The perils of the PTA

Originally published in Zocalo Public Square

Here’s a quick quiz for anyone who has ever had kids or grandkids or nieces and nephews in school: Can you name all of the fundraising items you’ve purchased from the PTA (or whatever acronym represents your committee of ruling parents)?

I can. Over the years, for the sake of my children’s enrichment, I have ordered gold-standard wrapping paper, reusable polyurethane bags, various types of overpriced produce, several mugs embossed with childhood art of questionable quality, and a decidedly non-miraculous miracle sponge.Curtis Richardson

Most working parents I know have a love-hate relationship with the PTA, that benevolent oligarchy in yoga pants. PTAparents are cliquish and relentless, but hard-working and sincere. And ultimately, they’re not the ones to blame for all of the needling flyers, fundraising packets, and soul-crushing suggestions that if you don’t buy gourmet grapefruit, the field trip to the petting farm won’t happen, and everyone will be sorry.

No, the real problem is a system that has yanked the parent organization from its roots: an advocacy group, founded in the 19th century by women who couldn’t vote, which has successfully pushed for kindergarten, mandatory immunizations, and child labor laws. There’s still a National PTA, based near Washington, D.C. But over the years, many school-based groups have lost faith in its agenda—or decided the dues weren’t worthwhile—and gone independent.

And without a common purpose or an overarching mission, many PTAs have evolved into school-based fundraising machines, largely divorced from the “teacher” part of the name, and generally turned inward. (By the time the country song “Harper Valley PTA” came out in 1968, its clannish reputation had been sealed.)

In the process, PTAs have replaced true community with something that’s essentially the opposite.

Read the rest here.

Is day care impossible?

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Originally published in the Boston Globe.

ON THE D.C. dinner-party circuit these days, Ivanka Trump is reportedly pushing her pet project: helping women advance in the labor force. As the president’s daughter chats up bigwigs and members of Congress, here’s hoping she’ll bring up the most fundamental challenge for working families: the impossible economics of child care.

To many new parents, the price tag for child care, a non-negotiable, multi-year expense, comes as a gut-wrenching shock. According to the Care Index, created by the think tank New America and Care.com, US parents pay, on average, nearly $800 per month for full-time, center-based care for children under 5. In Massachusetts, that cost is closer to $1,100 per month, about on par with the median state rent and fully a third of the median household income.

These prices, mind you, aren’t making American child-care workers rich; in 2015, their median wage was $9.77 an hour. Operating margins at day-care centers, meanwhile, have historically been thin. It’s not just some elite group of careerists that suffers the consequences. Two-income households are increasingly the norm, due to economic reality; government statistics show that in 2011, 64 percent of mothers of children under 6 were employed, as were more than half of mothers of infants.

They face a child-care system in disarray, riddled with long waiting lists and general discontent, dragging on economic mobility and sometimes public safety. Which raises a question for Ivanka, and for all of us: At what point should government step in?

Read the rest here.

 

Rooting for Ivanka (maybe)

 

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Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti.

It might be time to root for Ivanka Trump.

Not because Nordstrom dropped her shoe line, or Neiman’s dropped her jewelry, or TJ Maxx demoted her clothing from the most prominent racks. Ivanka will survive these retail tragedies.

It’s the tawdriness that will be harder to overcome.

First, Donald Trump attacked Nordstrom in a tweet for being “Terrible!” to his daughter. Then Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway declared, on Fox News, that Americans should “go buy Ivanka’s stuff.” And suddenly, it was harder for Ivanka to maintain her delicate balancing act she’s managed since this odd political experiment began: Supporting her father while protecting her personal brand.

That she managed for so long is no small accomplishment. Just look at the supporters and surrogates whose images have changed irrevocably over the last two years: Conway, Sean Spicer, Rudy Giuliani, Chris Christie.

Read the rest here.

This is what we do now

Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

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We can start by thinking the worst of people, or we can start by thinking the best of people.

And our instincts, for most of this horrid campaign, have been to think the worst — to see a vote for the other side as a moral failing. My various feeds on Tuesday night, dominated by Northeastern urbanites and media types, were filled with disbelief at the voters who could see the totality of Donald Trump, over the course of 15 months, and still elect him the 45th president.

But if you’re going to ascribe the best motives, instead, to a good portion of Americans, you can think about the presidential election results this way: This race was less a measure of what people wanted than what they were willing to overlook.

Read the rest here

To all the nasty women

Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

hillary-nasty“Such a nasty woman.”

Toward the end of another long and painful debate, that line from Donald Trump made women sit up on edge, antennae raised. From the start, Trump has built his campaign on epithets and insults, most of them calculated for high entertainment value, like cutesy pet names for a pet you disrespect. “Lyin’ Ted.” “Little Marco.” “Crooked Hillary.”

But this comment felt different — not a winking, scripted pronouncement, but an aside he practically whispered into the microphone as Hillary Clinton spoke, like a secret message to those who understood his code. It was a sign of what happens when Trump is provoked: He reaches down into his id and pulls out something ugly.

And it was immediately taken, by women across America, as a badge of honor.

Read the rest here

 

The Shimmy

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Originally published in WBUR’s Cognoscenti

In 2008, Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was defined by a teary-eyedmoment in New Hampshire. This time around, it might be the shimmy.

When we look back on Monday night’s Trump-Clinton debate, that’s the image that’s going to stick: Clinton, having listened calmly to long and largely incoherent ramble from her opponent, finally got her turn to speak, and launched with a little involuntary “Whoo! OK!” and a shoulder shake.

Within nanoseconds, the video had been turned into countless GIFs. By morning, it was mocked on Breitbart, with the all-caps headline: “WATCH: HILLARY CLINTON SHIMMY AT PRESIDENTIAL DEBATE GOES ON A FEW SECONDS TOO LONG.”

Did it? Who cares? It was perhaps the first moment in the entire campaign when Clinton looked like she was actually enjoying herself. When she seemed to be thinking, “I’ve got this.”

Read the rest here

 

In the Boston Globe: The Toll of Duty

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On May 25, just shy of 4 p.m., an e-mail showed up in the inbox of every Boston Police Department officer. The subject line was “A Message from the Police Commissioner — Peer Support.” It began with a cryptic reference to “several recent sudden deaths within our ranks. Members that we have lost too soon.”

Officers in the trenches knew precisely what that meant. In the past month, the close community of New England law enforcement had seen several suicides, in different jurisdictions, in quick succession. Official department announcements used euphemistic terms like “sudden passing,” but first responders knew better. They were attuned to clues that came over the scanners: the middle-aged man with the gunshot wound in the neighborhood filled with cops.

Over the past few months and years, police officers have become one of the most talked-about groups of American professionals, courted and cited by politicians, scrutinized for their culture and tactics, honored for their bravery. The public understands that police work is dangerous, subject at times to acute risk and life-altering decisions.

But there’s another persistent threat to the safety of police and first responders, many officers and academics say: their own mental health.

Read the rest of the article, originally published in the Boston Globe, here.