robertogreco + malcolmharris   19

Jia Tolentino Wants You to Read Children’s Books - The New York Times
““A really good middle-grade novel,” says the New Yorker essayist, whose debut collection is “Trick Mirror,” “will supersede a lot of contemporary fiction in terms of economy, lucidity and grace.”

What books are on your nightstand?

When I like a book, I carry it around everywhere until I finish it, like a subway rat dragging a slice of pizza down the stairs. So usually if a book is living on my nightstand, it’s not my thing. Right now, though, I’ve got a galley of Anna Wiener’s “Uncanny Valley” keeping me company — it’s so deft and stunning that I started rereading chunks of it as soon as I was done.

What’s the last book that really excited you?

“Death’s End,” the final installment of Liu Cixin’s Three-Body trilogy, in which the narrative and conceptual momentum of the series takes off at a scale and velocity I couldn’t possibly have imagined before reading. The Three-Body trilogy makes insignificance and unknowability and futility seem so spiritually exciting that I felt breathless. I’d join a book club that just discusses it every month for a year.

What’s your favorite book no one else has heard of?

Rebecca Stead’s “When You Reach Me” won the Newbery Medal, so it’s certainly not unheralded, but everyone tunes me out when I recommend it, since it was written for kids. Their mistake! A really good middle-grade novel — and this book, a “Wrinkle in Time”-esque mystery set on the Upper West Side in the late 1970s, is a phenomenal one — will supersede a lot of contemporary fiction in terms of economy, lucidity and grace.

What book should everybody read before the age of 21?

“Random Family,” by Adrian Nicole LeBlanc. It’s so spicy, so riveting, so empathetic and devoted, so alive in the world as it actually is. No shots to Chaucer and “A Separate Peace” and all that, but I think a lot of people might be far more interested in reading (and possibly more interested in other lives in general) if they got to read books like this in high school.

What book would you recommend to people over 40?

“Kids These Days,” by Malcolm Harris. Most writing about millennials has tended to focus on effects rather than causes: After all, it’s easier to make a spectacle of the ways instability manifests itself in young people than it is to really reckon with the fact that capitalism has reached a stage of inexorable acceleration that has broken our country’s institutions and (arguably) my generation’s soul. “Kids These Days,” thankfully, goes straight for the point.

[ Tolentino’s new book, “Trick Mirror,” was one of our most anticipated titles of August. See the full list. ]

Which writers — novelists, playwrights, critics, journalists, poets — working today do you admire most?

Ocean Vuong, Jenny Odell, Doreen St. Félix, Vinson Cunningham, Bryan Washington, Tommy Orange, Jenny Zhang, Ross Gay, Zadie Smith, Rebecca Solnit, Emily Nussbaum, Rebecca Traister, Brit Bennett, Caity Weaver, Rachel Aviv, Kathryn Schulz, Pamela Colloff, Gideon Lewis-Kraus, Patrick Radden Keefe, Patricia Lockwood, Samantha Irby, Leslie Jamison, Lauren Groff, John Jeremiah Sullivan, Wesley Morris, Meg Wolitzer, Marlon James, Ted Chiang, Eula Biss.

You once described yourself as “an obsessive and catholic reader.” What moves you most in a work of literature?

Bravery and surrender, which can manifest in so many forms.

Do you prefer books that reach you emotionally, or intellectually?

I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a purely emotional or purely intellectual reaction to anything, let alone to anything I was reading. Systems and concepts are always inextricable from the way they shape our hearts, and I love books that demonstrate this, like Matthew Desmond’s “Evicted,” or George Saunders’s “CivilWarLand in Bad Decline.”

What’s the most interesting thing you learned from a book recently?

From Casey Cep’s “Furious Hours,” that Harper Lee was once neighbors with Daryl Hall and John Oates. What?!

Which genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

I’ll read almost anything, though I don’t love reading about history and science as much as I love whatever I learn. The only books I actively avoid are the “how X explains all of human civilization” books — the type seemingly written for men who love a counterintuitive idea but find complex thought disturbing — as well as those “how to be a perfectly imperfect goddess who doesn’t give a f**k” books. I don’t like anything with a sales pitch that’s like, “Hey, you’re a woman!” These books feel like dolls of Frida Kahlo dressed as Rosie the Riveter or something, like display objects that chirp the word “badass” when you press their hand.

What’s the best book you’ve ever received as a gift?

My boyfriend got me a first edition of Sherwood Anderson’s “Winesburg, Ohio” — one of my favorite books of all time — about seven years ago, and this past year, he gave me a copy of “Eve’s Hollywood” with a note in it for me from Eve Babitz herself. I almost keeled over on the spot.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

Turtle Wexler from “The Westing Game” and Undine Spragg from “The Custom of the Country.”

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

I would read while Rollerblading around my neighborhood, read while eating, read in the car, read in the bathtub — my books were stained, swollen, ripped to shreds. I was always just desperate to be constantly reading. I’d memorize the copy on the Herbal Essences bottle in the shower; I read “Gone With the Wind” about 20 times in fourth grade. I remember things from kids’ books much more clearly than I remember anything about my life even a few years ago. I’ve got a mental encyclopedia of useless sensory details: the lavender-and-black bathroom in “Starring Sally J. Freedman as Herself,” the tin peddler’s wares in “Farmer Boy,” the meals that Francie Nolan helped her mother make from stale bread.

You’re a digital native, and your publisher describes you as “what Susan Sontag would have been like if she had brain damage from the internet.” Do you find it difficult to tune out distractions and sink into a book?

In part because I am very aware of what the internet is doing to my sense of scale and reason, I spend a good amount of my life seeking out states of being — like reading — that are so consuming and pleasurable that I won’t grab my phone and interrupt. It also helps that for most of my life I’ve read a paper book for an hour or two every night before falling asleep: It was always a way of managing my insomnia, which I’ve had since I was little, and is now a regular reminder of how much more like myself I feel when I’m not shattering my attention to bits.

Disappointing, overrated, just not good: What book did you feel as if you were supposed to like, and didn’t? Do you remember the last book you put down without finishing?

There are plenty of beloved books I don’t like at all — the most demographically fine-tuned version of this for me is probably Chris Kraus’s “I Love Dick.” But I have a hard time accessing a sense of “supposed to” with pop culture. I read whatever I feel like reading, and if neither the book nor my reaction to it interests me, I put it down without another thought. I’m a big believer, anyway, that reading is like eating: The most fun lies in finding a match for your mood. If I read 20 pages of something people love and I can’t get into it, then I welcome the possibility that a few years from now it could be the perfect thing.

What books are you embarrassed not to have read yet?

Nearly everything about being alive feels embarrassing, but the enormous gap between what I’d like to have read and what I have actually read does not. As it is, I read a hundred books a year and it doesn’t seem to matter — there will always be so many books I haven’t read yet, and I will always be kind of stupid no matter how much I read. For example, I only recently realized that when people turn 30 they are completing their 30th year of life rather than beginning it. It’s possible that I’d have grasped that basic fact and many others much earlier if my head weren’t so stuffed with so much minutiae about the Shackleton expedition, so many descriptions of light from James Salter short stories, all these invisible psychosocial landscapes from all these books.

What do you plan to read next?

I’ve got to read the Lydia Davis translation of “Madame Bovary.” I’m having physical cravings for it. If I could stop time right now I’d lie down in the grass somewhere and go straight through from beginning to end.”
jiatolentino  howweread  reading  books  2019  internet  susansontag  web  online  digitalnatives  attention  yafiction  genre  malcolmharris  adriannicoleleblanc  tebeccastead  liucixin  oceanvuong  jennyodell  doreenstfélix  vinsoncunningham  bryanwashington  tommyorange  jennyzhang  rossgay  zadiesmith  rebeccasolnit  emilynussbaum  rebeccatraister  britbennett  caityweaver  rachelaviv  kathrynschulz  pamelacolloff  gideonlewis-kraus  patrickraddenkeefe  patricialockwood  smanthairby  lesliejamison  laurengoff  johnjeremiahsullivan  wesleymorris  megwolitzer  marlonjames  tedchiang  eulabiss  bythebook  georgesaunders  matthewdesmond  caseycep  sherwoodanderson  thewestinggame  chriskraus  lydiadavis  madamebovary 
august 2019 by robertogreco
The Ezra Klein Show - Work as identity, burnout as lifestyle | Listen via Stitcher for Podcasts
"Episode Info

In the past few months, two essays on America’s changing relationship to work caught my eye. The first was Anne Helen Petersen’s viral BuzzFeed piece defining, and describing, “millennial burnout.” The second was Derek Thompson’s Atlantic article on “workism.”

The two pieces speak to each other in interesting ways, and to some questions I’ve been reflecting on as my own relationship to work changes. So I asked the authors to join me for a conversation about what happens when work becomes an identity, capitalism becomes a religion, and productivity becomes the way we measure human value. The conversation exceeded even the high hopes I had for it. Enjoy this one.

Book recommendations:
Kids These Days: Human Capital and the Making of Millennials by Malcolm Harris
White: Essays on Race and Culture by Richard Dyer
The Vertigo Years: Europe, 1900-1914 by Philipp Blom
A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan"
work  tolisten  burnout  identity  workism  derekthompson  annehelenpetersen  malcolmharris  richarddyer  philippblom  jenniferegan  capitalism  ezraklein 
may 2019 by robertogreco
dellsystem.me :: Unbundling progress
"Continuing a train of thought from the fragment on day 100: Gratitude is a trap, which criticises appeals to gratitude as a way to shut down criticism of capitalism:
By saying that capitalism is fine and its critics should be grateful rather than resentment, capitalism’s apologists are expressing a barely muted contempt for those who think they deserve more than what they’re currently getting. […]

and, in the end:
‘gratitude’ politics is a means of dampening dissent among those who have been unfairly cheated of their fair share of society’s wealth. As a means of shielding elites from the consequences of mismanagement, it serves to contain calls for structural change. Beyond that, as a political philosophy, it is an inherently backwards-looking enterprise. Spend too much time feeling grateful for what you’ve achieved so far and you’ll become complacent, less inclined to push for what has yet to be achieved. Societal progress is driven by discontent, not gratitude, and if anyone tells you to abandon the former in favour of the latter, you should be very, very suspicious of them: what are they afraid they’ll lose?

