If A Form Fails In the Forest And No One Hears About It…

Imagine for a moment that hackers attacked Harvard’s computer systems, or someone dragged a huge magnet through Cambridge, and suddenly we had no record of who had attended and graduated for the past 40 years. Would it get a lot of media attention? I suspect so. Especially from The Times and other outfits that are essentially Harvard’s outposts across the realm. We’d hear non-stop about the disruption and downstream consequences for now unverifiable Harvard graduates, even as most people never darken the door of Harvard. We’d hear about fake Harvard grads. We’d get think pieces on, ‘what really is a Harvard degree anyway?’

Yet the ongoing FAFSA disaster? The one that affects millions of poor kids because it involves the federal financial aid form that is determinative for their aid? Not so much. And it’s not just The Times.

Yes, The Times did do one FAFSA deep dive where we got to see who might take the political hit. It led with the revelation that 70,000 emails from students had turned up unopened in an inbox.

So here’s another counterfactual: Imagine if the Trump Administration stumbled on 70,000 emails from students. In an inbox! All hell would break loose and Twitter/X would be nothing but a river of stupid GIFs. And rightly so. It would be a mess and unacceptable.

Or, imagine if the Trump Administration and Betsy DeVos just bumbled the rollout of a revised FAFSA, something that was in the works for years (and was a rare glimmer of bipartisanship.) You’d never hear the end of that either. Rachel Maddow would be in high dudgeon. Every night. All right thinking people would be appalled at the incompetence. Education Zoom calls would open with ritualistic head shaking (and probably a little finger snapping) at the badness of it all. And that would all be correct. It wouldn’t be acceptable because this stuff matters.

Yet the actual FAFSA disaster we’re living through? The real one you don’t have to imagine because it’s happening right now? A lot of crickets.

It’s hard to miss that the people who write and think about FAFSA for a living are far less impacted by this trainwreck than the people FAFSA is aimed at.

And obviously, no one wants to criticize Joe Biden because he’s running for a second term against Donald Trump and the election is somehow far closer than it should be.

Still, at some point…c’mon. Democrats are supposed to be about a couple of things. One is opportunity for the less fortunate. That’s kinda the point of FAFSA. Democrats are also supposed to be about improving people’s material conditions and showing that government can be a force for good by making government credible. How? By making government work.

The FAFSA disaster manages to fail on all counts. At once.

Look, I don’t want Donald Trump back in The White House either. But two things are true at once here. Donald Trump shouldn’t be anywhere near the levers of governmental power in this country. And this is a big and consequential screw up. Negative polarization and how that’s impacted media coverage is certainly a factor here. But if this problem affected a more politically potent demographic or a demographic more present in elite media we’d probably hear a whole lot more about it than the low rumble of background noise we get now.

History

This graf in an article about school district segregation is interesting:

Despite the imbalance in school resources, Cournoyer notes that students on the reservation benefit from cultural and language support — something they could miss if they attended schools in Custer, even with its “nicer facilities and more advanced technology.” The city and its school district were named for George Armstrong Custer, a U.S. commander who fought and killed Indigenous people on the Great Plains before his defeat at Little Bighorn. 

This is all true.

You know what else you could write?

The city and its school district were named for George Armstrong Custer, a U.S. commander who fought and killed Indigenous people in the East during the U.S. Civil War and later on the Great Plains before his defeat at Little Bighorn.

I don’t carry any brief for Custer. He played a role in keeping Charlottesville and UVA from being destroyed during the Civil War, sure, but he was generally pretty reckless. It did him in.

He does illustrate a larger point. The general assumption is that the whitewashing of history only runs one way. In fact, it runs in all directions. The problem is not that we don’t do a good job teaching about the history of X, whatever X matters most to you. Rather, we don’t do a good job teaching about history. In no small part because of the politics of the present. The Smithsonian National Museum of The American Indian does a noteworthy job discussing the complicated history of Native Americans during the Civil War. Custer, Sheridan, and others brought a history with them to the west.

Like so many historical figures, Custer is an example of how the good guy/bad guy frame fails us. Was he a good guy or a bad guy? Liberator or oppressor? Depends on the conflict? We don’t do messiness well.

Living History

If you’re going to be in San Diego for ASU-GSV it would be great to connect. One way is this discussion Bellwether is hosting on AI and schools Tuesday late afternoon the 16th. It’s at a local bar, so food and drink as well as great conversation about a complicated set of questions around AI and K-12 education.

Fish Porn

One of the discussants at the Bellwether event is Ben Riley, who is doing work to help link learning science to the AI conversation.

Here he is last year in Michigan. Nick Adams country.

Check out this unique archive of hundreds of pictures of education types with fish. Send me yours!

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