books and reading · pop culture

What I’m Reading and Thinking About This Week

I’ve got some heavy stuff for you this week.  Without further ado, these are the things I’ve been reading and thinking about this week.

‘I Don’t Want My Children to Go to College’ (The Atlantic)

So, okay.  So.  Back in 2013, during a public conversation between Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt, New America Foundation President Anne-Marie Slaughter, and Buzzfeed president Jon Steinberg, the topic of the flaws in the traditional college model came up.  Steinberg, in a moment of sheer unadultarated genius (one I’m sure he’ll never regret at all ever), said that he doesn’t even want his kids to go to college.  Wait. It gets better:

Said Schmidt: “The purpose of college… has a lot to do with, not learning about education but learning how to live on your own and so forth…. The core question is what to do with 18-year-olds and the best thing to do is to put them in college until they’re 22. We’ve [got] sort of a warehousing problem.” …Slaughter mentioned that her son, a junior in high school, is mulling college but has also “learned more from the [free educational site] Khan Academy, in many ways, than he has in class.”  She adds it’s becoming more common for students to take time off before attending college. “These kids are sort of thinking, ‘But I can learn what I need to learn online.’ … That sense that, ‘If I don’t go to college between 18 and 22, I won’t make it,’ is really changing.”

Is this a conversation about privilege, or is this REALLY a conversation about privilege?  The dilemma (if you can even call it that) for the children of THESE INCREDIBLY WEALTHY, PRIVILEGED, AND IVY-EDUCATED PEOPLE is whether or not they should go to college at all.  The idea that this “mulling” process is the norm for 99% of America (and the world) is so utterly ridiculous that it makes me physically angry.

Luckily, Stacia L. Brown (yes, the same woman whose blog I linked to above), seems to understand where I’m coming from:

In the larger country in which we live, however, first-generation college students still make up about 30 percent of freshman classes each year. First-gen college students find it difficult to adjust to most post-secondary learning without dedicated mentorship. Low-income first gens are four times more likely to leave college after the first year than their multi-generation peers…Students like mine could not be tossed into the deep end of MOOC without having first spent whole semesters sitting at shared desks, raising their hands, and exchanging their writing among teachers, tutors, and peers.

Imagine how it must feel for them, hearing that this pinnacle toward which their families have urgently and hopefully pushed them is now considered all but obsolete by the titans of industry they believe are stakeholders in their future.

That last part is what made me actually tear up in frustration.  Because those are the student populations I have been working with my entire professional career, first as a high school teacher and now as an academic librarian.  Because this idea that a person can learn everything they need to know online is so privileged and ignorant that it makes me CRAZY.  Because learning online means that students lose out on so many other important things that come with the traditional college model.

What is Rape Culture? (Buzzfeed)

I have definite BuzzFeed fatigue, but this compilation about what rape culture is is too good to pass up.  I’m not going to stop talking about rape culture until we don’t live in one, guys, so you might as well get used to it.  If you only ever read one piece about what rape culture is, this is it.  It’s accessible, it’s short, and it’s on point.  It’s also really, really important for us to keep talking about this and what it means.

Yes, this list of what rape culture is includes “gray rape,” victim blaming, slut shaming, anti-rape wear, and street harassment.  No, I’m not going to argue with you that some of these things aren’t part of rape culture, because they are.  Read the article.

The Rapist Next Door (CNN)

This is really interesting long-form journalism from CNN about the prevalence of rape in Alaska, and why its numbers are so much higher than other parts of the country.  It tackles the case of one rapist, an indigenous man who is undergoing a great deal of cognitive behavioral therapy as well as continuing to live in his community. It’s fascinating and heartbreaking and well worth your time.  Here’s a snippet:

There was a time when politicians in Alaska argued rape survivors were simply reporting rape more often in this state than elsewhere. Those arguments, however, have been largely abandoned as the scope of the violence has become clearer. If anything, the taboos surrounding rape here would suggest that the crime is underreported in Alaska, relative to other states.

There’s so much at play here: economics, social class, race, imperialism, alcoholism, systemic abuse.

We Have Known Boys But None Have Been Bullet-Proof (Stacia L. Brown)

I’ve been following the news coverage of the murder of Jordan Brown pretty obsessively this week, and this is the most beautiful, haunting piece about racialized violence in America that I’ve seen in a long time.

If you don’t know who Jordan Brown was or what happened to him, I encourage you to do some reading about it.  Get angry.  Get angry about the fact that it happened two years ago and is only really seeing news coverage now.  Get angry about the fact that Florida’s fucked-up, COMPLETELY AND UNAPOLOGETICALLY RACIST “stand your ground” law is KILLING PEOPLE.  YOUNG PEOPLE. TEENAGERS.

In Praise of Disregard (NYT)

One of the friends with whom I regularly dissect articles on the internet sent me this one in response to some other stuff I sent her this week, and I’m trying to adopt it as my new philosophy.  The premise is simple:

In the past, it was easier to avoid what you didn’t need to hear. Today, it requires a concerted effort to do so, and it still isn’t possible to sidestep troubling views altogether. In addition, most public speech can now be commented on, and often is, thanks to the web. Recent years have confirmed that when things can be commented on, especially anonymously, people often become the worst versions of themselves. The opinions of others washing over us is the inescapable state of things today.

But it is possible to subdue those ideas that do violence to us. Ideas are given credence only when they are entertained. By disregardingthem, we can erode much of their influence.

As I was reading it, I started to worry a little bit.  “What about the things that actually matter?  Do I ignore those, too, even if people are being totally bigoted ignoramuses?”  But, no.  That’s not the point.  The point is to tune out the garbage so you can care about the stuff that matters to you.  And that is something I can get behind:

It is important to be sure that the ideas you want to eliminate from existence aren’t those that would have spurred you to action in your actual life. For example, if getting angry about the retrogression of women’s rights or about the increasing margin between rich and poor could impel you to get involved in your community to change these things, then, by all means, let the negative feelings fuel you. But many of the ideas we encounter, especially when rehashed in ever more amplified ways, serve only to distract us from the real issues. In a gesture of good faith and honesty with yourself, identify what you know you will never actually do anything about and eliminate it from your field of thought.

So, I’m working on it.  That stupid BuzzFeed video about being ladylike that irritated me this morning on Facebook? Letting it go.  A couple of people on Facebook who literally post every article whose headline they have read but CLEARLY DID NOT READ THE ACTUAL CONTENT who make me RAGEY? Letting it go, because they are dumb, insignificant, and possibly functionally illiterate, given their regular status updates.  I’m going to try to let things go, because damn do I have a lot of feelings about a lot of things.

What articles got you thinking this week?

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