Related, but not quite the same, is the idea of appeal to progress. This seems to be a pretty common trope among liberals - see Steven Pinker’s response to Thomas Piketty raising the alarm about economic inequality. (Here’s a Jacobin piece by Jason Hickel responding to Pinker, explaining that poverty is not decreasing as much as he may think, and a Baffler article responding critiquing Pinker as well as Yuval Noah Harari.) Most recently, I came across a tweet by Conor Friedersdorf of The Atlantic suggesting “comparing young adults now to those in pre-capitalist times” as a way of testing Malcolm Harris’ thesis that “millennials are bearing the brunt of the economic damage wrought by late-20th-century capitalism”. Millennials might be facing a terrible job market and massive debt, but they have iPhones and pizza, so why should they complain?

Capitalism is often defended on account of it being apparently synonymous with progress. But progress isn’t monolothic; when we talk about progress in the abstract we are often conflating several very different things. Sure, humanity may have progressed along certain axes (science, technology and culture, for example), but it’s regressed in others (stewarding the natural environment, distributing resources in an equitable way).

I suspect that the major so-called benefits of capitalism could have been achieved through a fairer economic system without all the numerous downsides we’re seeing today (in terms of ecological catastrophe and exhausted misery for much of the working class). This possibility is ignored when all these highly variegated strands of progress are placed under one giant banner of capital-P Progress, one which is inexplicably reframed as Progress Under Capitalism. Questioning the economic system itself becomes off-limits; if you don’t like inequality, surely you also don’t like refrigerators or Game of Thrones. The terms of debate are presented as a binary choice between a capital-driven ideal of Progress with all its downsides, and a pre-capital state of ignorance.

Actual societal progress is multifarious, and complicated - not everyone would agree on what constitutes progress or not. We should be skeptical of the story told by liberals of a monotonically-increasing Progress. What is the role of this sort of defense of the status quo? Whom does it serve, and whom does it leave out?

We should treat this avatar of liberal “Progress” as the Comcast of capitalist apologia: a disjointed collection of things that have no business being served in one bundle. Surely we can move beyond false dichotomies about sweeping statements like “progress” in order to isolate the specific aspects we want, or don’t."
ideology  inequality  2019  wendyliu  capitalism  progress  gratitude  economics  society  poverty  stevenpinker  thomaspiketty  conorfriedersdorf  yuvalnoahharari  malcolmharris 
april 2019 by robertogreco
Malcolm Harris: College Admissions Scandal and Capitalism
"The idea that a high-achieving student is doing $100,000 worth of labor a year won’t be surprising to anyone who knows one. Without huge amounts of time and effort beginning at a young age, it’s incredibly hard to pull together the kind of résumé that’s needed in order to stand out to elite and competitive schools. These teens end up putting in so much labor that they are developing their specialized skills to professional levels before they finish high school. In some ways, the unmediated job market has lower standards than the most exclusive colleges do. The best child musicians and scientists and athletes are working very hard, and what they’re doing has value, too. We know it does, because their efforts are worth counterfeiting.

Student labor has a curious character. It’s unpaid, but the idea is that it will be compensated indirectly later. There are tests that are meant to validate kids along the way, including college admissions and ultimately the job market. A higher grade (in the broader but also in the specific, academic sense) is supposed to lead to a higher wage down the line, something everyone understands implicitly. The value from all that childhood work has to go somewhere; we can think of that place as a sort of internal battery that stores human capital, the skills and abilities that we put to work when we go to work. Counterfeit human capital is what William H. Macy and Mossimo Giannulli were allegedly buying for their kids: the appearance of skills and abilities that didn’t actually exist.

Human capital is an odd commodity because it’s inalienable. You can’t sell your ability to do 100 push-ups or your starting position on the soccer team or your Yale diploma. That means that workers can’t really be said to own their human capital, since it’s not transferable. It’s an abstract substance that can be weighed and compared, but also a relationship between workers and owners — that’s why companies can use it in place of “human resources.” Human capital belongs to workers, but only to be managed and exploited by employers. To monetize their abilities, workers need someone to hire or invest in them. (The number of workers who are able to save up their wages in order to start their own businesses is much smaller than we’re led to believe, and shrinking.) There is no fixed correlation between the accumulation of human capital and pay. You get paid to work, not to be smart.

Because no one is on the hook for compensating any particular young person for their hard work, there’s no reason to set a limit on how much of it they should do. The random distribution of talents and passions and the very predictable distribution of resources have left students with any number of ways to differentiate themselves from each other in the eyes of graders. An arms race arises as students are encouraged to try their hardest, to reach their full potentials, to use every advantage they have. We can see the scale of it in the forged applications: The aforementioned Yale admit claimed to be a nationally ranked soccer player in China, a nation of 1.4 billion people. The admissions committee had no reason not to believe it; I’m sure they see genuine applications like that all the time. There’s always someone who can try a little harder and stay up a bit later or whose parents can pay more. The level of competition gets higher and higher, and theoretically that’s great — as long as everyone eventually finds a job that will repay the investments they’ve made in their own capacities. You can see the problem.

The best thing you can do for your own future employment prospects is to invest in your human capital: learn to code or speak Mandarin or captain your sports team or whatever else the Aspen crowd wants from us this week. Training according to guesses about the notoriously unreliable future demands of rich people is not particularly fun, and it’s obvious why their own kids can’t be bothered. But most of us have to try, and there arises a supply-and-demand problem: If everyone teaches themselves to code and the supply of human capital goes up, it’s suddenly very easy for employers to find coders, and the demand (read: pay) goes down. What’s advantageous for the individual is self-defeating for the class.

The result is workers who have not only taken on an average of tens of thousands of dollars in educational debt, but have also put in what we can now understand as hundreds of thousands, even millions of dollars’ worth of unpaid labor. Taking no responsibility for this situation, employers have used the flood of overqualified workers to lower job quality, sometimes so far as to stumble onto the wrong side of America’s meager labor laws. That leaves young people who had planned on higher-quality jobs (as they were told to) underwater on their own human capital. Having invested more in effort and money than their work can command on the market, they’re not in possession of distressed assets; they are the distressed assets. And they’re stuck with themselves.

I can’t speak to why people who will never have to work in their lives care about getting fancy degrees, but I know why everyone else does. As the distance between the rich and the rest increases, the stakes of childhood go up too. Failure at one of the crucial steps (like college admissions) means taking a loss on your investment in yourself, which is extremely depressing. Everyone is compelled to work harder to try to avoid that fate, except the business owners and landlords, who just have to pay higher bribes — which they can afford to do because all those people who are working harder are, in one way or another, working for them. Depending on whether or not you own the means of production, it’s all a virtuous or vicious cycle. For most of us, it’s the latter."
malcolmharris  2019  labor  education  schools  schooling  colleges  universities  admissions  collegeadmissions  children  work  capitalism  exploitation  competition  highereducation  highered  debt  unpaidlabor  humancapital 
march 2019 by robertogreco
Indigenous Knowledge Has Been Warning Us About Climate Change for Centuries - Pacific Standard
"Insofar as mainstream American society reckons with indigenous intellectual/scientific practices, it's as "non-overlapping magisteria," i.e. if they're true then they're not true in a way that would directly challenge our truths. So when Simpson speaks of the need for "ethical systems that promote the diversity of life," I think most Americans would understand "diversity of life" as an unquantifiable abstraction that we can translate into liberal ideals like interpersonal tolerance and non-conformity. But what if we took it literally instead?

The mass death of insects is an observable and measurable disrespect for the diversity of life on Earth, to which we can and should compare other patterns of human practice.

"Indigenous knowledge systems are rigorous, they pursue excellence, they are critical and comprehensive," Simpson says. "The global roots of the climatic crisis and the exploitation of natural resources are issues indigenous peoples have been speaking out against for hundreds of years." The proof is in the pudding: Colonists were warned by word and weapon that a system of individual land ownership would lead to ecological apocalypse, and here we are. What more could you ask from a system of truth and analysis than to alert you to a phenomenon like climate change before it occurs, with enough time to prevent it? That is significantly more than colonial science has offered.

The devaluation of indigenous political thought has nothing to do with its predictive ability. The ruling class produced by accumulation society simply will not put its own system up for debate. Thus the climate change policies we discuss—even and perhaps in particular the Green New Deal—take for granted not just the persistence of commodity accumulation, but its continued growth. As the economists Enno Schröder and Servaas Storm complain in their analysis of proposals for "green growth": "The belief that any of this half-hearted tinkering will lead to drastic cuts in CO2 emissions in the future is plain self-deceit." Economic output as we understand it, they say, must shrink.

If the indigenous critique sounds like an anti-capitalist one, it should. Drawing on the work of communist Glen Coulthard from the Yellowknives Dene First Nation, Simpson recognizes the language of Marxism as her own. "There is an assumption that socialism and communism are white and that indigenous peoples don't have this kind of thinking," she writes. "To me, the opposite is true." In As We Have Always Done, Simpson makes a gentle case for non-native comrades to follow this lead. For their part, contemporary Marxist scholars like Silvia Federici and Harry Harootunian have been reassessing doctrinaire ideas about the progressive nature of capitalism and the supposed backwardness of indigenous societies, a line of revision that's supported by recent changes to anthropological assumptions regarding the sophistication of pre-colonial technology and social organization.

Green growth, even in its social-democratic versions, isn't going to save the insects. But there exist alternative examples for the left, and for the world. While America's beehives are bare, Cuba's are thriving, which led to the tragicomically western Economist headline: "Agricultural backwardness makes for healthy hives." "We" are just now reactivating the millenia-old Mayan practice of harvesting from wild stingless bees ("meliponiculture"), which used to produce an unimaginably large variety of honeys. These entomological examples support Nikitah Okembe-RA Imani's audacious claim about the history of African thought: Those who study what has been suppressed can see the future.

