• 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

TB recovers, reader responses and Mom's new boyfriend.

April 16, 2021
 
 

We did celebratory dances on Thursday when TB’s EKG came back looking good and we got word that he was finally in the clear from COVID.

I have to admit that we’ve been stressed for the past couple of weeks, ever since he got the diagnosis. I didn’t write about it because I just couldn’t.

Part of what was so frustrating about it was that he got the diagnosis just a few days after getting his first shot. The pandemic really is a race against time.

He handled it with his characteristic sangfroid, which helped. His symptoms were mostly mild, except for a scary moment involving shortness of breath and intimations of a heart issue. But that has passed, and he got a green light to start exercising again. He even got a green light to get his second shot.

We may be hundreds of miles away, but parental worry travels fast.

--

In response to the post about automotive tech programs with a roughly even gender balance among students, I didn’t receive a single example. Some folks wrote with ideas, which was generous, and some wrote with tales of other sorts of programs that have made progress in pushing back against stereotypes. But nobody pointed to an actual program.

The absence of evidence isn’t evidence of absence, of course; I’m hopeful that some programs out there have made meaningful progress.

I’m guessing some enterprising sociologist has done work explaining why occupational segregation by sex is so much more entrenched in some fields than others. I refuse to think that wildly lopsided ratios are inevitable; the history of claims about the inevitability of disparate outcomes is rife with discredited assertions.

If I actually believed that this was the best of all possible worlds, I’d drop the line of inquiry. But I suspect that there are women who would enjoy, and thrive in, an auto repair program if they felt like it was a real option. Surely someone has cracked the code …

--

Reader responses on finding a college that’s the right fit were generous of spirit, even if they didn’t all agree with each other. A few highlights:

One who works with high school juniors has the students write on how they would spend a gap year, if they had the option. Then he has them look at what they wrote, decide what they valued most about it and look for colleges that came closest to that. It’s a sort of misdirection play. (My favorite variation on that: when facing a binary decision, flip a coin and then notice if you’re disappointed in the outcome. If you are, then you already knew subconsciously what you wanted.)

Others mentioned, correctly, that transfer is always an option if the first choice doesn’t work out as intended.

Finances were trickier. Some said “only apply where you can afford to go.” Others pointed out, correctly, that you don’t know what the financial aid offer will be until you’re accepted. We had that experience here with TB: two universities with nearly identical sticker prices had aid offers $15,000 apart per year. There was no way to know that going in. Of course, folks who can afford to pay sticker price know exactly what the cost will be, but that’s not us or most other families.

Sometimes an uncommon program or sport will tip the balance. One reader wrote that their student studied Arabic and wanted to continue with it, which ruled out a bunch of places. Another mentioned that large schools tend to offer a wider range of subcultures than smaller ones, so a student has more options at a large school. I suspect that’s mostly true. On the flip side, it’s easier for an unsure or quiet student to get lost in the shuffle at a bigger place.

The common denominator was an insistence -- with which I agree -- on letting the student make the decision. They’re the ones who will have to live with it. Yes, of course, sometimes finances or family circumstances narrow the range of options. But within the options that exist, a student is likelier to thrive if they feel like they had some agency in the decision.

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Finally, in the midst of everything else that was happening, we got to see my mom for the first time in over a year. And we met her new boyfriend in person for the first time.

We caught them holding hands when they thought nobody was looking.

Those two crazy kids might just make it.

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