• 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.

Title

Friday Fragments

Flexible scheduling; an important book; FAFSA.

October 12, 2018
 
 

Congratulations to York County Community College, in Maine, for its notable success in running seven-week classes. Students and communities need us to be willing to innovate.

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I was happy to see Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh, get nominated for a National Book Award.  

It’s an autobiography that’s also an ethnography and a political argument, but what you really come away with is a sense of Smarsh’s deep love for her family. Everybody is flawed, some in pretty terrible ways, but the palpable sense of connection among them endures anyway.

I listened to the audiobook, which had the added bonus of hearing Smarsh’s accent in action. (She pronounces “cement” with the emphasis on the first syllable, and a long e. “SEE-ment.” I had to smile in recognition.)  She isn’t shy about her politics, but I wouldn’t call it primarily a political book. It’s more about the ways that people in a largely ignored or forgotten part of the country make sense of their lives when nobody’s looking.

Which, when you come right down to it, is what politics is supposed to be about. How do we, collectively, make sense of our lives together? Who gets to be in the “we?”  

As someone who grew up in flyover territory, in a town that nearly everybody with some sort of marketable talent escaped at the end of high school, the dilemma of isolation as the price of escape rang true.  But true to her roots, Smarsh conveys that isolation with a minimum of drama. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

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The Boy had his first encounter with FAFSA this week.

It’s a real pain.

Here’s an example: “Have you lived in New Jersey for five years or more?”

Well, yes and no. He lived there from birth to age seven, then moved back at fourteen.  So if the question means “consecutively,” then yes: he was there for his first seven. If it means “cumulatively,” then yes: he’s at ten and counting. If it means “the last five,” then no.  The form leaves it to the reader to figure out what it means. We shouldn’t have to guess at the intent of the question.  (For the record, I guessed that they meant “the last five,” even though that’s clearly not what it says.)

He’s a smart kid who teased out those meanings himself, but there’s no extra credit for that.  Answer it “incorrectly,” whatever that means, and something bad could happen.

Honestly, it shouldn’t have to be this way. 

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