As for what is to be done about climate change, there's no real mystery. "The issue is that accumulation-based societies don't like the answers we come up with because they are not quick technological fixes, they are not easy," Simpson says. "Real solutions require a rethinking of our global relationship to the land, water, and to each other. They require critical thinking about our economic and political systems. They require radical systemic change."

To this end, Simpson has called for a shift in focus from indigenous cultural resurgence to the anti-colonial struggle for territory. That unsurrendered conflict has continued for hundreds of years, and we should view our living history in its firelight. The best environmental policy America can pursue is to start giving back the land."
malcolmharris  leannebetasamosakesimpson  2019  climatechange  indigenous  indigeneity  growth  economics  globalwarming  timothymorton  greennewdeal  capitalism  accumulation  materialism  marxism  silviafederici  harryharootunian  ennoschröder  servaasstorm  green  greengrowth  environment  climatecrisis 
march 2019 by robertogreco
How Millennials Became The Burnout Generation
[some follow-up notes here:
https://annehelen.substack.com/p/how-millennials-grew-up-and-burned
https://annehelen.substack.com/p/its-that-simple ]

[See also:

“Here’s What “Millennial Burnout” Is Like For 16 Different People: “My grandmother was a teacher and her mother was a slave. I was born burned out.””
https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/annehelenpetersen/millennial-burnout-perspectives

“This Is What Black Burnout Feels Like: If the American dream isn’t possible for upwardly mobile white people anymore, then what am I even striving for?”
https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/tianaclarkpoet/millennial-burnout-black-women-self-care-anxiety-depression

“Millennials Don’t Have a Monopoly on Burnout: This is a societal scourge, not a generational one. So how can we solve it?”
https://newrepublic.com/article/152872/millennials-dont-monopoly-burnout ]

"We didn’t try to break the system, since that’s not how we’d been raised. We tried to win it.

I never thought the system was equitable. I knew it was winnable for only a small few. I just believed I could continue to optimize myself to become one of them. And it’s taken me years to understand the true ramifications of that mindset. I’d worked hard in college, but as an old millennial, the expectations for labor were tempered. We liked to say we worked hard, played hard — and there were clear boundaries around each of those activities. Grad school, then, is where I learned to work like a millennial, which is to say, all the time. My new watchword was “Everything that’s good is bad, everything that’s bad is good”: Things that should’ve felt good (leisure, not working) felt bad because I felt guilty for not working; things that should’ve felt “bad” (working all the time) felt good because I was doing what I thought I should and needed to be doing in order to succeed."



"The social media feed — and Instagram in particular — is thus evidence of the fruits of hard, rewarding labor and the labor itself. The photos and videos that induce the most jealousy are those that suggest a perfect equilibrium (work hard, play hard!) has been reached. But of course, for most of us, it hasn’t. Posting on social media, after all, is a means of narrativizing our own lives: What we’re telling ourselves our lives are like. And when we don’t feel the satisfaction that we’ve been told we should receive from a good job that’s “fulfilling,” balanced with a personal life that’s equally so, the best way to convince yourself you’re feeling it is to illustrate it for others.

For many millennials, a social media presence — on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter — has also become an integral part of obtaining and maintaining a job. The “purest” example is the social media influencer, whose entire income source is performing and mediating the self online. But social media is also the means through which many “knowledge workers” — that is, workers who handle, process, or make meaning of information — market and brand themselves. Journalists use Twitter to learn about other stories, but they also use it to develop a personal brand and following that can be leveraged; people use LinkedIn not just for résumés and networking, but to post articles that attest to their personality (their brand!) as a manager or entrepreneur. Millennials aren’t the only ones who do this, but we’re the ones who perfected and thus set the standards for those who do.

“Branding” is a fitting word for this work, as it underlines what the millennial self becomes: a product. And as in childhood, the work of optimizing that brand blurs whatever boundaries remained between work and play. There is no “off the clock” when at all hours you could be documenting your on-brand experiences or tweeting your on-brand observations. The rise of smartphones makes these behaviors frictionless and thus more pervasive, more standardized. In the early days of Facebook, you had to take pictures with your digital camera, upload them to your computer, and post them in albums. Now, your phone is a sophisticated camera, always ready to document every component of your life — in easily manipulated photos, in short video bursts, in constant updates to Instagram Stories — and to facilitate the labor of performing the self for public consumption.

But the phone is also, and just as essentially, a tether to the “real” workplace. Email and Slack make it so that employees are always accessible, always able to labor, even after they’ve left the physical workplace and the traditional 9-to-5 boundaries of paid labor. Attempts to discourage working “off the clock” misfire, as millennials read them not as permission to stop working, but a means to further distinguish themselves by being available anyway.

“We are encouraged to strategize and scheme to find places, times, and roles where we can be effectively put to work,” Harris, the Kids These Days author, writes. “Efficiency is our existential purpose, and we are a generation of finely honed tools, crafted from embryos to be lean, mean production machines.”

But as sociologist Arne L. Kalleberg points out, that efficiency was supposed to give us more job security, more pay, perhaps even more leisure. In short, better jobs.

Yet the more work we do, the more efficient we’ve proven ourselves to be, the worse our jobs become: lower pay, worse benefits, less job security. Our efficiency hasn’t bucked wage stagnation; our steadfastness hasn’t made us more valuable. If anything, our commitment to work, no matter how exploitative, has simply encouraged and facilitated our exploitation. We put up with companies treating us poorly because we don’t see another option. We don’t quit. We internalize that we’re not striving hard enough. And we get a second gig."



"That’s one of the most ineffable and frustrating expressions of burnout: It takes things that should be enjoyable and flattens them into a list of tasks, intermingled with other obligations that should either be easily or dutifully completed. The end result is that everything, from wedding celebrations to registering to vote, becomes tinged with resentment and anxiety and avoidance. Maybe my inability to get the knives sharpened is less about being lazy and more about being too good, for too long, at being a millennial.

That’s one of the most ineffable and frustrating expressions of burnout: It takes things that should be enjoyable and flattens them into a list of tasks, intermingled with other obligations that should either be easily or dutifully completed. The end result is that everything, from wedding celebrations to registering to vote, becomes tinged with resentment and anxiety and avoidance. Maybe my inability to get the knives sharpened is less about being lazy and more about being too good, for too long, at being a millennial."



"In his writing about burnout, the psychoanalyst Cohen describes a client who came to him with extreme burnout: He was the quintessential millennial child, optimized for perfect performance, which paid off when he got his job as a high-powered finance banker. He’d done everything right, and was continuing to do everything right in his job. One morning, he woke up, turned off his alarm, rolled over, and refused to go to work. He never went to work again. He was “intrigued to find the termination of his employment didn’t bother him.”

In the movie version of this story, this man moves to an island to rediscover the good life, or figures out he loves woodworking and opens a shop. But that’s the sort of fantasy solution that makes millennial burnout so pervasive. You don’t fix burnout by going on vacation. You don’t fix it through “life hacks,” like inbox zero, or by using a meditation app for five minutes in the morning, or doing Sunday meal prep for the entire family, or starting a bullet journal. You don’t fix it by reading a book on how to “unfu*k yourself.” You don’t fix it with vacation, or an adult coloring book, or “anxiety baking,” or the Pomodoro Technique, or overnight fucking oats.

The problem with holistic, all-consuming burnout is that there’s no solution to it. You can’t optimize it to make it end faster. You can’t see it coming like a cold and start taking the burnout-prevention version of Airborne. The best way to treat it is to first acknowledge it for what it is — not a passing ailment, but a chronic disease — and to understand its roots and its parameters. That’s why people I talked to felt such relief reading the “mental load” cartoon, and why reading Harris’s book felt so cathartic for me: They don’t excuse why we behave and feel the way we do. They just describe those feelings and behaviors — and the larger systems of capitalism and patriarchy that contribute to them — accurately.

To describe millennial burnout accurately is to acknowledge the multiplicity of our lived reality — that we’re not just high school graduates, or parents, or knowledge workers, but all of the above — while recognizing our status quo. We’re deeply in debt, working more hours and more jobs for less pay and less security, struggling to achieve the same standards of living as our parents, operating in psychological and physical precariousness, all while being told that if we just work harder, meritocracy will prevail, and we’ll begin thriving. The carrot dangling in front of us is the dream that the to-do list will end, or at least become far more manageable.

But individual action isn’t enough. Personal choices alone won’t keep the planet from dying, or get Facebook to quit violating our privacy. To do that, you need paradigm-shifting change. Which helps explain why so many millennials increasingly identify with democratic socialism and are embracing unions: We are beginning to understand what ails us, and it’s not something an oxygen facial or a treadmill desk can fix.

Until or in lieu of a … [more]
capitalism  neoliberalism  millennials  burnout  chores  work  parenting  2019  annehelenpetersen  cv  society  us  performance  meritocracy  inequality  competition  labor  leisure  perfectionism  success  schooliness  helicopterparenting  children  academia  economics  genx  genz  generations  generationx  socialmedia  instagram  balance  life  living  gigeconomy  passion  self-care  self-optimization  exhaustion  anxiety  decisionmaking  congnitiveload  insecurity  precarity  poverty  steadiness  laziness  procrastination  helicopterparents  work-lifebalance  canon  malcolmharris  joshcohen  hustling  hustle  overwork  arnekalleberg  efficiency  productivity  workplace  email  adulting  personalbranding  linkedin  facebook  consumption  homelessness  context  behavior 
january 2019 by robertogreco
[Readings] | The Working Classroom, by Malcolm Harris | Harper's Magazine
"The main thing is that twenty-first-century American kids are required to work more than their predecessors. This generation is raised on problem-solving to the exclusion of play. Authorities from the Brookings Institution to Time magazine have called for an end to summer vacation and the imposition of year-round compulsory schooling. But the possible downsides of this trade-off are almost never discussed.

Parents, teachers, policymakers, and employers are all so worried that children won’t “meet the demands of a changing world” that they don’t bother asking what kids are expected to do to meet those demands, and what problems they’re being equipped to solve. The anxious frenzy that surrounds the future has come to function as an excuse for the choices adults make for kids."



