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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.

Kids
October 19, 2007 - 6:12am

What are the odds? There was actually a staggeringly brilliant piece in the New York Times yesterday! (The piece is here.) Gail Collins fired off several great ones, but my personal fave:

While it’s becoming virtually impossible to support a middle-class American family on one parent’s salary, we never hear political discussion about the repercussions. In a two-hour debate that focused on job-related issues, the Republican presidential candidates managed to mention the Smoot-Hawley tariff and trade relations with Peru but not a word about child care for America’s working parents. John McCain, who was on the receiving end of Matthews’s question, chose instead to focus on the fact that “50,000 Americans now make their living off eBay,” that the tax code is “eminently unfair” and that Congress wastes too much money studying of the DNA of Montana bears.

We live in a country where quality child care is controversial.

Yes, yes, yes.

My college is losing yet another wonderful woman employee this week. After trying valiantly to do the two-job-family thing for a while after her son was born, she finally threw in the towel and will stay home. It's a real loss for us. She's very good at what she does, and we'll have to bring in someone new who – even if good – brings a learning curve. In the meantime, her position will remain open a few months to save money. Some will do unpaid overwork to compensate, and some work will just slip through the cracks. This is how decisions get made.

The Wife and I did the two-job-family thing for several years, as my regular readers know. Even when she went to reduced hours, the day-to-day stress level was beyond belief. Life become little more than time management. And in some ways, we had it as good as it got: we could just afford a pretty good daycare center (with webcams), we worked (mostly) regular hours, and her parents were close by enough that they could be our emergency backup system when The Boy got sick and couldn't go in. Even with all that, it was just too hard.

I honestly don't know how single parents do it, especially with younger kids. I just don't know.

At my job interview in September, I suggested (based on some wonderfully helpful feedback from readers) that the Anne Arundel CC model of evening childcare might be a great way to help returning adult students succeed. My argument was that working parents would be much more able to commit to regular class attendance if they could drop off their kid(s) at a good childcare center on campus. Ideally, keep the cafeteria open late enough that they could grab something to eat before class, too. A parent who knows her kid is okay is able to focus on other things.

The students I spoke to loved the idea. The women I spoke to loved the idea.

The men did not love the idea. I didn't get the job.

I've worked at two colleges now that have evicted their onsite daycare centers. (My previous college did that the same month TB was born. I was fit to be tied.) Daycare centers tend to be money-losers, and enrollment-driven institutions don't like to use space that could have gone to tuition-paying students for just about anything else.

Trying to balance a single college's budget, I get that. I really do. I wrote that $250 check every week for TB's daycare (the going rate around here at the time), and it was painful. I did the math once; it worked out to $13,000 a year, and there was no financial aid. And the daycare workers weren't exactly getting rich.

Something is fundamentally wrong.

The debate over whether or not women should be allowed to work, or are capable of work, has been settled. The real cost of non-slum housing has soared. Yet the perfectly predictable consequence of the intersection of these objective trends – a need for good, safe, practical childcare – is still considered a private matter. It's as if every single family with young children is a fluke.

Have a learning disability? We have an office of trained professionals to help. Can't afford tuition? We'll work with you. Have a kid? Good luck with that.

Kids aren't just private lifestyle choices. They aren't in the same category as jet skis or stamp collections. But our institutions are set up as if choosing to have a kid is like choosing to buy a boat. (Some of the people who believe that manage simultaneously to believe that having a kid shouldn't be a matter of choice, and they don't see the contradiction.) Then we're surprised every single time we lose yet another wonderful woman employee (and yes, they're always women, and yes, that's another post altogether) to the otherwise-unmet needs of helpless young children.

Now our Congress has upheld the President's veto of health insurance for young children, paid for by cigarette taxes. I guess the kids are supposed to get insurance by getting jobs or something.

Kids shouldn't be afterthoughts, or hobbies, or career-killers. There's something fundamentally wrong when the choice boils down to neglecting your job or neglecting your kid. And it's nuts to pretend that each new instance of someone making that Hobson's choice is random, or just the way the cookie crumbles.

Meanwhile, we're down another good young employee. Kids today...

 

 

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