Beginnings in Marseille

Marseille         After a truck key exchange in the New Orleans airport with our son, returning from Turkey and Bulgaria, we flew to Newark and then onto Geneva, where we experienced the most efficient customs and luggage handling experience ever, putting us at the ticket counter for the shuttle train into the main station within thirty minutes of our arrival.  Rather than running to make the 905, we found ourselves having an espresso with time on our hands.  A shuttle to the Geneva station and then a train change in Lyon found us arriving in Marseille to a warm sun and sea breezes on a promenade outside the station overlooking parts of the city.

Hours later we met Jason and Arthur, two young men who had been working since September to build an organization in what they told us was the poorest population district in Marseille and the country as a whole.  I had thought that Aubervilliers, where we have a strong organization in the Paris suburbs, held that title.  They clarified that Aubervilliers was the poorest municipal district, but this area around Belle de Mai in Marseille was the poorest area within any city in France, similar to what we would call the poorest census tract in the USA.  The area was a haven for a mix of recent immigrants and lower income, working families in apartment blocks near what had been a factory district for sugar, tobacco and other imports coming in as raw resources from French colonies and made into finished products within minutes of the central train station and the port.

It was a warm day and a hot night, and people were all over the streets, as we made our way to the office space near where they were organizing.  Adrien Roux, head organizer of ACORN’s affiliate Alliance Citoyenne, had spent most of the day doing training with their emerging organizing committee.  Arthur had worked previously for several months with our group in Aubervilliers.  More than a dozen folks assembled to watch The Organizer documentary and ask questions about ACORN, its roots, and its work elsewhere.  There were some technical issues that delayed the film as the transfer was made between disks, links, hard drives and computers to get the French translation right.  We filled the time with a preview of the film and questions and answers about ACORN.  One veteran of earlier sessions in Frankfurt was a surprise member of the team, so there was an “old hand” of sorts there as well.

Finally, the film was rolling, though we stopped it a bit after 9 pm, following the time-tested rule of respecting people’s time in meetings.  The questions were more pointed now.  Fake news and Fox News were common themes in Marseille due to Trump’s now long forgotten screed about neighborhoods that people were afraid to go near in Europe because of the Muslim menace he keeps trying to use to incite his base.  We talked about lessons and voter registration which turned out to have been an earlier discussion in the training as well.

They are off to a good start.  We wished we could stay longer, because Marseille could be an important organizational link for our development in France.


Shattering the Myth of Meritocracy and Recruiting the Lower Income to Elite Education

New Orleans   I hope people don’t hurt themselves with all the hand-wringing they are doing as they suddenly act as if they are shocked that the myth of American being a meritocracy is, you know, just a total scam bearing no semblance to reality.  Pundits, parents, and of course some students that had bought into the carrot are expressing shock at finding how much it was nothing but stick.  College admissions offices can’t decide whether to act aggrieved, apologize, hide, or finally admit that it has never been a fair system, and that they have no idea or mandate from their bosses in the presidents’ offices or certainly the development offices to actually embrace reform and construct a level playing field.

Of course, I’m again talking about the fact that 33 parents and a score of enablers in college and university athletic departments and admissions officers, joined together with the sharpie who ran a college advice and tutoring service in southern California.  Over a seven-year period they shared about $25 million according to the allegations from the Justice Department.

The tut-tooting about this scandal from the pundits is a hoot.  Some have bemoaned the skewed emphasis on getting into a school, rather than what you get out of a school.  Others have pointed out how little it matters elite or not elite, except for class status and social capital, as if that wasn’t exactly what they hoped to buy!

Another perspective was offered by a writer from the Miami area who had busted her butt to get into an elite school as the first from her family to ever go to college and her shock at hearing from a new friend who had slid into Cornell on the backs of family legacy, and laughed at her naivete.  I can remember my own initial head scratching, coming from a New Orleans public high school to Williams College, when I read the bold headline in the Williams Record that my class was the first to be admitted where a majority were from public schools and wondering how so many had gotten in from parochial school.  I should have known better of course.

Was it only last year when so many of these elite institutions were boasting of their supposed ramped up efforts to recruit disadvantage students in order to try to put a lipstick on this pig and pretend there was still a heart beat in the myth of the meritocracy?

Recent reports indicate that they don’t even have a real chance at big state universities, especially as tuition increases have soared there just as they have in elite private institutions.  The review of 2.4 million FAFSAs, the standard financial aid form, submitted between Oct. 1, 2017, and Oct. 31, 2018, for aid that would cover the 2018-2019 academic year, found that 30% of students whose parents’ adjusted gross income was in the lowest quintile submitted their FAFSA after March 1, 2018. Meanwhile, two-thirds of those whose parents were in the highest income quintile, earning upward of $133,000, submitted it by Feb. 1.   Illinois, North Carolina, Washington and other states make awards on a first-come, first-served basis, while some states set hard cutoffs in January or February. By mid-March, when many older, independent and low-income students start filing for aid, deadlines have passed for grants in Connecticut, Maryland, California, Michigan, Missouri, West Virginia and elsewhere.  You get it, right?  The door is slammed before many of these lower income students can even get their foot in.

Meritocracy, horse manure!  The Justice Department might get these deep-pocketed strivers, but we all know the Department of Education under billionaire Betsy DeVos is not going to lift a finger to level the playing field for all students applying for slots in higher education, quite the contrary.  Neither will we hear anything from President Donald Trump and his family, including Jared Kushner, since both of them were alleged to have benefited from contributions and connections to get into their schools.

This is such a farce though that it demands all of us get into the barn with shovels and demand a cleanup.