Monday, June 19, 2017

We Have No King

For Father’s Day, one of my gifts was control of the tv for the day.  I used it to show the kids Monty Python and the Holy Grail, a classic to which they might not otherwise be exposed.  (I fast-forwarded past the “Castle Anthrax” scene, for reasons obvious to anyone who has seen the movie.) The Boy, very much his mother’s son, liked it okay; he laughed a few times, and recognized the “it’s only a flesh wound” scene from some memes.  The Girl, very much her father’s daughter, laughed out loud throughout.  The catapulted cow brought an abrupt belly laugh that I never get tired of hearing.

I even took some parental pride in noting how she was able to follow the dialogue in the “king?  We have no king!” exchange.  A chip off the old block.

Later in the day, The Boy and I were out on some errands when the topic of white privilege came up.  I wanted to convey that it’s a real thing, and a problem, without making him defensive, so I used the example of my daily drive through a high-income area on my way to work.  In two years of driving through some places I could never afford to live, I’ve never been pulled over.  That’s a sign of a certain benefit of the doubt that isn’t universally shared.  It’s not my fault, or his, that we don’t get pulled over; if anything, I think that non-practice should extend to everyone.  But to pretend it isn’t there is to miss something basic.  He seemed to accept that.

Later, he started talking about putting together a college tour this summer.  I warned him that I intend to be an absolute, unapologetic nightmare on campus tours.  He’s resigned to it.

I bring these up because a couple of recent articles threw them into relief for me.  First was Eric Hoover’s piece in the Chronicle about a college adviser at a Texas high school with many low-income, homeless, and/or undocumented students.  The second was Annie Lowrey’s piece in the Atlantic reacting to Richard Reeves’ new book about upper-middle-class opportunity hoarding.  

The college adviser in Texas works with students for whom the FAFSA can be an insurmountable obstacle, whether due to low income, familial chaos, or immigration status.  One student had to write an essay to the financial aid office explaining how she lives on almost no money; I can’t imagine an upper-middle-class kid being asked to justify how he lives.  Bureaucracy that more fortunate students can effectively delegate to their parents becomes a real problem when the parents either aren’t there or aren’t in a position to help navigate it.  The recent decision to take down the IRS site that allowed access to previous years’ tax returns made an already difficult task that much harder, unless your parents were able to afford TurboTax or an accountant.

The advantages we’re giving our kids - lots of books, frequent discussion of politics and current events, a good school district, a stable home - will make it likelier that they’ll do well economically.  The advantages accrue over time.  That amounts, at some level, to the kind of hoarding that Lowrey/Reeves describe.  That’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s real.  

The issue is structural, as are the solutions.  I don’t apologize for giving my kids lots of books, or for putting them in situations likely to help them thrive.  As a parent, I consider that part of my job.  They’re great kids -- I’m biased, but still -- and I want them to be able to develop into the best versions of themselves that they can.  In my perfect world, every kid would get that chance.  The ethical obligation here is to use politics to pay it forward.  After all, we have no king.