Elusive Equality

Back in my early 20s, after two years in the workforce and two years of gazing out the window at all the people jogging in the middle of the afternoon in Central Park, I decided that I wanted to go to grad school.

I decided on a terminal masters program at the University of Chicago in the social sciences. Looking back on it, it was a shockingly bad decision. It was a masters program, after all, no benefit in that. Masters programs are never funded, so I had to pay for the first trimester on my own before a dean saw my A’s and gave me money. And I had been doing really well in publishing. They were about to give me another promotion. Ugh.

Going to the University of Chicago may have been a terrible career move, but it was an amazing intellectual opportunity. I’ve never read so much, been so challenged, been so scared shitless of smart people. I mean it was an intense place. I knew people who totally lost their minds there. But it was also a brain-feast.

I took one class from an old German Jewish guy, who spent half the year in Israel, about revolutions. We compared the causes and outcomes revolutions in the US, France, China, and Russia.

I remember reading one paper that said that the French Revolution ended up with headless aristocrats and blood in the gutters, while the US was relatively less crazy, because Americans never had the goal of égalité. Americans wanted the equality of opportunity, but never thought that everybody should have the same piles of money. Equality of opportunity is a much more sober goal than perfect equality.

There was a lot of talk here and on twitter this week about whether schools can truly provide equality. (I can’t insert links right now, because I’m typing this up on an old iPad at my mom’s kitchen table as I wait for Ian to get out of his science exam.) On their own, schools can’t do much to move the needle on inequality, which shouldn’t be a huge shocker.

My comment section has had a fascinating discussion about inequality this week. Everybody seems to agree that inequality has risen. Causes discussed include tax changes, de-unionization, declining wages for certain jobs, and regional abandonment. (What did I miss?) Check it out.

So, how nihilistic should we be about schools? Can schools alone make up for all those changes in society and make things more equal? Can they at least create conditions for the equality of opportunity, so the most talented, hardworking people can rise to the top? Some schools do. I’ve seen it. But these are amazing, remarkable places led by charismatic crazy people who work like missionaries to change the work.

Ideally, I would like everyone, who is interested in a brain-feast like I got at the University of Chicago, to get it. It was transformative for me. While my parents didn’t pay for the program or help me in any way get in, they did all the groundwork from ages 0-18, so I that as a young adult, I could apply, figure out costs, and succeed.

And this is why there will never be true equality or even equality of opportunity. You can’t force families to be equal. And with such inequality baked into society, children are already vastly unequal before they even get to kindergarten. Schools can’t fix that.

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This weekend at the Jersey shore by Ian N.

I have 3-1/2 articles in various stages of disrepair. I’m inching them towards completion, but right now, the parts are scattered hither and yon. The engine on one article needs a complete reconstruction.

Thursday, Ian starts his Finals Week. For you and him, that means tests. For me, that means half days of school, a lot of driving, and no more full days of uninterrupted work until September.

So, I’m in crunch mode trying to finish off some articles. Just some links tonight:

Nick Hanauer: “What I’ve realized, decades late, is that educationism is tragically misguided. American workers are struggling in large part because they are underpaid—and they are underpaid because 40 years of trickle-down policies have rigged the economy in favor of wealthy people like me.”

After reading Dreyer’s English for an hour at the Jersey shore this weekend, Laura spotted this.

A fascinating article about paint. Really! I followed Farrow and Ball on Instagram after reading the article, and changed my mind about painting the bedroom white.

I’m reading Dreyer’s English as I tinker with the draft that furthest along. It’s really a fabulous read. When one is writing, one should always be reading an excellent book. I ape good writing the same way as I lapse into a Southern accent when I talk with my friend from Alabama.

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I have a handful of annoying tasks to do this afternoon, so no long post today.

How do you guys like the new longer, regular posts? Is it working? I’m thinking through a book project by free writing on the blog. I hope I’m not boring.

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This is hands down the best profile of Cory Booker yet. And it’s a sad tale.

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I first met my best friends over thirty years ago at our first jobs after college. We were all editorial assistants on the 16th floor of Simon and Schuster at the Gulf and Western Building (now Trump Tower) in Columbus Circle. We’ve gone our own ways, but we talk on the phone weekly and get together every other month.

Typically, we aimlessly roam the streets of Manhattan window shopping and talking for two hours. Then we find a pub to drink and eat before getting on public transportation home. This Saturday, we’re going to start here and then explore that lower tip of the island. Check out the website for a little video about the downtown experience. Steve works in that building several floors up.

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I really love this video that shows psychology students overcoming their prejudices over autistic people. They learn that people might be listening to them, even though they don’t look like they are listening.

