Sunday, April 10, 2011

Class issues in America

So much I want to say about the texts this week, so little time. ( I wrote fast I guess.) I really was all over the place with opinions about them.  I guess to put it simply I progressively disagreed with them more and more in the order that I read them.  The first article, by Patrick Finn struck me as incredibly accurate.  His descriptions of the types of schools in different neighborhoods (while they were vast generalizations) were very consistent with my own experience.  The poor kids are trained to stay poor.  I never used to believe this.  I used to say, “This is America.  Everyone has the opportunity to succeed.  Just work hard and you will be fine.”  I used to think that if I ended up living in a poor neighborhood I wouldn’t have any objection to sending my kid to the local school.  After all I thought, “How bad can the education really be? I’ll just be a good parent and my kid will get the same school experience as a kid in any other neighborhood.”  Now I know that that is not the case.  Schools in affluent neighborhoods teach kids how to be creative, solve complex problems, and think independently.  My experience working in Providence has shown that this is absolutely not the case for schools in poor neighborhoods where students are rewarded with tickets for being quiet all week and getting their homework done. 
            This article reminded me of Peggy McIntosh’s article in which she compares being white to having an “invisible knapsack” full of “unearned advantages.”  The articles this week did not specifically discuss the issue of race, but I think the fact that the school I visit in an affluent town has no students of color in the class, and the Providence school I go to is entirely composed of students of color should speak for itself.  Whiteness does give unearned advantages in schooling.  Whiteness allows a student to attend a school that grooms her for a life of achievement, and allows her to avoid a school that prepares her for a life at the bottom of the economic ladder.
            The article about tracking was somewhat problematic for me.  On the one hand I am studying special education with the current major focus on inclusion.  I know all the benefits of inclusion and I have observed first hand this semester how it can work well to integrate students who perform at a lower level (in this case because of a documented disability) with students performing at a higher level of achievement.  On the other hand I was a student who went through my middle and high school years primarily on an “Honors” track.  And I was very grateful for this.  I disliked when classes weren’t tracked.  The class was boring, more often interrupted for discipline problems, I had to do all the work in group projects, and lacked the interesting discussion I loved so much.  On top of the academic parts of class I tended to feel singled out.  I was the “geeky” one who asked too many questions, finished her work too quickly, and enjoyed talking with the teacher (my substitute for class discussion).  I think there is a way for classes to avoid tracking, but I have yet to see it realized in reality. 
            This article reminded me of some of the work we did a few weeks ago about Brown vs. Board of Ed.  For example about the issue I mentioned on my blog about busing students to different districts.  Just as students from poor neighborhoods would benefit from attending school in more affluent ones students from “low ability tracks” would probably do well if put into the “high ability track”.  But the answer isn’t to move a couple of students around so that they benefit from some higher expectations.  Instead, I agree with the author when she suggests that the answer is to improve the content of integrated classrooms so that all students will find it relevant and meaningful and are able to succeed. 
            Finally, I thought that the clip while attempting to make a valid point (that there is class in America) was incredibly exaggerated and made a mockery of the issue.  I couldn’t agree more with the claim that class has a subtle and pervasive influence in America.  But the key to this idea is that the influence is subtle!  People living in 200 year old mansions done in the style of the ones in Newport are not the prime evidence of class having an influence.  The influence is there, but it is not as obvious as that film suggested.  Class is evident in a situation like this one: My dad works at a skilled, but somewhat blue collar job that allows my family to live a comfortable middle class life style.  It requires him to work on Sundays because the factory runs 24/7.  A friend of a friend (who is much more affluent) knows that my dad has such a work schedule, and when my dad takes a Sunday off always asks him at church, “Not working this Sunday?”  This really bugs my dad because he knows that the man is subtly rubbing my dad’s nose in the fact that this man does not have to work an unconventional schedule to support his family.  Class issues are subtle and this film suggests that they are blatant and easy to identify.         


  1. I can see you wrote very quickly on this one, but I agree there was a ton of things to say. Finn very spot on, I felt like this weeks readings were a giant mash up of pretty much everything we’ve touched upon in class, nice job unraveling it.

  2. interesting read...nice job unraveling it