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.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The real point of discussions of diversity, especially in a class based context, is how can an institution preserve its fundamentally class biased orientation while giving the appearance of "diversity". It looks really nice when you let in a couple of token, nice clean and obedient poor kids along with having some symposiums on "educational opportunity". However, when the educational process, especially as I have found after two years of law school, is something that more assesses one your class background, i.e did you come from a family of lawyers, and two how much money you have. On another level, you are correct to observe that the masters of such realms are effectively blind to these things since they have never had any reason to see otherwise. I would derive much pleasure from the dept of ed setting some basic standards for teaching etc etc for higher ed. Such standards could mitigate some of this, and if profs etc. decided that they were "too special" to follow such guidelines all of that "financial aid" that pays their salaries could be withheld.