While I normally clench my teeth when reading anything that seems to be essentializing class (“middle class people are like …. working class people are like…”), I’m instead nodding at parts of this post on the Civic Fabric blog that speaks to how middle-class and working-class parents may work from different conceptualizations of the term “individualism”.
I read Kussorow’s (cited in the CF post) book American Individualisms: Child Rearing and Social Class in Three Neighborhoods a few years ago and liked much of it. I paused to highlight this passage:
The basic difference in these forms of individualism lies in the Queens [working class] parents’ conceptions of the child’s self as a singular “unit” against the world, as contrasted to the view held by Parkside [upper middle-class] parents of the child’s self as a singular unit “opening up” or out into the world. A toughening, hardening, thickening of the boundaries of the self is thus part of the process of child development for Queenstown parents … For Parkside parents, the socialization of soft indvidualism involves a more fluid conception of the self in which the child is encouraged to loosen the self, express feelings, unfold, and open out into the world.
But I think that I might read this through different lenses than some others might.
I think of my own parents who, from the moment of my birth, had aspirations that I would be “better” than them. I think of how they knew, at some level, that I was headed for situations in which being tough and tenacious would serve me infinitely better than would coming to understand myself as a gently unfolding flower.
Given the circumstances of their own lives, they had to have had some sense that I’d face situations in which I would be positioned against the worlds they hoped I’d enter.
And they were right.
I look back to my own schooling for any evidence available my parents that they could let their (and my) guard down as they steered me toward the middle class. I believe that my parents sensed, as we did as students, that many of our teachers saw working with us as evidence of their own failed ambitions and that they blamed our parents for our many shortcomings.
They had to understand that it was unlikely that anyone would be waiting with open arms as I first stepped into their social terrain. They had to understand that the odds were against me.
So while I’m intrigued by the civic questions in CF’s post about class differences in the readiness to embrace educational change (and share his intrigue with questions of how digital learning might better serve poor and working class kids), I want to pivot from his recommendation that perhaps the parents of these kids shouldn’t retain local control of their schools.
What if working class parents’ lives weren’t shaped by circumstances that require toughness and hardness? What if educators who are puzzled that working class children don’t talk readily about their feelings understood that their parents’ days are laced with frustration and humiliation — and that no one wants to hear about that?
What if, rather than asking parents “what do you think of this idea that we assume is best for your children”, they instead sometimes asked “what do you want for your children and how can we work together on that?”
How would working class parents raise their children then?