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Enjoy the weekend folks. Tonight at 11D, we have a high school percussion performance with Ian’s drum group. Tomorrow, I have run club and then friend/roaming/drinking club. Sunday, we have an extended family gathering for a niece’s high school graduation. At some point, Steve and I will find a moment to recognize our 22th anniversary.

Reinventions

A friend on Facebook wrote a post today saying that she had made a big decision. Her son (with autism) just successfully finished a full year of college. Without the stress that he might be returned home, she decided to get a full time job, jumpstarting an old career in film editing. She was no longer needed at home, and the writing jobs that had kept her mind going while managing her families needs now felt lonely. At age 50, she was starting a new life.

Many of my friends are at that stage of life. It’s menopause and a new career all together in one package. Some complain about agism and the barriers to reentry. But a surprising number are making it work. The job situation is pretty good right now, at least for people with BAs and on the coasts.

I’m sure I’ve written about this before, because it’s such a big theme in daily conversations with neighbors and friends, so I’m sorry to bore you all again, but I can’t help it. I love reinventions. I love that older women aren’t settling for knitting circles and volunteer activities that typically occupied the post-child years. I’m seeing new opportunities for myself in the next year or two.

My dad reinvented himself at 65. He retired from college teaching, something he had done his whole life, to take a job running a food pantry. He’s in his early 80s and he’s had to learn a whole new job set. He applies for grants plugging spreadsheets into automated government forms. He drives a van around New Jersey picking up frozen turkeys at Thanksgiving. A Republican since the Reagan years, he’s helping undocumented workers about food preparation and driving home single moms with bags of groceries, getting a first hand view of people that his political party disdains. It’s a full time job, even without a paycheck, and it’s kept him younger than his peers who do nothing.

If you could reinvent yourself today, what would you do?

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.

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Education links: My education graph of the day is the percent of 9th graders in particular states that graduate high school in four years, go immediately to college, and then graduate from that college within six years. The WSJ reports that the College Board is compiling an “adversary score” that will accompany SAT scores, so kids will get two numbers – one will be their regular SAT score and another one that will measure how disadvantaged they are.

There’s a whole genre of literature aimed at rebutting the conclusions of Hillbilly Elegy.

Maybe when we’re in Scotland this summer, we should check out Prince Charles’s new bed and breakfast.

The new TWA hotel at JFK looks amazing!

Conference Culture

Last Sunday, I took a train down to Baltimore for a writer conference. I was already super sick with a head cold, but I thought that with a solid night of sedation with NyQuil, I would be functional for the first panel on Monday morning. I ordered soup for room service that night and downloaded the HBO app on my iPad, so I could watch Game of Thrones in bed.

Soup and drugs weren’t enough. I was pretty much sick the whole week and in danger of public fainting. Luckily, I was staying the same hotel as the conference, so I would take frequent naps in between conferencing. I’m sure I infected half of the writerly community in the country. Oh, well.

This conference was perfectly lovely. Nice people. Mostly women. Lots of POC. It was very relaxed. It was for that niche area of writing that I do, so it was very small.

I’ve been going to conferences since my first job in the late 1980s, when I was a computer book editor at Simon and Schuster. My boss used to put me and the other editorial assistant — a va-va-voom blond with a trust fund — on display at our booth at trade shows to lure the big named computer geeks into writing books for us. We all got drunk at the blackjack table in Vegas and were complete idiots.

Later, I went to a couple decades of academic conferences. Back in the early nineties, the pol sci conferences were a hundred percent old white dudes in tweed jackets, a handful of the up-coming young white dudes in khaki’s talking about regression charts, and me who showed up wearing ripped jeans and combat boots. The next time, I dressed better, but I was always an outsider at those conferences.

When I started leaving academia, I went to some writer and blogging conferences. It was a huge shock, after all the years of stuffy academic conferences. At my first blogging conference, there was a booth where you could take a selfie with Pioneer Woman in front of a butter display. Down the aisle, the Trojan booth caused a stampede when it handed out free dildos and lube.

I’ve always wanted to write an article called, “A Dozen Lanyards,” where I would attend and write about twelve of the wackiest conferences in the country. I mean all conferences are weird to a certain extent. There’s the Queen Bees who are happy to be sitting at the popular table and the insider/niche/nobody-cares-outside-that-conference-room jargon and gossip. There’s the stale air and insulation of the environment. The bad food and the crappy book bags. The bad social skills and gaffs. The billions of dollars generated for the hotel industry.

But, right now, I’m just happy to be home.