If you haven’t yet seen Tressie McMillan Cottom’s piece  on targeted Pell grants as a new poll tax, check it out. She makes the crucial point that excluding prospective students on the grounds of not being “college ready” -- when they’re already required to bring either a diploma or a GED -- would disproportionately exclude students of color, just as the old poll tax functioned to exclude voters of color.
The politics of “aid” are tricky. If you try to target aid to get the most bang for the buck, you’ll direct it to those who least need it. You’ll get great “efficiency,” but you’ll defeat the larger purpose. If you try to target it to those who most need it, you’re taking a serious political risk; just compare the political fate of “welfare” to the political fate of “social security.” Once a program is identified exclusively with the poor, its support dries up.
I know this is counterintuitive in American political culture, but it seems like the best way to square this particular circle is to direct the resources to institutions, and to instruct the institutions to keep prices low. If you do that, you reduce the amount of “aid” that needs to be provided in the first place, and you ensure that the “access” the aid buys is access to something worthwhile. As a bonus, by making the institutions strong and inexpensive, you gain the political support that attends middle-class benefits.
In the meantime, the very real charge for those of us in those institutions is to figure out how to do right by those who most need it. It’s a worthy mission.
Snow days generate some odd conversations. Highlights from yesterday:
The Girl: We should start an e-harmony for dogs!
The Boy: Can you imagine The Dog’s ad?
Me: “I Like Big Mutts and I Cannot Lie.”
TB: Ewww, Dad…
TB: Look at those big, fat flakes…
TG: That would be a great name for a band! “Give it up for the Big Fat Flakes!”
Earlier this week, The Boy’s junior high jazz band performed for the school committee.
If you haven’t heard a junior high jazz ensemble lately, well, it’s a distinctive sound. But TB did us proud. He sat among the saxes for the first song -- some sort of mid-tempo blues -- playing his alto. But for the second song -- “Don’t Stop Believin’,” by Journey, which I don’t think of as a jazz standard -- he came upfront to play guitar.
As a parent, it’s a little jarring to see your kid -- who you still think of very much as a kid -- flashing a winning smile and playing confidently while towering over his bandmates. He’s five foot ten now, and lanky, but athletic enough that he isn’t usually tripping over himself. At home he’s still the sweet, goofy kid he has always been, but among his peers…
For a few minutes there, my kid was replaced by a handsome, confident young man with an electric guitar and a smile that could melt butter at fifty feet. You could see the girls in the band notice him.
He came home and was his usual, goofy self. I felt like I had seen the future. It’s a great future, but I’ll enjoy the sweet, goofy present just a little longer.
Is the plural of cul-de-sac “cul-de-sac’s,” “cul-de-sacs,” or “culs-de-sac?” And am I revealing too much by asking that?
I did the math the other day, and realized that TW and I have been married for longer than my parents were. It’s a sort of Gen X milestone.
We met in the 90’s, when I was in grad school and she had just moved out of her parents’ house. She saw past the 1989 Toyota Tercel with a bad muffler, and the crappy apartment with a roommate, and the tunnel vision of a grad student who had spent way too much time dissertating. I just saw what was right in front of me.
I still do.
Happy Valentine’s Day, honey.