Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Class Bias UP! and a Request

People interested in class bias in all its forms will find an article in the December 2006 the Atlantic Monthly interesting. The article, "Ordinary People" by Clive Crook (sorry, I would provide a link but you would still have to pay), is an overview of the documentary series that started with "7 Up!" in 1964. That film was an examination of the lives of 14 seven year old children. Every seven years the process as been repeated with the focus on the same group of "children" who are now 49 years old -- thus "49 Up!" is now out

Two points in particular struck home. First, much of the seven year olds' futures have been determined by the class that they were born into. Second, it is not at all clear that class determines happiness. The author suggests that a capacity to experience happiness may not be class based.

The children are all British and some may argue that the lessons from the series do not translate to the U.S. The author says that is not the case and anyone paying attention will certainly agree.
This all leads to the question of how working class people make it into higher education. At some point I believe it is a product of luck. For me luck struck in the beginning of my senior year at the University of Florida. I had just been through the advising process which amounted to someone signing a form. Advisor selection was random. A couple of weeks later, I was sitting in a class when the advisor I had came and knocked on the door and asked to speak to me. I was freaked out.

He told me that the School had an NDEA Fellowship that I could have if I agree to stay in School, work on a Ph.D, and express an interest in teaching. This meant getting paid to go to school. The whole thing was agree to in about 15 minutes. "Are you kidding," was my principal response since no one in my family had finished college or even knew such things as Fellowships existed. I had applied for nothing and it was only because this advisor took note of my grades and kept me in mind that one thing led to another.

People who have experienced this know how hard it is to explain to your parents what a Fellowship is and to explain to your grandmother (in my case) that working on a doctorate did not mean you would be able to prescribe medicine for her aches and pains.

So, that's my story of the twist that changed my life from that found among the kids in "7 Up." I'd like to know yours. If you are a working class academic, what was the turning point? Just comment below. Thanks

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