Monday, March 18, 2013
Elitist Resistance to Class
Last Sunday there was a terrific piece in the NYT about one of the barriers poor but excellent students have with respect to attending elite schools. In a nutshell, they do not know how to do it or even what it means or what difference it would make. For many ":Harvard" is a fancy cheese and Columbia has something to do with the space program. Often, my friends who claim to have had lower class roots talk about working their way through Princeton or Harvard. My thought is that they miss the meaning of class. It is not just money but it is environmental. Even if you were poor, if you grew up in an environment in which Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc., were names uttered in your house, you enjoyed far more of a head start than many others.
The article in the Times makes one mistake, I think, and could have added examples of class blindness. The mistake is the assumption that the elite schools would even like the diversity associated with working class students. Working class admissions bring no glory to the limousine liberals who populate elite faculties. And, they could actually be conservative, go to church, eat meat, and own a gun. The disinterest in working class people is probably driven by politics more than anything else.
Something that happened today reminded me of the class blindness matter. There are two aspects of it. First, the elitists who might want to have greater class diversity know virtually nothing about the things working class people have to deal with to go away to college -- family members that may need care, inability to go home at Christmas or any holiday, etc. The other one is more subtle. For example, today I mentioned the obvious class bias of unpaid externships. In my town most students sign one year leases. To enroll in an externship, most of which are out of town, they must pay double rent, not need to earn income in the summer, and be able to move. When I mention this the usual upper class response is "there is financial aid." Do the elites not understand that financial is usually just a term for debt? And have they missed the fact that in today's market, paying that debt is close to impossible? I am quite tired of hearing term "financial aid" used like it is some kind of economic equalizer. It's not but it is becoming the principal rationalization for ignoring the have nots.