"This sort of intensive training isn’t just for the children of intellectuals; the theory behind the rhetoric advocating universal college attendance is that any and all kids should aspire to this level of work. College admissions have become the focus not only of secondary schooling but of contemporary American childhood writ large. The sad truth, however, is that college admissions are designed to funnel young adults onto different tracks, not to validate hard work. A jump in the number of Harvard-caliber students doesn’t have a corresponding effect on the size of the school’s freshman class. Instead, it allows the university to become even more selective and to raise prices, to stock up on geniuses and rich kids. This is the central problem with an education system designed to create the most human capital possible: an increase in ability within a competitive system doesn’t advantage all individuals.

In a world where every choice is an investment, growing up becomes a complex exercise in risk management. The more capital new employees already have when they enter the labor market, the less risky it is for their employers. Over time, firms have an incentive, as the economist Gary Becker put it, to “shift training costs to trainees.” If an employer pays to train workers, what’s to stop another company from luring them away once they’re skilled? The second firm could offer a signing bonus that costs less than the training and still benefit. Paying to train a worker is risky, and risk costs money. As American capitalism advanced, the training burden fell to the state, and then to families and kids themselves.

Childhood risk is less and less about death, illness, or grievous bodily harm and more and more about future prospects. But if it is every parent’s task to raise at least one successful American by America’s own standards, then the system is rigged so that most of them will fail. The ranks of the American elite are not infinitely expandable; in fact, they’re shrinking. Given that reality, parents are told that their children’s choices, actions, and accomplishments have lasting consequences. The Harley Avenue letter is merely one of the more dramatic examples of this fearmongering. With parental love as a guide, risk management has become risk elimination.

By looking at children as investments, it’s possible to see where the product of children’s labor is stored: in their human capital. It’s a kid’s job to stay eligible for the labor market (and not in jail, insane, or dead). Any work beyond that adds to their résumé. If more human capital automatically led to a higher standard of living, this model could be the foundation for an American meritocracy. But millennials’ extra work hasn’t earned them the promised higher standard of living. By every metric, this generation is the most educated in American history, yet its members are worse off economically than their parents, grandparents, and even great-grandparents. Every authority from moms to presidents told millennials to accumulate as much human capital as they could; they did, but the market hasn’t held up its end of the bargain. What gives?

As it turns out, just because you can produce an unprecedented amount of value doesn’t necessarily mean you can feed yourself under twenty-first-century American capitalism. Kids spend their childhoods investing the only thing they have: their effort, their attention, their days and nights, their labor time. (And, sometimes, a large chunk of whatever money their parents may have.) If the purpose of all this labor, all the lost play, all the hours doing unpleasant tasks, isn’t to ensure a good life for the kids doing the work, if it isn’t in the “interests of all children,” then what is it for?

When you ask most adults what any kid in particular should do with the next part of her life, the advice will generally include pursuing higher education. As the only sanctioned path, college admissions becomes a well-structured, high-stakes simulation of a worker’s entry into the labor market. Applicants inventory their achievements, being careful not to underestimate them, and present them in the most attractive package possible.

Then, using the data carefully and anxiously prepared by millions of kids about the human capital they’ve accumulated over the previous eighteen years, higher education institutions make decisions: collectively evaluating, accepting, and cutting hopeful children in tranches like collateralized debt obligations that are then sorted among the institutions according to their own rankings (for which they compete aggressively, of course). It is not the first time children are weighed, but it is the most comprehensive and often the most directly consequential. College admissions offices are rating agencies. Once the kid-bond is rated, it has four or so years until it’s expected to produce a return."
malcolmharris  education  colleges  universities  admissions  2017  children  childhood  meritocracy  capitalism  neoliberalism  economics  labor  work  competition  inequality  highered  highereducation  sfsh  homework  purpose  training  unschooling  deschooling  risk  value  fear  fearmongering  parenting  riskmanagement 
october 2017 by robertogreco
How Kids Just Being Kids Became a Crime | TakePart
"There’s a story that liberals like to tell about “underprivileged” children and the government, a story about how the state has abandoned such kids to historical inequity, uncaring market forces, bad parenting, and their own tangle of pathologies. We talk about the need to “invest” in communities and in the children themselves. Analysts speak of “underserved” communities as if the state were an absentee parent. If kids are falling behind, they need an after-school program or longer days or no more summer vacation. A combination of well-tailored government programs and personal responsibility—a helping hand and a working hand to grab it—are supposed to fix the problem over time. Pathologies will attenuate, policy makers will learn to write and implement better policies, and we can all live happily ever after.

There’s just one fly in the ointment: The best research says that’s not how the relationship works. The state is as present in young Americans’ lives as ever.

For his 2011 ethnography Punished: Policing the Lives of Black and Latino Boys, sociologist Victor M. Rios went back to the Oakland, California, neighborhood where he was raised a few decades earlier to talk to and learn from a few dozen young men growing up in a so-called underserved neighborhood. What he discovered was a major shift in how the law treated the young men he was working with.

“The poor,” Rios writes, “at least in this community, have not been abandoned by the state. Instead, the state has become deeply embedded in their everyday lives, through the auspices of punitive social control.” He observed police officers playing a cat-and-mouse game with the kids, reminding them that they were always at the mercy of the law enforcement apparatus, regardless of their actions. The young men were left “in constant fear of being humiliated, brutalized, or arrested.” Punished details the shift within the state’s relationship with the poor and the decline of a social-welfare model in favor of a social-control model. If the state is a parent, it’s not absent—it’s physically and psychologically abusive.

One of the things Rios does well in Punished is talk about the way just existing as a target for the youth control complex is hard work. Simply trying to move through the city—walking around or waiting for the bus—can turn into a high-stakes test at a moment’s notice. Rios calls the labor the young men he observed do to maintain their place in society “dignity work.” The police exist in part to keep some people on the margin of freedom, always threatening to exclude them. Nuisance policing comes down hard on young people, given as they are to cavorting in front of others. Kids don’t own space anywhere, so most of their socializing takes place in public. The police are increasingly unwilling to cede any space at all to kids: patrolling parks, making skateboarding a crime, criminalizing in-school misbehavior.

“Today’s working-class youths encounter a radically different world than they would have encountered just a few decades ago,” Rios writes. The data back him up: According to a 2012 study from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “since the last nationally defensible estimate based on data from 1965, the cumulative prevalence of arrest for American youth (particularly in the period of late adolescence and early adulthood) has increased substantially.” Now, 30 to 40 percent of young Americans will be arrested by the age of 23. When researchers broke it down by race and gender, they found 38 percent of white boys, 44 percent of Hispanic boys, and 49 percent of black boys were affected. (For young women it was 12 percent across the board.)

Dignity work, then, has intensified. It’s harder than ever for kids to stay clear of the law. The trends in policing (increasingly arbitrary, increasingly racist, and just plain increasing) have played out the same way in schools. This is how researcher Kathleen Nolan describes the changes in one New York City high school in her book Police in the Hallways: “Handcuffs, body searches, backpack searches, standing on line to walk through metal detectors, confrontations with law enforcement, ‘hallway sweeps,’ and confinement in the detention room had become common experiences for students.... Penal management had become an overarching theme, and students had grown accustomed to daily interactions with law enforcement.” Interacting with law enforcement is not just work—it’s dangerous work. Especially when the school cops have assault rifles.

There are many explanations for the rise of American mass incarceration—the drug war, more aggressive prosecutors, the ’90s crime boom triggering a prison boom that started growing all on its own, a tough-on-crime rhetorical arms race among politicians, the rationalization of police work—and a lot of them can be true at the same time. Whatever the reasons, the U.S. incarceration rate has quintupled since the ’70s. It’s affecting young black men most of all and more disproportionately than ever. The white rate of imprisonment has risen in relative terms but not as fast as the black rate, which has spiked. The ratio between black and white incarcerations increased more between 1975 and 2000 than in the 50 years preceding. Considering the progressive story about the arc of racial justice, this is a crushing truth.

Mass incarceration, at least as much as rationalization or technological improvement, is a defining aspect of contemporary American society. In her book The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, law professor Michelle Alexander gives a chilling description of where we are as a nation: “The stark and sobering reality is that, for reasons largely unrelated to actual crime trends, the American penal system has emerged as a system of social control unparalleled in world history.”

The rise of racist mass incarceration has started to enter the national consciousness, but though it coincides with millennials’ growth and development, most commentators don’t connect the two. If the change in the way we arrest and imprison people is a defining aspect of contemporary America—and I believe it more than qualifies—then it follows that the criminal justice system also defines contemporary Americans. Far from being the carefree space cadets the media likes to depict us as, millennials are cagey and anxious, as befits the most policed modern generation. Much of what a few decades ago might have been looked on as normal adolescent high jinks—running around a mall, shoplifting, horsing around on trains, or drinking beer in a park after dark—is now fuel for the cat-and-mouse police games that Rios describes. One look at the news tells us it’s a lethal setup."
children  youth  adolescence  poverty  class  government  legal  law  2016  malcolmharris  schools  underprivileged  inequity  inequality  victorrios  schooltoprisonpipeline  race  racism  police  policing  lawenforcement  criminalization  socialcontrol  abuse  behavior  skating  skateboarding  dignity  policy  prisonindustrialcomplex  massincarceration  newjimcrow  michellealexander  crime  prisons  skateboards 
july 2016 by robertogreco
‘Pokémon Go’ and the Persistent Myth of Stranger Danger — Pacific Standard
"For as long as we’ve had kids on the Internet, we’ve worried about adults with bad intentions luring them into an in-person meeting. If anyone can name a television crime procedural from the past 20 years that doesn’t feature the plotline, I’ll give them $10. “Parents and teachers today worry a lot about digital safety, in particular — and far more than young people do themselves,” write John Palfrey and Urs Gasser in the new, updated version of their book Born Digital: How Children Grow Up in a Digital Age. The book’s implied audience is adults who want a good explanation of kids from other adults, and safety is clearly a big concern, whether it’s reasonable or not. Citing a 2006 anecdote of an assault victim who’d been groomed on Myspace, the authors write: “Despite the absence of data to show that young people are at a greater risk in an Internet era, there is reason enough for young people to be very cautious about how much information they share.”

