Thursday, January 19, 2017

Friday Fragments

I’m sort of obsessed with this story from the Times, and its interactive graphics.  It’s about social mobility among graduates of different colleges and universities.

For anyone who likes to quibble with statistics, it’s a feast.  If I were teaching an intro class on statistics, I’d probably use it as a visual aid.  

It turns a lot of traditional rankings on their heads.  Colleges that draw very heavily from the top quintile score low on overall mobility, just because there’s nothing higher than top.  And some numbers fly in the face of stereotype: I was fascinated to find that DeVry outscored, say, Hampshire College on the chances that a student from the bottom fifth in income will make it to the top fifth by age 34.  (DeVry’s rank: 621 out of 2137.  Hampshire: 1314 out of 2137.)  If you subscribe to a blanket “for-profit bad, non-profit good” perspective, that should give you pause.

For all of that, though, the piece raises some great questions.  To what degree does “prestige” mostly reflect high parental income, as opposed to quality of instruction?  Alternately, why do we give tax breaks to the 38 places that have more students from the top 1% of household income than from the bottom 60%, yet inflict austerity on community colleges?  

The usual caveats apply, of course.  Income is only one measure; only counting graduates may skew the numbers; many community college alumni may be subsumed in the numbers of their transfer destination schools; the mix of majors at a given school may override its quality at what it does.  Even excellent social workers don’t make as much by 34 as fairly mediocre pharmacists do.

Still, the connection between the “rise up” numbers and prestige within the industry is vague at best.

Go ahead and play with the numbers.  It’s weirdly compelling.  


A couple of weeks ago, through the generosity of a longtime reader, I had the opportunity to take The Girl to see Hamilton.  

To appreciate the magnitude of that, you need to know a few things.  The Girl is twelve.  She is obsessed with the soundtrack, and can recite the entire thing.  She has decided opinions on the merits of various characters and songs.  (“...and Peggy” is a running joke in our house.)  She has read the “behind the scenes” book, and seen the PBS documentary.  We even took her to the New York Public Library Hamilton exhibit.

She was prepped.

Even with all that, I can’t remember the last time I saw her so giddy.  The place was full of girls about her age; it was probably the closest to Beatlemania I’ve experienced.  When Hamilton first walked on stage and said his name, the place erupted.  TG didn’t stop smiling through the entire first act.

I was right there with her; it was the best play or musical I’ve ever seen, by far.  It reminded me of seeing Star Wars in a theater when it first came out.  You could feel the bar being raised.

Even knowing the soundtrack by heart, seeing it is a different experience.  King George emerged as an unexpected audience favorite with his over-the-top dandyism.  The dancing was athletic, graceful, and somehow both implausible and entirely appropriate.  And there was much more humor in the gestures than the soundtrack could capture; we were both surprised at how much we laughed.

She was surprised when I got teary at Philip’s death scene.  I inherited my sense of emotional display from the Scandinavian side of the family, except maybe for laughing more.  But something about watching a father at his son’s deathbed, while my daughter sat next to me, broke through.  TG was genuinely shocked to see me wipe away tears; she talked about it for a week.  Hey, Dads are people, too.  It happens.

My doctorate is in political science, with a focus on American political thought.  I never thought I’d see a play, let alone a monster hit, celebrating the primary author of the Federalist papers.  (“His skill with the quill is undeniable.”  Yes, it is.)  And I really, really never thought I’d see it with a twelve year old reacting as if it were 1964 and Ringo just walked on stage.

Why do I write like I’m running out of time?  To remember moments like these.