Thinking, Feeling and Teaching Social Class

I’m working on a paper about a course that I teach, Education and the American Dream, in which the students — many of them the first in their family to attend college — examine the processes of upward mobility via success in school.

My writing has taken me back to an article I’d read by Julie Lindquist a few years ago. Lindquist’s piece is one of a number I’ve found in Composition Studies that speak theoretically about pedagogies for working-class students in college.

The field of education is rich with critical critical studies of schooling, and in teacher education, we may devote entire courses to critical analysis of inequities of “race, class, and gender” within the institution of school and the broader society, in the hope that teachers will embrace the work of social justice and school change.

There is a long tradition of grumbling among the faculty who teach these courses about the students who resist this teaching. These students who refuse to simply accept the premise of systemic inequalities, who insist that hard work can bring success, who downplay the relative oppression of others are, it seems, often “those kids” from working-class backgrounds.

But Lindquist questions the pedagogical work that is common in such courses. She writes:

We understand class as a problem of distribution of resources, but we experience it as an emotional process.

And it’s this point — of the deeply emotional work of becoming educated against the odds– that I think we often miss when teaching the many first-generation students in our courses. I think that it can be entirely too easy for middle-class faculty to project their own college experiences of intellectual exploration and social growth into these students, who have burned bridges behind them, who are living at the edges of economic precariousness, who still doubt, deep inside, that they’re going to be good enough in the end

Once in our courses, Lindquist reminds us “much is at stake” for working-class kids asked to accept — intellectually — that the odds are still stacked against them, no matter how hard they’ve worked. Much is at stake in crossing that line of coming to accept academic views of the world as more valid that one’s own experiences.

Much is at stake in crossing over to the middle class.

And the process is deeply emotional.

It seems sometimes as if we just look past the students in our own college classrooms as we admonish them to create their own classrooms in which children can investigate the central questions of their own lives.

Where, in teacher ed, are first-generation students invited to explore the complex and often deeply-emotional processes of social mobility that has been at the core of their own education?

That’s what I’m trying to write about in this paper.



Lindquist, Julie. (2004). Class affects, classroom affectations: Working through the paradoxes of strategic empathy. College English, 67, 187-209.

One thought on “Thinking, Feeling and Teaching Social Class

  1. Aaron Schutz June 6, 2007 / 2:34 pm

    As someone who comes originally from the field of composition, it is interesting to me that most of the work on pedagogy and class seems to emerge from there. I wonder why? I wonder if it is linked somehow to the bizarre placement of composition as a pedagogical field within a humanities department where the practical is generally looked down upon. You rarely become a professor of “composition.” Instead, most of the jobs are in “rhetoric” which is the code word for composition. And professors rarely teach first-year students even in a lower tier research place like mine.

    And the composition literature and the education literature rarely seem to touch on each other, even though their topics are often the same. Comp people can’t afford to cite people from the education ghetto, and ed people may see them as pretty out of touch in some cases.

    Anyway, some random thoughts.

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