Preserving Privilege

According to the WaPo, several private schools in the D.C. area, including Sidwell Friends, are scrapping Advanced Placement (AP) classes.

The schools issued a statement explaining:

“Collectively, we believe a curriculum oriented toward collaborative, experiential and interdisciplinary learning will not only better prepare our students for college and their professional futures, but also result in more engaging programs for both students and faculty,” the schools said. “We expect this approach will appeal to students’ innate curiosity, increase their motivation and fuel their love of learning.”

There’s little educational value in the Advanced Placement program. It’s primary purpose is to give privileged kids a leg up on their peers.

The scrapping of AP classes is a smart move, but lets not kids ourselves, Sidwell Friends and company made this move not just to appeal to students’ innate curiosity, increase their motivation, and fuel their love of learning. No doubt they expect the new and improved curricula to do an even better job of preserving their students’ privilege. That’s the lifeblood of those schools.

The Art of Living

The hippy title of my first year writing seminar at Pacific Lutheran University.

I just read my 32 students’ initial essays in which they summarize what they think they know about the theme and then describe their writing process, strengths, and weaknesses.

Most of them hope the class and I will help them figure out what to study and do upon graduating. That’s not terribly realistic, but I suspect they will spend more time thinking and writing about how they want to live their lives during our seminar than throughout kindergarten through twelfth grade combined.

First Born, starting her last year in college, is also thinking with more urgency about what to do for work after graduating. She’s a religion major without any interest in seminary or much in teaching. Everyone tells me she’ll land on her feet and I think they’re right.

The GalPal and I took her out for pizza recently in her Minnesota college town where she spent the summer working full-time in the college’s library. I was happy she got the library gig because given her passion for books, I’ve thought she might end up a librarian. Over pizza she explained that she liked her job, but doesn’t want to be a librarian, because “It’s not creative enough.”

I was impressed with her self understanding. She doesn’t know what jobs to apply for yet, but she has a pretty good feel for what type of work she’d most enjoy—creative work that is sometimes team-based, sometimes solo.

Recently it was reported that 70% of US workers “are not particularly excited” about their jobs or “are actively disengaged” and “roam the halls spreading discontent”. If we use world history as our frame of reference, I’m guessing that number would be well north of 90%. Most of the world’s people most of the time do monotonous work to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves.

So when my students write that they want to enjoy their work and First Born says she wants creative work, they’re planting a distinct, 21st century, privileged stake in the ground. Normally, the concept of “privilege” has negative connections since it’s associated with preferential treatment and a sense of entitlement; however, in the case of my students and First Born, their preference for meaningful work is undeniably positive.

They want to earn enough money “not to have to worry about it all the time,” but beyond that, they want to be like me and 30% of US citizens for whom work is creative, engaging, and meaningful. Every young person should embrace that form of privilege.

I Recommend

• My new personal favorite money blog—Mr. Money Mustache. MMM started in April 2011 and he’s killing it. The DIY (Do It Yourself) Colorado bicycle riding blogger writes well and employs a nice mix of confidence, humor, disgust at the status quo, and personal finance insight. His alternative approach to life is resonating with lots of readers. Recently he’s added case studies based upon readers’ lives. Check this recent one out. Favorite excerpt, “Every young adult should be able to comfortably sleep on somebody’s floor, drive an old manual-transmission car with rust holes to a concert, and eat leftover pizza for breakfast. Without complaining.”

• Groovy post by The Minimalist Mom.

• Provocative and timely essay on Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and what the end of football might look like.

• “Glee is an Immoral Television Show and It’s Time to Stop Watching It.” Trenchant critique by a young, smart, prolific blogger.

• Errol Morris documentary film, Tabloid, about Joyce McKinney, an unstable woman with a criminal disposition. Sex, religion, crime, all mixed together. The one Netflix viewer who wrote, ” She does not need a movie made about her. She needs some real help” is correct. On the other hand, deviance is often interesting because it provides contrast. See Grizzly Man and Take Shelter. I found the most fascinating character to be a minor one, a British tabloid journalist whose total lack of conscience was harrowing.

• Badass video—6 minutes.

The Subtleties of Privilege

I’ve been teaching first year college writing seminars since my oldest daughter was knee high. Now that she’s a first year college student herself I sporadically think about her when interacting with my students. Sometimes I imagine her sitting around our seminar table. What kind of discussant would she be? Would she tune in or go through the motions? Be bold enough to come to office hours? Appreciate my killer sense of humor? How would her writing compare to theirs?

Most recently I’ve been thinking about how her college experience compares to theirs. Her family is flawed, but more stable and secure than average. As a result, her life is more simple than some of my students’ lives, one who has missed a few classes as a result of “family business emergencies” and another who disappeared for a week and a half because of serious domestic problems. She doesn’t know it, but her comparatively uncluttered mind is a subtle, but significant form of privilege. When it comes to her homebase, she doesn’t have to worry about substance abuse, abusive behavior, violence, estrangement, or divorce. Consequently, in class, at swim practice, hanging with friends late at night, she has no excuse not to be fully in the moment.

When it comes to her family, my guess is that most of the time her orientation is “out of sight, out of mind”. We’re social media luddites meaning we don’t exchange a constant stream of text-messages. Alright I confess, we don’t exchange texts at all. However, we do enjoy Sunday night skyping. Last Sunday though, she texted younger sissy and said she was hosting a prospective student so now we’ve gone a week and half with zero contact. Not complaining, just illustrating how relaxed she is about her distant family’s well-being.

Maybe the most challenging aspect of parenting is striking the best balance between providing your children a stable and secure foundation while simultaneously giving them increasingly challenging responsibilities that prepare them for independence and adulthood. Provide the former without the later and you run the risk of children developing a debilitating sense of entitlement. Provide the later without the former and odds are the increasingly challenging responsibilities will prove overwhelming.

I worry that some of my students may not persist to graduation because their chaotic family lives will prevent them from attending class regularly and they may not roll up their sleeves and strengthen their basic skills enough to earn passing grades in increasingly difficult courses.

And I worry my daughter may not fully realize the extent of her privilege.