Teaching the Unwritten Rules

I wrote a few days ago about my unease with programs that send students to cultural events so that they’d “absorb” cultural capital. My unease was based in part on how such settings are laden with unwritten expectations that when violated, can mark newcomers as “unworthy”.

In contrast is this piece arguing that, because we are separated by social class, colleges have the responsibility for teaching those unwritten rules explicitly.   Matt Reed argues:

As the distribution of social capital becomes more polarized in America, following the distribution of economic capital, it becomes much more important for community colleges in particular — and public education in general — to help students learn some existing unwritten rules, learn how to discern unwritten rules for themselves in unfamiliar settings, and eventually learn how to shape unwritten rules.  We can’t rely on them “just knowing.”

That’s a big job.  And it requires rethinking some of our own unwritten rules.

Most basically, it requires acknowledging the reality of social class in American life.  That’s a tall order in itself.  Americans have trouble saying the word “class” without first saying the word “middle.”  We have to choose, consciously, to violate — and then change — the unwritten rule that we pretend that class doesn’t exist

And to that I say Amen.

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