jobs that require major education and investments of time to do well. They pay really poorly. They are high status and not well understood. They are white collar jobs. And I’ve done/do both. Ha!

Those jobs take advantage of primary parents who need 1/2 jobs and of highly optimistic and stubborn individuals who keep hoping and hoping that things will pan out. They never do.

If we want to teach our kids employment skills that they’ll need today, flexibility is probably important. Not because robots are stealing jobs, but because other forces at work that are making intellectual work irrelevant. They should know that paying dues, aka doing low paid, grunt work, is fine for a very, very short period of time. After that, if there isn’t respect and proper paycheck on the table, they should walk away.

About twenty years ago, Steve sent out job applications for assistant European History professorships around the country. When the colleges bothered to reply, they told him that he was one of hundreds of applicants. So, he got a temp job on Wall Street as an administrative assistant and then stayed.

It was the smartest thing, we did. He could have been like my friends, tying together one crappy job after another, until it was too hard to do something else. And Steve was a champ for walking away from a vocation to simply do a job.

I think high schools and colleges should be straight up with students about where they can find work after graduation. They should be some guidance about the cheapest and fastest education path to those jobs. Of course, there are no guarantees, but every student in a journalism program today should read that New Republic article. Every student entering a graduate program in English literature should be presented with the numbers and that adjunct article. There should be complete transparency.

We’ve cracked down on shady for-profit colleges for hiding employment figures. I think every educational institution should be held equally accountable.

UPDATE: I should say that I get paid a lot more per article than the New Republic guy.