Social Class Links 09/06/2014

September 5, 2014

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

  • There are serious flaws with all college rankings, but I am very pleased to see this ranking system from the Washington Monthly that ranks colleges with an index of “social mobility” calculated as metric between the % of Pell Grant recipients and graduation rates.

    tags: socialclass

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

  • ““A lot of it is just about money, because each additional low-income student you enroll costs you a lot in financial aid,” said Michael N. Bastedo, director of the Center for the Study of Higher and Postsecondary Education at the University of Michigan. “No one is going to talk openly and say, ‘Oh, we’re not making low-income students a priority.’ But enrollment management is so sophisticated that they know pretty clearly how much each student would cost.””

    tags: socialclass

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.

Sherlock and Social Class

August 15, 2014

I’ve been catching up on the BBC’s Sherlock series, and without giving anything away, there was a point in last night’s binge-streaming where, even though it was clear from the Netflix menu that there were many more episodes, it appeared as if All Was Lost for our hero.  Without saying too much for those who have not yet indulged, gravity seemed very obviously to have done Sherlock in for good.

And of course there were more episodes.  That’s not a spoiler.   So what happened?

The writers are teasing the audience by playing out various possible scenarios.  SPOILER:  I’ll try to be vague, but do jump down the the Education and Class point below if you’re concerned.

In one scenario, a huge team of co-conspirators had been waiting in the wings to seamlessly put everything in place and then disappear from view.

One possible scenario included a huge cushion, invisible to almost everyone, in place at the key moment and then whisked out of sight.

So before this gets too obvious, let me get to my point.

The Education and Class part:

Earlier in the evening, I’d been at a dinner with a group of great people.  One young woman was describing with some awe  a project at work.  The details were amazing.  The scope of the work was impressive.  The location where this will all be is perfect.  The rare opportunity for this young woman to stretch her professional wings was clear.  The whole venture was obviously a pretty big adventure.    So I finally asked: “Who’s the client”.

My young acquaintance  described a woman who had recently moved here from the East Coast, who has some success in an arts field and is now opening an innovative small  business in that field.

“She’s just going for it”,  my young friend said, and around the table there were thoughtful nods, and not a few quiet sighs (including mine) as we thought about how we never did just “go for it”.

The young woman’s husband honored the quiet for a few seconds and then said,

“And of course there’s her husband who works for [major local tech company].

And the young woman added “yeah, and he’s no older than me”.

So social class (or at least the possession of wealth) operates a whole lot like that teaser in the Sherlock episode I watched last night.  It seemed so clear that Sherlock was all alone out there.  There was no other obvious explanation.   And it’s only by digging a bit more deeply, asking questions, refusing to believe that what actually happens there before our eyes, lifting the curtain in the possibility that the power of the wizard is overblown — only then does wealth and  social class becomes visible.

What looks like someone bravely “going for it” in ways that we might never be brave enough to do may actually be the tip of the iceberg of a complex system of support that ensures that we’ll survive, that having a huge cushion makes it easier to leap, that while it’s great fun to watch all of this unfold on a TV show, it is less fun to share in a moment of quiet self-doubt around a dinner table as people wonder why they didn’t just “go for it”.

Sherlock tends to gloat.  Much of this is deserved.

But he *knows* that the difference between himself and others is the big blue cushion that was in place.

The wealthy sometimes aren’t that self-aware.

There are so many problems with this essay in today’s Inside Higher Ed about the parents of First-Generation college students.

I first cringed when reading this quote from a college administrator early on:

They give him a $100 and send them off to school. ‘Here’s 100 bucks. That should last you four years. Now, go save the family.’”

As if there is no difference between being able to provide particular emotional support for the distinctive stresses of being a college student and abandoning one’s child altogether — while putting considerable pressure on them — and as if low-income parents have no idea about budgeting and the costs of living.

And the disturbing language continues:

If so-called helicopter parents typically hover above students from more elite and educated families, many first-generation college students have the opposite problem: parents who may as well be watching their children from a space station. [italics mine]

Again, the language here implies that parents have receded to isolated  “watching”, not still celebrating birthdays or holidays, nagging about late hours on home visits, taking joy in just having the child home sometimes, being proud, or maybe even making favorite meals when one comes home.

But no. Blame is the story here:

Those less-supported students also reported having higher levels of stress and anxiety than the few first-generation students who did feel supported by their parents.

There is no possible way without rigorous controlled experiments to attribute stress and anxiety among first-generation students to parent support rather than to anything else within the constellation of other differences — having no money for social events that other students take for-granted, hearing stereotypes about people like them in class, having  to work more hours than any student should, facing professors who have no idea how to provide basic academic support yet convey their impatience with you for needed it, having everyone take for granted that the upper-middle class students are the  norm and you are an outsider.

And then we got to the heart of the matter:

Marilyn Moller, director of teacher education at Rosemont College, said it’s important to remember that those phone calls [from interfering "helicopter" parents of more privileged students]– as annoying as they can be — are rarely coming from the parents of low-income and first-generation students.  “I really don’t see that as much anymore, and especially with these kinds of students,” Moller said. “I hope for phone calls. Often times, with these students, a parent may be his or her only advocate.”


“The problem is that many these parents know nothing about college,” he said. “Students with parents that didn’t go to college don’t have that person they can call when they have a question. They have no map. That child is lost.”

And as I read these last statements I feel begin to feel the familiar tension in my jaw, the familiar frustration and anger and impatience.

I read that it is just taken for granted that there is nowhere at college where a student can ask basic question.

I read that no one has provided students with the basic map of what is expected of her.

I read that no one notices and steps in when a student is “lost”.

I read that no one takes responsibility for being an advocate for a student who needs an advocate to get through all of this.

But it’s the parents’ fault.

I have no idea how much of the tone of this article by Jake New is New’s own naiveté (he’s a relatively recent addition to the Inside Higher Ed line-up and seems mostly to report on things requiring less social context).   I have no idea how well this reflects attitudes of colleges more generally.

I’m just grateful that at my college, I  was told where to go with questions, told where to go when I was lost, had any number of faculty and staff I’d count as advocates, and knew that my parents were in my corner, even if they had no advice about the professor who simply refused to give me an A (and refused to explain what I needed to do differently) and could rarely afford to do more than buy me a bag of groceries once in awhile.

And I’m very grateful that at the college where I now work, we’re in constant conversation about how we can better serve our many First-Generation students.

Because we are so clear that it’s our job to support all the students who come to us with so much promise and such immense dreams.


  • In his typically lovely prose, Mike Rose reflects on his book The Mind at Work, his stories of the intellectual dimensions of manual labor, 10 years after its publication. He writes of his mother, a waitress:

    “I take some coins out of my pocket, close my eyes, and give each a short toss onto the table. She was right; they have distinct sounds, a tink, a thunk. The sound of groceries, of rent, of school supplies, of gas for the car.

    There is a direct line between those tips and me being able to sit here and write about my mother’s work, and my uncle’s, and all the other people who make so much possible through their labor. There are about two million waitresses in the United States. Through a combination of physical and social skill and the ability to think on their feet, they support families and put kids through school, or pay for their own school, or help aging parents. They make restaurants function at the point of service. They contribute to the social fabric of the neighborhoods where they work.”

    tags: socialclass

Posted from Diigo. The rest of my favorite links are here.


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