by Joe Auciello
the ancient Greek who searched in vain for an honest man, is somewhere enjoying
a good laugh. After years of fruitless searching centuries ago, his hopes have
finally been realized. Recently, a local
State Rep. Doug Petersen, Democrat from Marblehead, committed what the local papers call a “gaffe” and an “offensive misstatement” by pointing out that students in the well-to-do town of Swampscott will fare better in life than students in the far poorer neighboring city of Lynn.
to the Swampscott School Committee, Rep. Petersen said that their sons and
daughters would someday “be captains of industry,” and since they would need
good workers, “we have to educate
Naturally, this violation of a fundamental social taboo led to what the Boston Herald called “an uncivil war of words” (March 30, 2007). Local officials made tsk-tsk noises about stereotypes, and the label “inappropriate” was affixed to the statement made by the overly candid and befuddled state representative.
an outrage,” said one
question leaps to the heart of the matter, and the answer is a not-so-simple:
“No, of course not, but… yes.” No, the upper-class kids are not inherently
better than their working class peers. The indignation of the
the reality is that while the Swampscott kids are no better, they will, in
fact, lead better lives. They will, on the average, attend better schools with
better-qualified teachers, will obtain better jobs, will have better access to
quality health care and medical insurance, and will live longer—all of which
adds up to a better life. The economic, legal, and political system of
By every objective measure, the lives of the well-to-do are clearly “better.” That is the undeniable reality, and it is that reality, rather than the naming of it, which is more truly labeled “inappropriate.”
to the 2000 census, more than 16% of the city’s population lives below the
federal poverty line, and the per capita income is only $17, 500. At
towns like Swampscott, typically 6.7% of the students are “low-income”; only 4%
speak a first language other than English, and approximately 94% will attend a
four-year college. Usually, the children of the Swampscotts, unlike their peers
Newt Gingrich recently called “the language of the ghetto,” that is, Spanish,
is heard more frequently on the streets of
Of course, this correlation of class and color is not absolute. There is, for instance, a Black middle class that is growing in size and wealth. Yet, the Black middle class is smaller proportionally than its white counterpart. Most Black workers and unemployed will never rise up the social ladder to achieve middle class status; their future is more likely to be a defensive battle to hold on to the jobs and benefits that have not yet been taken away.
What’s more, the existence of a minority middle class has a debilitating effect on those “left behind.” Though in reality opportunity is limited to a few, the presence of this middle class implies that opportunity is available to all—if they would only try. By this reasoning, those in the lower classes have only themselves to blame for their lowly position in life. They just haven’t made the effort to succeed. When in this way the cause of oppression is shifted from society to self, an individual’s will to resist, to organize and fight back, is weakened. Consequently, social injustice appears to be just, and the class structure is strengthened even further.
These patterns of difference extend well into the future. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, adults with advanced degrees in 2002 earned $72, 824; bachelor’s degree-holders, $51,194; high-school graduates, $27, 280; and non-graduates, $18, 826.
to a recently published study of the
So Rep. Petersen was right, after all. The well-off kids are likely to grow up to become well-off, and the poor and working class kids will likely grow up to be poor and working class. Despite the hopes of generations of well-meaning reformers, the educational system won’t change the political system; only a change in the political system will create a change in the educational system. A society based on competition and greed that treats people like products will have to be replaced by a society that truly values human needs and allows people, beginning with children, to develop to their fullest potential.
In 1976, Samuel Bowles and Herbert Gintis wrote, “[W]e believe the key to [education] reform is the democratization of economic relationships: social ownership, democratic and participatory control of the production process by workers, equal sharing of socially necessary labor by all, and progressive equalization of incomes and destruction of hierarchical economic relationships. This is, of course, socialism…” (Schooling in Capitalist America, p. 14).
For that change to occur, there will have to be quite a lot of discussion about class and the consequences of life founded on inequality, injustice, and oppression.
polite silence about class in the
Meanwhile, Rep. Petersen has reconsidered his reckless remarks and has since apologized. Diogenes must be disappointed. He still hasn’t found an honest man, after all.
“All Of The Gains In Income In 2005 Went To Households In The Wealthiest 10 Percent”
[from AFL-CIO Working Families e-mail message, April 6, 2007]
“According to the Economic Policy Institute’s weekly economic snapshot, all of the gains in income in 2005 went to households in the wealthiest 10 percent, with the richest 1 percent seeing even more growth.
“In the top 10 percent, households gained at least 2.2 percent and as much as 16 percent.
“Meanwhile, income of the remaining 90 percent of American households fell by 0.6 percent on average.”