This expert perspective — both authors were at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society until Palfrey became head of school at Phillips Andover Academy — is the usual one when it comes to kids online. Somewhere between scholarship and a parenting manual, Born Digital manages somehow to be neither. “From an adult perspective,” Palfrey and Gasser write, “young people often divulge too much information about themselves online.” But despite this awareness of the limits of their perspective, the authors still aren’t able to think beyond their own point of view. As a result, they don’t display a very good understanding of youth risk-taking.

Take sexting, for example. The authors think it’s important to “develop approaches that include young people as problem-solvers” when it comes to sexting, but they also think they have the answer: “Sharing naked pictures of oneself, even on a service like Snapchat, which is supposedly ‘temporary,’ is not worth the risk of suffering public embarrassment, possibly having to register as a sex offender, and even potentially going to jail.” Palfrey and Gasser thinks it’s important to educate young people about Internet safety so that they make the right choices, like not meeting strangers or sending nudes.

I called up Jeffrey Temple, director of behavioral health and research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at the University of Texas Medical Branch (and a foremost authority on teenage sexting behavior), to check the data. Temple has authored or co-authored five studies on the actual practices of young sexters, and what he’s found doesn’t line up with the news. “Nothing ‘bad’ happens to the vast majority of those who sext,” he tells me. “There aren’t any legal complications, there aren’t any psycho-social consequences, anything like that.” There are risks of course, but a fully informed teen might reasonably decide to sext anyway. “The strongest correlate undoubtedly for teen sexting is a consensual sexual relationship,” Temple says. It’s important to remember, he tells me, that more teens are having actual sexual intercourse than are sexting.

Palfrey and Gasser write that sexting stories “rarely end well,” but the stories we hear are hardly representative of actual youth experiences. If two teens trade sexy pics and don’t share them with anyone else, we don’t hear about it. If a group of girls plan a mall meet-up with a grown Internet stranger just to gawk at him from the food court, their parents probably won’t find out, never mind the local cable affiliates. Combine scaremongering news reports and the fact that there’s no story when nothing bad happens, and we’re set up to be misled. If you look at the data, young people have a better sense of the risks they’re taking than commentators who base their thinking on the evening news.

When Palfrey and Gasser write about the absence of data to support the idea that Internet-era kids are at greater risk, they’re being a little disingenuous. They make it sound as though they looked everywhere and simply couldn’t find the statistics, when the truth is that all available data sets indicate that young Americans are increasingly safe from accidental and intentional victimization alike. The people who are most likely to violate children are known to them: Acquaintances, peers, and, yes, parents. Strangers only commit 1 to 10 percent of child abuse. Almost no one wants to harm children, and the ones who do tend to target kids close to them.



When Palfrey and Gasser write about the absence of data to support the idea that Internet-era kids are at greater risk, they’re being a little disingenuous. They make it sound as though they looked everywhere and simply couldn’t find the statistics, when the truth is that all available data sets indicate that young Americans are increasingly safe from accidental and intentional victimization alike. The people who are most likely to violate children are known to them: Acquaintances, peers, and, yes, parents. Strangers only commit 1 to 10 percent of child abuse. Almost no one wants to harm children, and the ones who do tend to target kids close to them.

From a parental or custodial perspective, Palfrey and Gasser write, it’s important that kids learn to manage risks — but the authors don’t ever acknowledge any apparent upside to particular instances of risky behavior: They aren’t so much interested in why a kid might decide to send a nude or chat with strangers or go hunting for a Flareon in an abandoned lot at three in the morning, as in how to convince them not to. Even looking at his own data, Temple stresses to me that, as the father of a 13-year-old and an 11-year-old, he doesn’t want to give the impression that underage sexting is “OK.” But, I ask him, is it fair to say that most teens who sext are OK? “Yes, most kids who sext are OK.”

It’s fine for parents and adult authorities to have a risk-averse perspective when it comes to youth behavior — nobody really wants too-cool parents with boundary issues. But adults also shouldn’t confuse paranoia with fact, which is easy to do when there aren’t many teen pundits around to explain what’s going on from their perspective. Sexual exploration is a valid and important part of healthy development. Going outside and talking to strangers is a valid and important part of healthy development. Kids assert their own judgment, they do it online and in real life at the same time, and they are, by and large, pretty good at it.

It’s OK, too, that adults aren’t the best at assessing risky youth behavior, especially on the Internet — kids are the ones who have to make those judgments for themselves. It only becomes a problem when adults want it both ways: when they want kids to learn decision-making, but also to automatically avoid unnecessary risks. But learning to navigate unnecessary risks is, well, necessary.

I started thinking about Pokémon and safety after I saw one of many viral tweets about interacting with kids who were playing the game. Lisa McKinley tweeted, “A little boy in my neighborhood just knocked on our door and said ‘sorry to bother you, but there’s a Pokémon in your house and I need it.’” She — “of course!” — let him in. This stuck with me because the skills a kid needs to ask their neighbor for Pokémon are not so different from the skills a boy named JaJuan needed to stay safe when his mother Shetamia Taylor was hit in the crossfire at the Dallas Black Lives Matter march. Separated from his mom, JaJuan found Angie Wisner, a stranger. Wisner told NBC that JaJuan bumped into her and asked “Ma’am can I come with you because I lost my mama?” Wisner said the same thing as McKinley, the same thing most adult strangers say when kids ask for their help: “Of course.”

In a parental nightmare scenario, Taylor was able to keep her son safe. JaJuan was prepared to handle an emergency on his own, even if that just meant finding a trustworthy stranger and asking for help. There are consequences to never taking unnecessary risks, and it’s dangerous not to let children talk to strangers, even if a parent’s risk-averse impulse might be to say, “Stop bothering that man, he hasn’t seen any Jigglypuffs!” Maybe the kid’s right. Maybe the stranger can help."
2016  malcolmharris  pokemongo  strangerdanger  risktaking  teens  children  youth  johnpalfrey  ursgasser  snapchat  sexting  paranoia  dange  safety  parenting  uber  internet  web  online  data  pokémongo 
july 2016 by robertogreco
The Privatization of Childhood Play — Pacific Standard
"With playdates replacing free childhood play, it’s upper-class families who set the social norms — and working-class families who pay the price.

Kids used to play outside more. They would hopscotch through the streets, assembling games of stickball and breaking glass soda bottles for fun. Parents would tell their children to be home for dinner and then forget about them until dark.

That golden age of unstructured play was real — scholars place it in the second quarter of the 20th century — but the children who lived it are now senior citizens. If you’re currently alive, you probably played less than your parents did. Between 1981 and 1997, for example, six- to eight-year-olds lost 25 percent of their play time. We aren’t romanticizing some fictional American idyll — kids really are playing less today, even if you include video games. And for some kids, even play is now a regimented and supervised activity.

We live in an era of the playdate, when aspirational parenting means being your child’s agent and chauffeur. The idea of kids so busy they need adult secretaries to pencil in time with their friends is both silly and real. Take New York mom Tamara Mose: Her son and daughter’s weekly schedule includes piano, Kumon (a chic approach to private tutoring), taekwondo, regular tutoring, dance, and soccer. She’s lucky if she has time for a playdate.

Mose is a professor of sociology at Brooklyn College, and when one playdate connection turned into an invitation to deliver a talk about her first book, she became more interested in the repercussions of the phenomenon. Were other parents using playdates for professional networking? “I started noticing that I was gaining some kind of benefit through the playdate experience,” Mose tells me, “and I thought, ‘I wonder if this is a thing.’” The result is The Playdate: Parents, Children and the New Expectations of Play, a book-length study of playdate dynamics in New York City.

According to Mose, the biggest difference between simple play and an official playdate is that playdates are work. Playdates aren’t just scheduled, they’re prepared. They have expenses, and they can succeed or fail. A parent who serves the wrong kind of crunchy cheese snack could be jeopardizing their family’s place in the social hierarchy. Kids play, adults — or, more accurately, moms — make playdates.

The question at the heart of The Playdate is why do moms bother? The dates that Mose describes are labor-intensive and anxiety-ridden. A Pew analysis of time-use surveys found that average weekly hours of work for mothers increased slightly between 1965 and 2011 as a significant decrease in unpaid housework was offset by increases in waged work and childcare. Weekly maternal childcare hours increased from 10.2 to 13.5.

So what purposes, exactly, do playdates serve?

One explanation for the emergence of supervised play is that American parents got more serious about protecting their kids from harm. An evolutionary psychologist might point to declining birth rates and a historic shortage of back-up children. Death by unintentional injury for kids under 15 has fallen by more than half since the early 1970s; maybe the golden age of play was really a plague of parental negligence. Maybe playdates save little lives.

There might be some truth to the safety justification for playdates, but not much. Sociologist Annette Lareau coined the term “concerted cultivation” for the kind of parenting that involves a full schedule and constant oversight. Lareau contrasted concerted cultivation with the “natural growth” style, and found that both were class-linked, with upper- and upper-middle-class moms practicing the former, and working-class and poor moms the latter. It’s a pattern that Mose found in her research as well, with rich white moms setting the playdate standard. If concerted cultivation and playdate parenting were responsible for the drop in child-killing accidents, we would see a class division in the data.

In fact, childhood injury mortality has declined (in absolute terms) more in high-poverty counties than in low ones. Kid safety has more to do with general crime rates (child victimization is down across the board, from homicides to kidnappings to sexual assault) and with seatbelt-buckling than with helicopter parenting. “There’s never been a safer time to be a kid in America,” the Washington Post’s stats-based Wonkblog declared, and as automated cars replace human drivers things will only get safer.

Playdates, like other elements of the concerted-cultivation mode of parenting, are about a different kind of security. “Given the precarity of work in general — people are not working for companies for 20 or 30 years the way they used to — there’s this threat that the economy could crumble at any moment,” Mose says. “So what you find is there’s this learned fear that parents have for their children, because we don’t know what the economic situation is going to look like down the road.” Managing a child’s play schedule ensures they don’t pick up any bad influences that will steer them from the path to college and success on the job market.

