Monday, October 08, 2007

Class Stuff

Jeanne has some interesting new posts about quakers and class, and particularly education. Martin made an excellent comment on the latest one about feeling pity for those of us who put emphasis on status and education, rather than really following Jesus' example of hanging out with the grubby.

I'm finding, also, that I'm running up against a disconnect about financial privilege and, maybe intellectual snobbery. They can be related, and they're both important issues, but in some ways they're very seperate. I think it's important not to lose sight of either.

As far as economic justice, there is so much to say, and I'm almost lost. I imagine all sorts of radical (at the roots) changes, a real spiritual revolution, not just in wealth distribution, but in thinking about what we need, and what we have to share just to be ethical. I think Quakers try, but from what I can see, it's so focused on buying the right things (organic food, priuses) without quesitoning the model (what if we grow our own food? bike everywhere? carpool?) - not entirely, but enough to be frustrating.

And the thing is, we so can't do it alone.

I grow some greens and tomatoes in my little front yard, there are increments, but I'm not going to, and don't even want to, be the hero of a revolution. How revoluntionary woudl that be? a revolution without special heroes.....

I don't claim any superiority here. I just gave up and ordered clothes from Old Navy for work, ugh.

As far as other class stuff. I think of it as cultural, and related to racial and other divisions in our meetings.... I'm not sure what to do. I joked over email with Jeanne once, when talking about the food at potlucks (how it's often so weird for a working class person (and plenty of others) - that I fear a time when we all bring beer and pork rinds (didn't George HW Bush love those? maybe, gasp, my stereotype is off) to potlucks in the name of "cultural sensitivity" but not move forward in any real way.

What's the difference between trying to be something we're just not? (me, a vegetarian, bringing porkrinds to potluck because I hope it will make someone feel more welcome) and the, for lack of a better word, real issues?

Not only, why are we all impressed when a kid in our meeting goes to an ivy league college, but not if they go to trade school, or start working? How much do we pay attention to that and overlook the chance to celebrate how well they're living into their light?

And what about all the kids who can't go to ivy league schools, even if they're smarter than our kids (gasp!) - because they didn't ever have a shot at that sort of education?

What about, for that matter, the existence of quaker schools? It seems to me possibly unquaker to send your kid to one. I mean, I dunno. I went to one, and I think I might well have been eaten alive at my local public school (an idea that some of my teachers, sadly, promoted, and which I've heard from kids at my meeting who go to quaker school as well) but if all children are god's, why can we give some of ours an "out" - rather than committing to public schools and working as hard as we have to to make them places we'd be proud to have our kids go (and bringing all the other kids along with us, hopefully)

What if we really saw ourselves as inherently connected to each other? including our garbage haulers, and the gang members in our cities? (different groups I know, and I don't mean to imply garbage haulers are criminals, I've just never seen representatives of either at meeting) what would that be like?

1 comment:

Canine Diamond said...

Many Quaker schools were probably founded in the days when education for girls and minorities was, to say the least, not a priority, and before many small towns or rural areas had schools that went all the way through high school. A lot of the older MD's in the records here at my job did not finish public schooling because none was available and had to fill out their educations at private schools, public schools in faraway towns, or with tutors. Pervasive public education is a relatively recent development.

Having survived some rather nightmarish--socially and academically--public schools myself, and knowing what my parents went through trying to get school authorities to improve the situation, I cannot fault anyone for sending their children to private or charter schools. Changing the situation is not as simple as writing some letters. It can take years of protest to make any progress, if you ever do, and by then it won't do your kids any good. We had friends on the school board and we still couldn't get anything accomplished. School boards are some of the worst bureaucracies ever.

I agree that the competition for "brand name" schools is absurd, and that parents shouldn't send their kids for status reasons. I absolutely believe in volunteer tutoring, working to improve schools, etc., but I don't believe in essentially punishing kids who can do better by insisting that they remain in a dismal educational environment just so their parents can pride themselves on their egalitarianism. The alternative would be to move to a "better" public school district; I think that's usually called "white flight".

Finally, speaking from personal experience, my expensive private college experience wasn't about status. My parents always admired Grinnell (which isn't even that well-known except in certain circles) because they knew about its academic and intellectual reputation, not because of its "brand". College is not a one-size -fits-all thing. I really needed the small campus, lack of frat culture, and freedom from pressure to drink; I could not have gotten that at Texas A&M or Southwestern.

I guess it's a mark of my privileged upbringing that I can see post-high school education as an opportunity to learn about oneself as much as about a trade, but I wasn't ready to pick a career at 18 years old. Lots of kids aren't. Lots of working-class kids aren't, either. People need to be able to choose what is right for them without feeling guilty about it.

And as for buying Priuses and organic food: You can carpool in a Prius and cleaner air benefits everyone, even if they can't pay for it. If you can afford a less-polluting car, isn't it better environmentally than driving a smoking one just to prove you're not a snob?