How Conservatives View Higher Ed (Just the Links for now)

Pew came out with a new study a couple of days ago about partisan views of higher ed. They found that Republicans increasingly have a negative view of higher education.

A majority of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (58%) now say that colleges and universities have a negative effect on the country, up from 45% last year. By contrast, most Democrats and Democratic leaners (72%) say colleges and universities have a positive effect, which is little changed from recent years.

I’ve got parenting things to do this morning, so for the moment I’m simply give you some links:

Dan Drezner

Megan McArdle

Controversy can ruin a college. Mizzou has had a huge drop in enrollment.

Related: Google is paying professors for research that benefits Google.

Summers With Disabilities

A couple of years ago, I wrote an article for the Atlantic about how long summer breaks from school are brutal on parents who work, on parents who can’t afford camps, and on working class and poor kids whose academics skills suffer. I left out a major group in that article. Summer breaks are brutal on parents like me, who have a kid with special needs.

If your child has special needs, the child might qualify for something called an Extended School Year (ESY) through the school, which is intended to prevent academic regression. The school district makes it extremely clear that the purpose of an ESY is not to teach the kid anything new – God forbid. No, all that happens during this summer program is that school maintain basic reading and math skills, so the kids aren’t starting from square one in September.

And, as your case manager will tell you, an ESY is not camp, so there will be no fun, exercise, or exposure to other children. It’s a room, a teacher, some worksheets and that’s it. For four weeks out of the eleven weeks of summer break. Some schools provide a full day of ESY for July. Ian is getting 2-1/2 hours for 20 days. And, I’m just finding out that he’s been grouped in with the kids in the lower functioning life skills class, so he’s really going to get nothing out of it.

Because 2-1/2 hours per day of activity is not enough for any kid, I spent April scrambling to find other programs and activities for him. Ian doesn’t have any friends, so if I don’t have him in activities, he’ll be basically mute by the time we go back to school in September.

In the end, I patched together about seven or eight different smaller activities for the summer. I’m acting as the Uber driver taking him from thing to thing. We have a color coded schedule on the fridge. Today, he has four different activities – ESY, swim lessons, speech class, and marching band practice.

The tricky thing is finding the right activities for Ian. He doesn’t fit into any category neatly; sometimes he needs help and sometimes he doesn’t. For example, last week, I put him in a half day Maker Space camp for typical kids. Maker Spaces are basically robotics and art classes, which is something that Ian is really, really good at. Since the camp was offered through the school district, I got them to pay for aide to shadow him around to make sure that he wasn’t being too weird or to help him with verbal instructions. Turns out that he didn’t need the aide, because he is even better at computers than I realized. He finished all the programming fifteen minutes faster than the other kids.

The Maker Space camp was a major win, but the afternoon swim class isn’t. The town swim club is one of the murky, vintage ponds. They have extremely strict rules about swimming in the deep end, because kids have drowned in there. Even though Ian is a strong swimmer, he doesn’t know how to do the alternate breathing trick, which is a requirement to pass the swim test. The town pool offers swim classes for teenagers who haven’t yet passed the deep water swim test. When I read the description in the pool bulletin, I thought that “teenager who can’t pass the swim test” was code for “skinny teenagers with Aspergers.” Turns out it was code for “immigrant teenage girls who have never put their feet in the water before.”

*** WARNING. DISCUSSION OF TEENAGE BOYS AND PUBERTY ***

So, I’m sitting at the side of the pool watching Ian among the girls in bikinis, who can’t float on their backs, I’m freaking out for two reasons.

First, Ian is teenage awkwardness in swim trunks. His skin glows so white that it is almost blue. When the teacher had him practice stretching out his arms over his head for the proper crawl stroke, I could see each one of his ribs. There is an archipelago of zits over his shoulders. He’s a mess. Now, Ian has always been a beautiful kid, which has always meant that teachers and therapists gave him extra love and attention. His looks were always a major high card in his hand. We need to clean that kid up.

The second issue is that Ian’s boy part has been doing what teenage boy parts do — it springs up at all sorts of random times. Not being in possession of one of those parts, I’m not really well versed on how one controls the up and down motion of said part. I’ve heard tale of dead kittens and multiplication tables. Because Steve’s at work all the time, it has become my job to point out that the part isn’t where it should be and that it is not socially acceptable to walk into the swim club with one’s thing pointed in that direction. Typical kids, like Jonah, seem to figure all this out on their own, but kids who aren’t well connected with their bodies and have poor social skills need a lot of direct instruction on these matters.

So, I’m watching Ian surrounded by a gaggle of non-floating teenage girls in bikinis worrying that something really bad is going to happen. It didn’t. I actually think for Ian that the up and down motion has nothing to do with girls. It happens when he’s excited about other things, like music, numbers, or SpongeBob videos on YouTube.

Sometimes Ian can manage the typical world really well; other times there are bumps. He also had a rough time this week with managing the heavy drum sets in matching band and switching from the math program in Kumon to their reading program. But the bumps are small enough to mean that we have to keep muscling through the activity. But it also means that I have to be really on top of things.

I’m not entirely sure that I’m going to survive the next ten weeks.

 

Suburban Elegy

Yesterday afternoon was my first block of free time in weeks, so I brushed off the dust of Hillbilly Elegy, which has been sitting in my pile of books-that-should-be-read for months. I read it in one big gulp; it was that good. As soon as Jonah wakes up, I’m going to demand that he reads it.