Like royal marriages, concerted parents set up playdates that are socially advantageous, for the parents themselves and for their children’s imagined futures. “Parents are unsure of what is happening in terms of their children’s future, and we want [children] to be prepared, so we over-prepare them,” Mose says. “What we do in the playdate is create a play that is mediated at every level. And when it’s mediated at every level, parents think that they can determine which direction they’re leading their child, and maybe that offers them some type of security.”

As a social phenomenon, playdates are something like private schools. Wealthier parents remove their kids from public and sequester them somewhere with a guest list and a cover charge. Mose uses the term “enclosure” — when a public or common resource is fenced and privatized. Brooklyn developers brag about the borough’s diversity, but the parents Mose interviewed were using playdates to shield their kids from people who weren’t like them. The app MomCo even lets moms (a selfie is required for “gender verification”) search for suitable matches from their smartphones.

When wealthier people don’t use a public resource, it tends to degrade. Not because the rich hold things together, but because the government cares less about people who aren’t rich. This goes for the literal paving on streets, but also the symbolic space for unstructured childhood play. In 2014, South Carolina mother Debra Harrell was jailed for leaving her nine-year-old daughter in a park while she worked at a nearby McDonald’s. A Reason poll commissioned afterward found that average Americans don’t think kids should be allowed to do anything more independent than play in the front yard until they’re 12 years old. Natural growth parenting has been stigmatized and even criminalized.

Upper-class parenting practices that require a surplus of time, money, and private space set the standard for comparison. As a black mother routinely engaged in interracial playdates, Mose describes the pressure to make sure her children play the right way: “I always wanted to present as a decent black family because I know of the stereotypes out there about black families and black children,” she says. “So I always wanted to make sure my home was clean, I always wanted to make sure that appropriate food was being offered, and appropriate meaning organic or fruits and vegetables, not junky food or anything like that.” With professional connections and social prestige up for grabs, a playdate is not a game.

But, as Mose reminds me, there are also higher stakes. “We are reproducing inequality today through the enclosure of a playdate,” she says. “Through the privatization of play, we are reproducing inequality in our children.”"
children  play  society  playdates  parenting  malcolmharris  2016  inequality  history  tamaramose  race  class  us  networking  diversity  publicgood  publicresources 
may 2016 by robertogreco
The Real Cultural Explanation for School Shootings | Al Jazeera America
"Teenagers raised in relentlessly competitive environments are learning a dangerous lesson"



"The problem isn’t video games per se but a particular narrative about power, violence and domination. In one of their better insights (cribbed from their son Eric), the Singulars look at two hit movies released in 1999: “The Matrix” and “Fight Club.” These movies were never really bugaboos for cultural conservatives or nervous parents; the popularity of “Fight Club” built slowly, and “The Matrix” had artistic merit and a positive message about thinking for oneself. But both stories — along with that year’s “The Boondock Saints,” which completes the dorm room poster trilogy — are about white men transforming the world according to their will, using their hands (and guns). Neo (Keanu Reeves) and Tyler Durden (Brad Pitt) don’t have to abide by stupid rules or unfair structures. They can transition from nobodies to earthly gods through aggression and will. The most exciting parts of both movies are when the heroes remake the world like a painter with a canvas.

One 26-year-old did a good job describing for the Singulars the culture from which these fantasies are an escape: “Follow this one path all the way and you win. Follow another path and you’re nobody. The pressure to win is everywhere. It’s on top of us pushing down, from grade school on. It feels like you’re in a struggle for your survival, even if you have financial resources. My friends and I constantly talk about this. It’s a part of our daily reality.” In a society that pits each kid against the whole world for a shrinking number of success slots, shooting up your school seems like a misunderstanding. You’re only supposed to figuratively kill all your classmates.

By the time I got to high school, we were participating in active-shooter drills. At the time, teenagers in my hometown stuck to killing only themselves — as they still do — but the school wanted to be prepared. As students, we thought the drills were ridiculous, and we had plenty of time to talk about it while filing around. Teachers were supposed to put colored cards in the window to signify whether there were safe or injured people inside. (“Why, so the shooter knows where to go?”) Then we were all supposed to go to the field near the parking lot. (“If it were me, I’d put a bomb under the bleachers.”) We understood something the adults still couldn’t fathom: If someone was going to shoot up the school, they were learning the emergency procedures along with the rest of us. They were the rest of us.

A lot of young Americans have practiced being hunted by our classmates, and during the drills it’s not clear how many kids are imagining themselves on the other side of the gun. We have been asked to identify with the shooter or the victim, the exceptional individual or the sheep marching toward the bleachers. It’s not much of a choice.

The young people in “The Spiral Notebook” are ultimately asking why competition is so important and why we always have to fight one another. Those are questions that stories like “The Matrix” and “Fight Club” seem to encourage, but they are also questions that get you immediately kicked out of a “Halo” game. It’s all part of the same school-shooting culture.

The baby boomer generation of peace, love and understanding — the Singulars’ generation — is lost. Their book was inspired in large part because they couldn’t understand how a son raised by former hippies like them could understand this kind of violence. “People your age don’t know anything about this or why these shootings keep happening,” he tells them. “No offense, but you’re too old.” If America is truly prepared to change the culture of mass shooting, then we need to listen to the people who at least have some idea of what’s going on."
2015  malcolmharris  violence  generations  thematrix  fightclub  videogames  culture  society  gender  boys  schoolshootings  us  competition  children  youth  education  schools 
december 2015 by robertogreco
Where should a good millennial live? | Fusion
"From this perspective, a lot of our sparkling innovations are glorified infrastructure for declining living standards. “Gypsy cabs” are a longstanding part of the urban economy, but Uber offers a brand. Tenants have been taking in extra boarders to help pay the rent for centuries, but AirBnB legitimizes the practice in the eyes of regulators. An ad for the app Wallapop shows a young man racing to sell his possessions so he can afford to take his girlfriend on a date. The app Letgo does the same thing, and it advertises during the same programs. Clearly the venture capitalists funding these companies think youth desperation is a growth industry. The billion-dollar question is which platforms can make it feel normal.

There’s nothing wrong with young people wanting to live well and independently, not at the expense of their parents, low-income longtime residents, or the environment. That’s what the fantasy of the model millennial living in a box is about, and that’s what makes parts of it very appealing. It would be great if Americans got used to taking up less residential space and filling it with less clutter. Cutting the transportation associated with our way of life may even be essential for the persistence of humans on Earth.

But in a system where every personal sacrifice turns up on some corporate balance sheet, where the workers living in trucks—celebrated and not—create the profits that buy vacation homes, it’s impossible to separate innovation and exploitation. When we talk about where good millennials should live, we’re ignoring more important questions about who owns land, how much, and why. Young Americans can’t allow ourselves to be divided and distracted into accepting a world that continues to award less to more and more to fewer."
malcolmharris  inequality  housing  land  2015  millennials  uber  airbnb  wallapop  letgo  capitalism  tinyhouses  regulation  business  corporatism  clutter  environment  labor  work 
november 2015 by robertogreco
We need to ditch generational labels – Rebecca Onion – Aeon
"Generational thinking is seductive and confirms preconceived prejudices, but it’s a bogus way to understand the world"



"But in real life, I find generational arguments infuriating. Overly schematised and ridiculously reductive, generation theory is a simplistic way of thinking about the relationship between individuals, society, and history. It encourages us to focus on vague ‘generational personalities’, rather than looking at the confusing diversity of social life. Since I’m a ‘Gen-X’er born in 1977, the conventional wisdom is that I’m supposed to be adaptable, independent, productive, and to have a good work/life balance. Reading these characteristics feels like browsing a horoscope. I see myself in some of these traits, and can even feel a vague thrill of belonging when I read them. But my ‘boomer’ mother is intensely productive; my ‘Greatest Generation’ grandmother still sells old books online at age 90, in what I consider to be the ultimate show of adaptability and independence.

enerational thinking doesn’t frustrate everyone. Indeed, there is a healthy market for pundits who can devise grand theories of generational difference. Neil Howe and William Strauss, authors of Generations: The History of America’s Future, 1584-2069 (1991) and founders of the consulting firm LifeCourse Associates in Virginia, have made a fine living out of generational assessments, but their work reads like a deeply mystical form of historical explanation. (Strauss died in 2007; Howe continues to run the consultancy LifeCourse.) The two have conceived an elaborate and totalising theory of the cycle of generations, which they argue come in four sequential and endlessly repeating archetypes.

In the Strauss-Howe schema, these distinct groups of archetypes follow each other throughout history thus: ‘prophets’ are born near the end of a ‘crisis’; ‘nomads’ are born during an ‘awakening’; ‘heroes’ are born after an ‘awakening’, during an ‘unravelling’; and ‘artists’ are born after an ‘unravelling’, during a ‘crisis’. Strauss and Howe select prominent individuals from each generation, pointing to characteristics that define them as archetypal – heroes are John F Kennedy and Ronald Reagan; artists: Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson; prophets: John Winthrop, Abraham Lincoln; nomads: John Adams, Ulysses Grant. Each generation has a common set of personal characteristics and typical life experiences.

Plenty of kids at less-privileged schools weren’t intensely worried about grades or planning, like the stereotypical millennial

The archetypal scheme is also a theory of how historical change happens. The LifeCourse idea is that the predominance of each archetype in a given generation triggers the advent of the next (as the consultancy’s website puts it: ‘each youth generation tries to correct or compensate for what it perceives as the excesses of the midlife generation in power’). Besides having a very reductive vision of the universality of human nature, Strauss and Howe are futurists; they predict that a major crisis will occur once every 80 years, restarting the generational cycle. While the pair’s ideas seem far-fetched, they have currency in the marketplace: LifeCourse Associates has consulted for brands such as Nike, Cartoon Network, Viacom and the Ford Motor Company; for universities including Arizona State, Dartmouth, Georgetown and the University of Texas, and for the US Army, too.

