Thursday, May 19, 2005

Class, according to the NYTimes

I've been somewhat surprised that no one (at least that I've seen) has been blogging the NYTimes series on class. Maybe it's because, so far, the series has been less than surprising itself. I'm happy to see attention being paid to the issue, but it isn't as if anything has been a particular revelation.

At least one thing, though, from the Sunday "Overview" was clarifying, if not exactly new:

But the United States differs from Europe in ways that can gum up the mobility machine. Because income inequality is greater here, there is a wider disparity between what rich and poor parents can invest in their children. Perhaps as a result, a child's economic background is a better predictor of school performance in the United States than in Denmark, the Netherlands or France, one recent study found.

"Being born in the elite in the U.S. gives you a constellation of privileges that very few people in the world have ever experienced," Professor Levine said. "Being born poor in the U.S. gives you disadvantages unlike anything in Western Europe and Japan and Canada."

This connects up with some of the things Mike has been talking about, especially here and here. Once we've arrived in elite institutions, it's easy to forget that many, many are not in elite institutions, even at the post-secondary level. And, as Mike points out, many, many at the non-elite institutions have very poor access to technology. Access is indeed about power in this knowledge economy. And the United States continues to offer greater disparities in access than any other economically comparable country.

So, there are moments of clarity in the NYTimes series, but, overall, I'm sceptical of what effect such a pretty soft-handed, essayistic approach will have. I mean, I found the stories today of the married couple from polar opposite class backgrounds and the young woman from Appalachia who had been raised in poverty, became a lawyer, and has now returned to Appalachia, to be interesting reads. But do human interest stories that, by and large, reinforce the goodness of upper middle class values, really do much to move people? Do they have much affect, really?


bdegenaro said...

Thanks for nudging us toward a response to the series. I've started to blog this, and will say more in the next day or so.

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