Thursday, September 09, 2010

Luck and Class

I've had some thoughtful responses to my last post about Nancy and the blight of children of working class families. It would be interesting to know the difference between working class kids who make it and those who don't -- other than working hard. Making it means having aspirations and aspirations mean have some examples or experiences that tell you what is possible and then having the self esteem to believe you can do it. If the working class family does not read, does not go to museums, and does not stress achievement then it comes down, I think, to teachers who inspire. Yes, the terribly underpaid elementary or middle school teachers may be key in determining what happens to working class kids. They can help the kids develop a "taste" for learning that they may not develop just from their parents.

This all gets to the point that I know of no working class person who status jumped (moved more than one rung up the socioeconomic ladder from his or her parents) without some luck. By the luck of the draw there is a inspirational teacher or second aunt -- someone who alerts the person to the possibilities. It could be a school counselor (as it was in my case) or just a school friend.


Different Anonymous said...

In my opinion, the difference between working class kids who make it and those who don't comes down to two things: capability and desire or inspiration to work hard.

Capability is acquired through both nature and nurture. A working class kid needs to be lucky enough to be born bright, and to grow up in an atmosphere that develops that intelligence (its the difference you refer to, between a working class kid whose parents read in the home and took the kid to museums, versus one one whose parents sat him in front of a TV every day). If a working class kid was born without high innate intelligence, or was nurtured in a way that left him less capable, he will have to work harder not only than those who are privileged, but also those working class kids who were lucky enough to be born with a higher I.Q. For any given starting point (working class or privileged), any given level of achievement will be easier the smarter you are. All people do not have equal capability. Some people, given their starting point, don't have the capability to achieve comfort and security - no matter how hard they work.

The desire to succeed probably comes from the same things that develop intelligence.

Anonymous said...

Does the nativist argument even apply to a discussion of SES? The only way it would apply is if there were significant differences in intelligence between the social classes. From what I can gather both studying this topic at some length and coming from a relatively low SES background, innate intelligence mostly as we define through things like IQ tests, SAT's GRE's LSAT's etc. seems to be a better proxy for SES than any thing else (there is actually quite a lot of research on this). Granted there is obviously something to the idea of innate intelligence however how we generally view intelligence has a tremendous level of class bias interjected into. Thus the argument that a "smart" kid with the right "conditions" will be a success is rather simplistic, especially relative to this type of discussion. One many levels we use the concept of innate intelligence to justify the present system. Little Billy who comes from the right family and happens to score well on his standardized tests will then be tracked to have the right experiences. Whereas little Jane from the wrong background will be systematically excluded from what ever potential they may have regardless of their innate disposition. One really good example of this are college level standardized tests. The more time and money you have to prepare, the less stress you are under the better you will do. So for a test that measures "intelligence" or reasoning ability it in fact has more to with SES.