The commercial success of this pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo is irritating, but also troubling. The dominant US thinkers on the generational question tend to flatten social distinctions, relying on cherry-picked examples and reifying a vision of a ‘society’ that’s made up mostly of the white and middle-class. In an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2009 on the pundits and consultants who market information about ‘millennials’ to universities, Eric Hoover described Howe and Strauss’s influential book about that generation, Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation (2000), as a work ‘based on a hodgepodge of anecdotes, statistics, and pop-culture references’ with the only new empirical evidence being a body of around 600 interviews of high-school seniors, all living in wealthy Fairfax County, Virginia.

Hoover interviewed several people in higher education who voiced their doubts about the utility of Howe and Strauss’s approach. Their replies, informed by their experience teaching college students from across the socioeconomic spectrum, show how useless the schematic understanding of ‘millennials’ looks when you’re working with actual people. Palmer H Muntz, then the director of admissions of Lincoln Christian University in Illinois, noticed that plenty of kids he encountered on visits to less-privileged schools weren’t intensely worried about grades or planning, like the stereotypical millennial. Fred A Bonner II, now at Prairie View A & M University in Texas, pointed out that many of the supposed ‘personality traits’ of coddled and pressured millennials were unrecognisable to his black or Hispanic students, or those who grew up with less money. Siva Vaidhyanathan, a cultural historian and media scholar at the University of Virginia, told Hoover: ‘Generational thinking is just a benign form of bigotry.’"



"Ryder had harsh words for the theorists he called ‘generationists’. He argued that thinkers about generation on a large scale had made illogical leaps when theorising the relationship between generations and social change. ‘The fact that social change produces intercohort differentiation and thus contributes to inter-generational conflict,’ he argued, ‘cannot justify a theory that social change is produced by that conflict.’ There was no way to prove causality. The end result, he wrote, was that grand generational theories tended toward ‘arithmetical mysticism.’"



"As the French historian Pierre Nora wrote in 1996, the careful analyst trying to talk about generations will always struggle: ‘The generational concept would make a wonderfully precise instrument if only its precision didn’t make it impossible to apply to the unclassifiable disorder of reality.’ The problem with transferring historical and sociological ways of thinking about generational change into the public sphere is that ‘unclassifiability’ is both terrifying and boring. Big, sweeping explanations of social change sell. Little, careful studies of same-age cohorts, hemmed in on all sides by rich specificity, do not.

Perhaps the pseudoscientific use of supposed ‘generations’ would irk less if it weren’t so often used to demean the young. Millennials, consultants advise prospective employers, feel entitled to good treatment even in entry-level jobs, because they’ve been overpraised their whole lives. Millennials won’t buckle down and buy cars or houses, economists complain; millennials are lurking in their parents’ basements, The New Yorker cartoon stereotype runs, tweeting and texting and posting selfies and avoiding responsibility."



"Popular millennial backlash against the stereotyping of their generation makes use of the same arguments against generational thinking that sociologists and historians have spent years developing. By drawing attention to the effects of the economic situation on their lives, pointing out that human experience isn’t universal and predictable, and calling upon adults to abandon broad assessments in favour of specific understanding, millennials prove the point: generational thinking is seductive, and for some of us it confirms our preconceived prejudices, but it’s fatally flawed as a mode of understanding the world. Real life is not science fiction."
rebeccaonion  generationalthinking  generations  age  ageism  complexity  humans  society  adaptability  independence  history  individuals  neilhowe  williamstrauss  stereotypes  lifecourse  palmermuntz  sivavaidhyanathan  agesegregation  millenials  genx  generationx  generationy  erichoover  karlmannheimaugusteconte  gottfriedleibniz  normanryder  sociology  causality  robertwohl  pierrenora  bigotry  generationalwarfare  malcolmharris  digitalnatives  hypocrisy  via:ayjay 
may 2015 by robertogreco
Colleges Are Raising Costs Because They Can | Al Jazeera America
"Why does college cost so much? Commentators continue to look for clues. So far, two main schools of thought have emerged. According to the first, fees have increased to make up for declines in government appropriations for higher education. According to the second, bloated administrations are wasting the money on frivolous extras unrelated to the core instructional mission.

Though the two views aren’t mutually exclusive and both are supported by evidence, there remains an ideological divide between them. People who believe educating citizens is the government’s job, no matter the cost (generally those on the political left), tend to believe the first, while people who would rather shrink government (generally those on the right) are more inclined to the waste hypothesis. As a result, explaining college-cost increases becomes a kind of proxy fight in which neither side accepts the other’s good faith and both are usually proved right.

In an op-ed for The New York Times, law professor Paul F. Campos widened the gap. While its title, “The real reason college tuition costs so much,” oversells the case a bit, its main point is sound: Government funding for higher education has gone up a lot. Even if funding per student is down a little bit as more kids pursue degrees, calling it a massive defunding is disingenuous. However, because Campos didn’t focus much on the subsidy per student, it opened him to attack from his opponents. And attack they did, in Slate, Crooked Timber, Inside Higher Ed and elsewhere. Still, Campos is right that the defunding explanation is weak, even in light of increased enrollment.

In 20 of the past 31 years, both per student funding and tuition have increased at public two- and four-year institutions. Tuition increased in every year except 2000, even in years when there were sizable increases in state outlays. The three periods when state support fell all followed recessions, when state legislators were dealing with reduced tax revenue and a glut of new students who were frustrated out of job market and into the classroom. This results in a clear correlation between decreased funding per student and ever-escalating tuition in the early 1990s, early 2000s and since 2008 — but taken together, they account for only a third of those 31 years. That fails to explain the decades-long pattern of consistent tuition hikes. More important, the data give us no reason to believe that if government support had only increased, colleges wouldn’t have raised tuition anyway.

One problem with the college-cost debate is that most commentators look at only two sources of revenue: state appropriations and tuition. But as any administrator will tell you, these are the least interesting parts of a school’s budget. From a college president’s perspective, there’s only so much schools can do to influence the legislature, and the potential for tuition hikes is constrained by their competitors, if nothing else. Other sources, however, such as grants, gifts, discretionary appropriations and investment income, aren’t subject to the same limitations. Administrators who want to set themselves apart from their peers (and in this market, who can afford not to?) focus their energy where they can make the biggest and most noticeable difference."



"When it comes to chasing the big bucks, tuition and state appropriations aren’t created equal. Whereas state appropriations have a pile of strings attached, fees are universities’ to do with what they will. They’re free to use it to finance capital projects like the Cooper Union building or investments in labor automation or eye-catching amenities or grant-friendly research facilities or debt service or hedge fund fees or administrators’ salaries. Given a choice between a dollar from the state and a dollar from students, any smart college president would rather have the latter. Fee income allows, for example, the University of California system to go to Wall Street and get bonds for giant construction projects, pledging tuition hikes to cover the debt.

Declines in per student appropriations at the very least give administrators good cover to increase tuition, even if the two variables aren’t quite causally tied. And high salaries for administrators appear to be the consequence of changes to higher education’s incentive structures as much as a cause: The competition for ever more funds launches competition for ever larger fundraisers. At the end of the day, college tuition is going up for the simplest of reasons: Demand is inelastic, and it’s exceeding the supply. Despite the price increases, enrollment has kept rising. As long as the Treasury is willing to write larger and larger student loan checks and as long as high school grads see no other option besides college to advance their career prospects, tuition will keep going up. If we’re not willing to change our higher education system from the foundation, arguing over the proximate causes of the cost crisis won’t do anyone any good."

[via “the university as a machine that turns student loans into real estate”
http://nathanjurgenson.com/post/115941651935/college-tuition-is-going-up-for-the-simplest-of ]
universities  colleges  tuition  2015  highered  highereducation  economics  markets  malcolmharris  cooperunion  loans  studentloans  policy  government  paulcampos  funding 
april 2015 by robertogreco
Not for Teacher – The New Inquiry
"If you were to build a 21st century public education system from scratch, the teacher’s role would undoubtedly be quite different. You don’t have the same cheap women’s labor, but you do have a number of labor-saving technologies. When it comes to imparting basic knowledge—the kind of skills measured on standardized tests—well-­tailored computer programs could do it at least as well as the average human instructor. In the 19th century, every classroom needed its own lecturer, but wouldn’t kids today rather have Neil deGrasse Tyson backed by million-dollar graphics than a local 25-year-old with a degree in political science?

Against all evidence, experience, and common sense, we cling to and generalize our idea of the perfect teacher. Among nonpornographic depictions of teachers—I admit that most movies about teachers are probably porn—fantastic teachers are vastly overrepresented. It’s part of the national bargain with schoolteachers: We won’t pay you as well as a dental hygienist, but as an individual, people will assume you’re doing a good, important, and generous job. Whether it’s Matilda’s Miss Honey or Ryan Gosling teaching ghetto dialectics in Half Nelson, we have to imagine that all teachers share a common passionate commitment because the alternative is unbearable: We force all children to spend most of their waking time being evaluated and instructed by some underpaid randos because otherwise we’d have no idea what to do with them. Ask any babysitter how much they charge per hour to watch 30 nine-year-olds. It’s an absurd thing to require of a person, and America was able to pull it off because the women they were asking didn’t have a lot of other options.

The teacher wars will continue for now, but I’m not sure the unions can hold on. The National Education Association’s membership has been dropping significantly over the past five years, and the new corporate reformers are advancing mission-directed charter schools as the newest way to undermine organized teachers. The union’s enemies plan to break its back state by state and they’ve got history—though not the angels—on their side. When most 11-year-olds can access most of the information in the world with a quick search, the instructor’s job has to change. The system has survived near 200 years now; it’s time to imagine what comes after the teachers finally lose the war."
education  unions  labor  danagoldstein  malcolmharris  2014  history  horacemann  economics  policy  politics  society  teaching  teachers  tearcherunions  salaries  tenure 
september 2014 by robertogreco
Millennials’ politics are shaped by our dysfunctional system | Al Jazeera America
"In a 2011 poll centered around Occupy Wall Street, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press found that adults under 30 had a much more negative view of capitalism than other demographics. Under-30s had an overall negative impression of capitalism (46–47), matching liberal democrats and self-identified supporters of OWS. Even the Reason poll found 43 percent of respondents favoring socialism to capitalism. This would be less remarkable if the U.S. had a socialist party or an anti-capitalist culture, but it doesn’t. The closest experience of such things millennials have enjoyed is an unfunded hodgepodge sequence of park occupations. Capitalist ideology has close to zero competition in American politics, but it can just barely muster a majority among young people in a poll run by the free-market fan club.

