March 6, 2014
March 5, 2014
March 4, 2014
Reading this article last weekend about class envy and life happiness, I got really angry because of the quick rhetorical shift that author Arthur Brooks did to create the straw argument on which the whole argument is built.
In 2008, Gallup asked a large sample of Americans whether they were “angry that others have more than they deserve.” People who strongly disagreed with that statement — who were not envious, in other words — were almost five times more likely to say they were “very happy” about their lives than people who strongly agreed. Even after I controlled for income, education, age, family status, religion and politics, this pattern persisted.
It’s safe to conclude that a national shift toward envy would be toxic for American culture.
In other words, being angry about a fundamental lack of fairness is simply a personality problem, much like the popular girls in high school who used their social power to mistreat others would then claim insight into the motive for any complaints about this mistreatment: the less popular girls were just jealous of them.
I didn’t know where to begin.
So I’m grateful that Matt Bruening did the point -by-point take down that this envy thesis deserves.
And I confess to being a bit envious that he did it so well.
bright children are less likely to apply to top universities because they are worried about “not fitting in”. He said that they need to become more comfortable with middle-class social setting such as restaurants, theatres and offices if they are to succeed.
He argued further that politicians place “ too much focus on education, and often fail to realise the need to make poorer children feel “comfortable” in middle class settings”. He recommends that ”visiting different places, watching plays and having varied hobbies can help give working class children ‘shared cultural experiences’ with those from middle-class backgrounds”.
I remember a day early in my academic career when I was talking with come colleagues about a novel I’d just read and loved. I knew that this was a prestigious, not a “popular” author, so I believed that I was on solid ground in talking about my love of this book with two women that I considered friends.
I’d barely started when one interrupted to say “yes. And it’s so brilliant how she’s retelling [some Shakespeare play] in a modern setting”.
And then there was that long silence that was by now so familiar to me.
And the two of them looked at each other. And looked back at me. And it was left to me to recover and move on, but of course there was no way to do that gracefully so I’m sure that I changed the subject.
There was no discussion at the point of the disparities in education that leave many of us without access to knowledge about Shakespeare.
There was certainly no open discussion about why gaps in my understanding of Shakespeare mattered in any way.
There was no further talk about the things that I did find so compelling about the novel.
There was no quick synopsis of the Shakespeare play or invitation to think together about how the author had woven themes from the play into the novel.
There was a very awkward silence, from women that I considered friends. And while they were friends, they were also each above me in the academic hierarchy, so I sensed to the core that this moment mattered in ways that stretched far beyond the momentary awkwardness.
Because it was all about the fact that
I’d just revealed in yet another way they were very open about their judgment that I didn’t “fit in” with their conceptions of who an educated person should be.
I grow weary of articles like this in which there is never anyone making others understand that they don’t fit in.
I grow weary of the argument that middle class culture is a neutral land with open borders than anyone can simply enter, rather than a social barrier that is carefully protected.
I grow weary that there is never any discussion in articles like this about the vital necessity of educating all students to understand the structural stratification of social worlds, and never any mention of educating privileged college students to understand that they did nothing to earn the education that they’ve enjoyed and have no right to judge those were educated elsewhere.
If working-class students don’t feel that they fit in, it’s because others are making sure that they understand that they don’t fit in.
And that’s something that we can do something about in schools and colleges, once we get past the eye-rolling and awkward silences that happen with privileged students and faculty meet people like poor and working-class people for the first time.
March 3, 2014
It can be difficult to find writing on First Generation College students that doesn’t begin from a deficit standpoint. First Generation students are presumed to lack “cultural capital“, access to basic information, family support, or resilience needed to be successful. These attributes are all, of course, contrasted with the experience, knowledge, social capital, savvy, and ambition of more privileged students who are presumed to arrive at college well-positioned to succeed.
It could be helpful to question more often what we might mean by “succeed”. According to one recent project, at least some of the academically gifted, wealthy, and culturally savvy students of Harvard University lack the most basic understanding of people different from themselves, but this racist ignorance has in no way stood in the way of their academic trajectories.
Because, of course, it’s those occupying the social class of these very students who make the rules about what does or doesn’t prepare one for success. Using the wrong fork at a formal dinner? One need go no further in that job interview. Say ignorant things about race? Accuse those pointing this out of just playing “the race card”.
Missing the cues about table manners hurts no one, but can mean missed opportunities to support oneself even after doing well in college.
Are there any consequences for the racism of Harvard students, when those very students will soon be hiring, sitting on college boards, and voting for candidates supporting their understanding of opportunity?
Update: Tressie McMillam Cottom dialed it in on Twitter this afternoon:
It’s kinda darling that we think students at an elite university can be shamed for their casual racism. Or I’m “get off my lawn” old
— tressie mc (@tressiemcphd) March 4, 2014
March 3, 2014
My program is beginning renewed focus on recruiting and retaining diverse students. In these many conversations, it can be easy for even those already committed to diversity to loose track of how much has changed since we were students ourselves. Even on a campus as diverse as mine, the financial struggles of our students can be invisible to those of us making decisions about how we’ll structure program requirements. We never hear from students who consider our programs but never apply, and students who leave “because I need to work for awhile” rarely stop on the way out to tell us about why they see few other choices.
So we rely on other voices.
In yesterday’s New York Times, Suzanne Mettler wrote
Ordinary young Americans who hoped college could be their route to a better future are the victims of a perfect storm of political winds
Mettler documents three main policy shifts working against low-income young people who believe in opportunity through education:
- While Pell grants covered 80% of the costs of a four year degree in the 70′s, they now cover only 31% of the average cost of a degree.
- State funding for higher ed has dwindled, leaving fewer resources for student support, even as tuition soars.
- Congressional deregulation has diverted financial aid to for-profits, where high tuition funnels to shareholders at tax-payers’ expense.
It is easy for faculty and staff to make vague reference to the “financial aid” available to our students without realizing how much financial aid has changed since many of us were students. According to Mettler:
For those from the richest fifth, the annual cost of attending a public four-year college has inched up from 6 percent of family income in 1971 to 9 percent in 2011. For everyone else, the change is formidable. For those in the poorest fifth, costs at State U have skyrocketed from 42 percent of family income to 114 percent.
It’s a maxim in our program that our students can’t teach those they don’t know.
It’s growing more and more impossible to do planning in my program without knowing a great deal more about the financial constraints that many of our students now face.