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  • Confessions of a Community College Dean

    In which a veteran of cultural studies seminars in the 1990s moves into academic administration and finds himself a married suburban father of two. Foucault, plus lawn care.

Friday Fragments
October 11, 2012 - 8:55pm

- With much of selective higher ed focused on the Supreme Court and its impending declaration on affirmative action in admissions, I’m grateful again to be at a community college.  Here, affirmative action in admissions is a non-issue; we take all comers.  We have our own legal and political challenges, heaven knows, but not that one.  

- The Girl: “Why do some people “reckon” when they believe?”  I didn’t have an answer for that.

- The company that owns Red Lobster and the Olive Garden is reducing the hours of its part-time employees to avoid responsibility for health insurance under Obamacare.  Some folks on the interwebs are pronouncing themselves shocked, and others are declaring a failure of Obamacare.  It’s neither shocking nor a sign of failure; it’s perfectly predictable self-interest.  

As long as health care is tied to employment, and the employment in question has a clear cutoff in terms of hours, employers will skirt that line to avoid paying.  Those who don’t will fall behind those who do.  In higher ed, the explosion of adjunct faculty positions was based on the same idea.  But it isn’t confined to adjuncts; the same principle applies to part-time staff below a certain threshold of hours.  In the corporate world, the explosion of “temps” and unpaid interns reflects the same premise.

Go ahead and vilify the Olive Garden if it makes you feel better.  But it’s only playing by the rules.  If you want real change, change the rules.  Decouple health care from employment.  Make it a basic citizenship right, paid for collectively and controlled democratically.  And let people who would really prefer part-time work take it, without having to worry about what happens when they get sick.

- This week, we had the third catastrophic hard drive failure in a year.  (It’s the fourth laptop disaster; the other one was a cracked screen.)  The pattern seems to be that once the kids get access to a laptop, the hard drive’s days are numbered.  

The Wife has pronounced herself sick of technology, but she still needs access to email and Facebook, and I’ve still got obligations of my own.  I’m considering something with a solid state drive, on the theory that it would be sturdier, but I’m having a hard time finding anything other than tablets -- which I’m not sure would work well for our purposes -- or chromebooks, which I think of as tablets with keyboards.  

Is there a hard drive gremlin on the loose?  Is there a kid-proof laptop out there?  Are solid state drives actually sturdier?  Would a tablet actually work for, say, uploading photos to Picasa?  I’m stumped.  All I know for certain is that I’m done with Toshiba.

- I haven’t been able to shake this story all week.  Apparently, the number of words to which children are exposed before age six is the single strongest predictor of later academic success.  Kids with educated parents who spend time with them accrue such a powerful advantage over other kids that the deck is stacked by the time they get to first grade.

(As parents, we stacked the deck early; we have a picture of me reading The Runaway Bunny to The Boy in the hospital, the day after he was born.  By age two, he was such a fan of books that we had to hide them under the sofa just to get him to do anything else.)

It seems like the painfully obvious solution to the class gap is to pay preschool and early childhood teachers well enough to attract professionals to the job.  As long as daycare workers are paid something close to the minimum wage, kids who don’t get exposure to educated language at home won’t get it in class, either.  

Working in higher ed, though, the implications seem defeatist.  We get students long beyond the early childhood years.  I have to believe that 18 year olds -- and 38 year olds, for that matter -- are still reachable.  If I didn’t, I’d have to find another line of work.

 

 

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