It’s no surprise that millennials aren’t content with the way things are going. The rest of America feels the same way. Earlier this month, the Huffington Post announced the results of another public opinion survey with my favorite headline of the year: "American Dissatisfaction With Everything Is Reaching Historic Levels." The poll found nearly three-quarters of respondents “unsatisfied,” mostly related to a lackluster economy and an unresponsive political system. Things are so bad that the very legitimacy of American democracy is in dispute: 73 percent believe the government operates without the consent of the people and two-thirds believe they have no say. With 95 percent of the income gains since the recession ended accruing to the top 1 percent of earners, it isn’t cynicism for most people to feel unrepresented by our political and economic system, it’s common sense.

If you consider the circumstances of their political development, millennials would have to be a generation of credulous fools to trust the government at all. From 9/11 on, they saw firsthand the devastation wrought by the Bush administration’s dishonesty. The biggest protests the world has ever seen couldn’t stop an ill-advised war on Iraq, and half-assed regulation-by-crony set the economy up for a heavy fall. The Obama ’08 campaign squeezed out enough hope to win, but nearly six years later the promised change hasn’t followed. After repeatedly insisting that the National Security Agency wasn’t spying on everyone, the government has been forced — by another untrusting millennial, former NSA contractor Edward Snowden — to concede that the NSA actually has been spying on everyone. Politicians who “evolve” (i.e., flip) on gay marriage have pushed the issue forward, but they also look morally unmoored, as if they can’t figure out how to treat people decently without a pollster’s help.

Every day there’s another story about government corruption or inefficiency. Whether it’s fighters of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) bragging about the U.S. military trucks they’ve seized in Iraq, or revelations about profiteering off government contracts or the shocking story that our own contractors spend at least some of their time threatening to murder State Department investigators, news about what happens with government resources is usually bad news. No wonder the Reason study finds that a plurality of millennials don’t trust either party on most of the major issues and two-thirds think the government is wasteful and inefficient. But even though millennials are wary of the bureaucracy, a strong majority of young Americans still believe in government entitlements: 54 percent believe the state should guarantee a college education, rising to 69 percent for health insurance, and a whopping 74 percent believe everyone deserves enough to eat and a place to sleep.

From food trucks to marijuana, the Reason report shows millennials are in favor of people doing their thing without state interference, but these are not the future capitalists the surveying foundations were hoping for. American millennials can’t possibly trust the government, but we still believe in a social safety net that takes care of everyone. This combination of libertarian and socialist values unnerves the major parties and unimaginative commentators, but it’s a logical response to the last 15 years. We’ve seen what happens when people don’t have anything to fall back on but the market, as well as what happens when the government feels entitled to know everything about everyone, and we don’t want either.

Caught between the market and the state, millennials might look “totally incoherent” when you ask them to pick one. But life isn’t a poll, and civic participation isn’t a multiple-choice test. These libertarian socialists don’t make sense to party partisans or the elderly, but there are more of them every day. If they reject the choice between door No. 1 and door No. 2, they’ll need to create some more options."
millenials  socialism  capitalism  us  polls  malcolmharris  2014  politics  policy  future  disaffection  libertarianism  government 
august 2014 by robertogreco
School’s Out Forever – The New Inquiry
"Education has become the way to talk about class and labor in an American political system that is profoundly uncomfortable with both. In the hands of reformist technocrats, inequality is a matter of nuanced social engineering rather than a conflict between two unequal and opposed sides – those who profit and those who only work. If society wanted to reduce the growing discrepancy between rich and poor, we would worry less about tweaking the educational system and simply pay or give the poor more money. Marsh writes, “Given the political will, whether through redistributive tax rates, massive public works projects, a living wage law, or a renaissance of labor unions, we could decrease poverty and inequality tomorrow regardless of the market or the number of educated and uneducated workers.”

Although Marsh takes the reader back to historical junctions when choosing such paths toward a more equal country seemed possible — like President Johnson’s war on poverty or President Nixon’s proposal for a national income — those days are long gone. As Governor Walker’s successful move against public unions in Wisconsin shows, organized labor’s fight for survival isn’t conducive to winning higher wages. Marsh is not optimistic about the likelihood of an American labor renaissance; the best outcome he can imagine is that we might hold the debate about class and wealth distribution in undisguised terms. “We ought to acknowledge the limited but nevertheless real role education plays in providing individual economic opportunity and may play in generating national economic growth,” he writes, “At the same time, we should seek to make education more of an end it itself and less of a means toward some other end.”

While Marsh uses all his considerable analytical prowess to dispel the myth of class mobility through education, he accepts the conventional wisdom about the “true” purposes of education without a second look. If schools can’t solve society’s economic problems, he suggests, then they should focus on what they can do. Citing Thomas Jefferson through Christopher Lasch, Marsh offers only these two possibilities: “To give everybody the intellectual resources — particularly the command of the language — needed to distinguish truth from public lies” and “to train scholars, intellectuals, and members of learned professions.”

A school system devoted to those two goals wouldn’t make the country more equal, but it might restore English professors like Marsh to their former glory. He writes, “The liberal arts might regain the stature their inevitably central locations on campus indicate they once had. How much better for students’ souls — for their future happiness — to have studied the humanities or some branch of the liberal arts?” Putting aside the supposed strength of the correlation between majoring in literature and happiness, the answer to “How much better for their souls?” isn’t graphable. But being an English professor means never questioning the transcendent impact of your own thought on others."



"Just like the aberrational student elevated out of poverty through education, the exceptional teacher who can impact a student’s soul provides a flawed justification for a system which fails to provide anything of the sort on a larger scale. The hope is that every student has a teacher or two over a decade and a half that really makes them question and think, but either way, we silently acknowledge that they’ll spend the majority of their young vigor-filled lives quivering at the arbitrary mercy of petty kooks and jowly tyrants. Schools train students in what business professor Stefano Harney says every diploma really proves: “that the student can follow arbitrary authority, endure boredom, and compete against others.” Classrooms, tellingly, are usually depicted in popular culture as excruciatingly boring. Teachers post Calvin and Hobbes cartoons about the soul-crushing banality of compulsory attendance on the classroom walls. In TV shows and movies about young people, class time is depicted only so that it can be interrupted by something more important — whether it’s whispered gossip, singing montages, or vampire slaying. Or, à la Ben Stein in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, class is so awful as to be a self-explanatory joke.

With the economic logic ripped apart, the only reasoning Marsh presents for keeping students in the prison/school for 12 to 16 years is that their souls might benefit from compulsory membership in a gerontocratic book club, even if we have to put a sizable proportion of them on amphetamines for it to work. This isn’t coincidental, it’s prefigurative, a determining sneak-peek at the adults they’ll become. High schools and colleges knowingly teach and enable the Adderall-seeking behavior that graduates will need to compete in the work world — that is if they don’t have standing prescriptions from elementary school. When a sixth-grader isn’t paying attention in class because he’s too busy clenching his knees together so as not to piss his pants before the bell rings, he’s not learning to be a better citizen or intellectual, he’s learning to be a better prisoner, employee, or soldier.

One of Marsh’s most suggestive comparisons is the number of striking workers against the number of new college admittances over time. Although the lines crossed long ago, the juxtaposition suggests the classroom is only one possible choice in pursuing a better life, and not necessarily the best one. Elsewhere around the world, young people try to construct better lives for themselves outside the classroom, as in Spain and Greece, where students fight against the austerity and increasing economic inequality Marsh fears, or in Egypt or Tunisia where revolution is not to be confused with an SAT-prep company. Using expert knowledge no teacher could have inculcated, young hackers risk jail to expose public falsehoods and build solidarity with peers overseas by fucking around on the internet. They’re not willing to leave the problems of their inherited world for moribund labor unions or withering socialist parties. Students in America could try a different kind of strike based on what’s occurred in Cairo and Athens — out of the classroom and into the streets. And how much better would that be for their future happiness, how much better for their souls?"
2011  education  schools  schooling  schooliness  learning  labor  unions  economics  solidarity  capitalism  corporatization  unschooling  deschooling  teaching  authority  conformity  conditioning  clavinandhobbes  poverty  inequality  malcolmharris  johnmarsh  politics  class  classmobility  socialmobility  policy  edreform  why  tyranny  control  supression  liberalarts  opportunity  corporatism 
june 2014 by robertogreco
An inconvenient truth about higher ed | Al Jazeera America
"As an answer to higher ed’s crisis, the best “Ivory Tower” has to offer are community colleges, where the name on the credential doesn’t mean much, but students at all stages in their lives can acquire skills using online and classroom resources. This might be the best pure deal on the higher education market, but community colleges are unlikely to unseat four-year institutions in prestige or cultural dominance. Like HBCUs and tuition-free hippie schools, some community colleges are fighting for survival. City College of San Francisco, for example, is clinging to accreditation, disputing charges that it lacks a sufficient number of administrators and a secure financial base. Solutions like education hacking and community colleges also ignore the fact that brand-name diplomas and connections are what schools are selling, at least as much as knowledge. If you had to choose between a college credential and a college education, in this job market you’d be a fool to take the latter.

When it comes to reforming four-year nonprofits, there’s no reason to believe pumping in more state money won’t just exacerbate the current problems, rooted in skyrocketing cost. And since state money is earmarked for particular expenses, schools will still need more no-strings-attached tuition money to service institutional debt. If federal regulators were to require schools to cut costs, we know just how these corporate managers would do it: contracting out whatever good jobs are left and doubling the marketing budget so no one notices."
malcolmharris  education  documentary  ivorytower  2014  highered  highereducation  money  communitycolleges  moocs  mooc  deepspringscollege  peterthiel  arizonastateuniversity 
june 2014 by robertogreco

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