The memoir is about one kid who managed to escape the culture of poverty thanks to luck, the Marines, and his Mamaw, who saved him from his own bad decisions and his mom’s bad decisions. He talks about the positive aspects of the Appalachian, Scot-Irish culture – loyal, family oriented – as well as the bat-shit crazy parts of the lifestyle, which has resulted in generations of poverty and misery.

I read the book from the comfort of our Crate and Barrel armchair that swivels, so I can put my feet up on the large picture window. I glanced up from the book from time to time to watch the women speed walking in their $100 running pants and the teenagers zooming by in their graduation-gift Cameros. It’s a world apart from the J.D. Vance’s Middletown, Ohio.

Yet, it’s not.

People fuck up here, too. In between the speed walking and the calorie counting on iPhone apps, there is a whole lot of wine drinking, which is somehow a more socially acceptable form of addiction than weed. There are teenagers who screw up in exactly the same ways as teenagers in every other community across the country. There are dubious debts, like second mortgages to pay for private colleges that aren’t worth the $300,000 price tag.

And while our community doesn’t have the divorce rates and rotating boyfriends that plague other parts of the country, we’re the only family that I know that actually eats dinner together every night. Kids spend long periods of time by themselves or with nannies that have no authority to reel them in. Kids work very hard at times, especially in the highly regimented sports programs and tutoring worlds, but other times, they are supremely lazy. They have no expectations for home chores or sibling babysitting. Even though they all go to college, the parents and consultants micomanage the process for them.

There have been lots of recent studies (too lazy to find the link right now) that show that the wealthier families are spending more on educational programs for their children than ever before. And that’s all true. But in between those scheduled activities, there is a parenting vacuum. Parents set up the activities and even drive them from place to place, but don’t talk with their kids or guide them or yell at them when they screw up.

My parents, who were the first generation college attenders and who came from very rough family lives themselves, are appauled at the bad habits that they see around them in their own UMC town and in ours. Entitlement is its own evil culture. Wealth can protect people from bad habits for a short time, but it’s not fool proof.

Inequities

We’re coming to the tail end of the end of year festivities for the kids. I have a few more days of work. The house needs massive cleaning before the in-laws visit. I have to map out a plan for food on Saturday. I need to make sure that Jonah has a clean white shirt for his graduation to go with his white tux jacket.

The boys here all graduate wearing white tux jackets and black bow ties; the girls are in white formal dresses. It’s a tradition that dates back to the 30’s. The kids all look marvelous and sophisticated for their big day, like they are ready for cocktails at a mansion on the Hamptons.

After the photos with parents, the kids are whisked away to dinner and dancing. Later, they are locked away for the night in the local middle school, which has been transformed into a magical palace by parents who have spent a year constructing sets based on a theme of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. One parent constructed a twelve-foot portrait of Gene Wilder out of jelly beans and post it notes. After the night of PG fun, the kids run over to the town pool and skinny dip.

The price tag for that one night of fun? $160,000.

It’s a nice night for the kids, but that’s a lot of money. And the time that went into constructing these sets could have been spent in a much more productive way. Right here in the same town, there are hundreds of special ed kids who could some reading tutoring. Twenty minutes from here, there are kids in Newark who need a whole lot of help.

Jonah is going off to college with private school sophistication. He and his classmates look years older than his peers in other towns. They hold themselves straight. They have no body fat or zits. They look adults in the eye and ask the right questions. They feel comfortable in a tux. Jonah knows how to order food in fancy restaurants and joins his friends at their million dollar shore houses. He is utterly comfortable in those settings. Those skills will serve him well in the future, so, as a mom, I’m happy. But when I put on my social justice hat, I feel ill.

This is privilege. It’s not so much the education. Jonah’s education has been hit or miss. Jonah’s math teacher isn’t getting tenure, so she stopped working back in January. She gave all the kids 100s on their finals, which they didn’t take. Tutors work behind the scenes teaching the kids their math facts and helping them cram history facts to pass the AP exams. So the kids here end up with a better education than kids in other public schools, but it’s not solely because of the quality of the schools. What they really gain from this town and living in this rich people’s bubble are soft skills that later translate into posh jobs in the city.

These kids buy themselves out of the guilt by volunteering strategically and with well constructed essays for their Freshman lit classes. But it’s not enough.

Booze

There’s a tradition in this area of Jersey that after the prom, the kids go down to the shore for the weekend. The parents rent the house for the kids, hire a bus to get them there, and fill the house with food and refreshments. No adults are in the house. Recipe for disaster? Sometimes.

We went to a meeting of the parents in Jonah’s group to discuss the logistics of this enterprise last night. Who should stock the fridge with food? Which parents would rent a hotel room nearby to check on them periodically throughout the weekend to make sure that nobody has passed out in a pool of their own vomit? How much should we chip in for a common fund for pizza delivery?

Also on the agenda was the issue of whether or not we should provide them with beer and wine spritzers.

With the story of the dead frat boy from Penn State on all of our minds, we hashed things out. Should we buy them beer? Bud Light, after all, is better than vodka. It reduces the risk of them getting caught for buying stuff on their own. But the risk of a lawsuit if something goes terribly wrong was on everyone’s mind. The risk might be small, even arguably very small since all our kids are perfect (not), nobody wants to contemplate losing their business or their house. Would the 18-year olds in the house be liable if the 17-year olds does something stupid?

I think that everyone, including us, has no problem with a seventeen or eighteen year old having a Corona Light at home on a Saturday night. If the kid can enlist and die in a war in Syria, then he/she should be able to have a Corona Light. But the laws are the laws. And there was little confidence that the kids will be slowly sipping their beers at the shore house. So, no beer.

Ugh. It’s all so messy. The kids are up in arms and are battling us over this issue.