Well there are English classes, history classes, science classes… What? Not those kind of classes? What are you talking about? We are a classless society here in the US, pretty much all middle class. We’re not? Wait a second, mister man, I was taught in US history that we are predominantly middle class and all upwardly mobile; the land of opportunity. What! Don’t tell me I’m full of BS!
Yes, that is truly my reaction, or at least I thought it was. I’m reading Lies my Teacher Told Me. It has been really good, though the author has his own biases. So I’ve started the chapter on class history in the US. I’m just startled, really balk at it. He sites facts like most people live and die in the same class; so much for upward mobility. Then he talks about people limiting themselves to their own class, not thinking they can get anywhere higher. And he goes on.
My reaction is that this guy is just full of it on this subject. Once a week I go to TTA, Trailer Trash Anonymous. “Hi everyone, I’m Steven. Hi Steven! I am former Trailer Trash….” Kidding aside, I grew up in a trailer. I grew up with my parents having a hard time to put food on our table. We were poor, but not trailer trash. But today, I am a computer guy, pulling in pretty decent bucks. I no longer live in a trailer.
So this guy is obviously wrong. Just look at me. So, I do that, I look at me.
I’m 6. I’d like to be pilot. That would be just so incredible. Yeah, but I could never do that.
I’m 8. Mrs. Peas, who has been my first, second, and third grade teacher has just told us we could grow up to be president of the US, anyone could. Wow. But inside something says that just isn’t so. I’m not good enough.
I’m 14. I love science. I really want to be an engineer. I have trouble with one science class. You know maybe I’m just not smart enough to be an engineer.
Yes, those are all feelings that I had. They are exactly what the author says people from the lower class feel. So how did I get out of it? How did I end up being middle class?
I think there are three answers. The first is that my grandparents and parents ALWAYS told me that education was the way out of poverty. My grandparents owned a farm. So they were clearly lower middle class, certainly not trailer trash. I listened to them.
I grew up in the tiny town of Plainfield. That had two huge impacts to the positive. Plainfield is a college town. At that time the population of the very liberal Goddard College was about twice the population of the town. We were inundated with liberal views. The second impact was that several of my friends, most notably David Webster, were college professor brats. My class was one of the sharpest to ever go though Twinfield. We expected a lot of ourselves, drove ourselves.
Finally, I discovered that I was really good with music. It gave me an identity. And that identity had nothing to do with my class. That had a far larger impact than you might think.
When you put those three things together, it gave me a really big push past those feelings of not being good enough. I truly believe that the US is the land of opportunity. But that book makes a pretty good case for it really not being quite so easy as we are taught to believe. And I do indeed know that we are NOT a classless society.