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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Keeping the proles down

Affluent, educated parents invest in their children’s educational success.

The college-educated class is “making sure their children retain their privileged status,” while the children of other classes have limited chances to join their ranks,” writes New York Times columnist David Brooks.

“Cultivating successful children” is at the center of life for upper-middle-class parents, he writes. Meanwhile, “well-educated people tend to live in places like Portland, New York and San Francisco that have housing and construction rules that keep the poor and less educated away from places with good schools and good job opportunities.”

He’s being mocked for a paragraph on the “informal social barriers” that keep less-educated Americans in their place:

Recently I took a friend with only a high school degree to lunch. Insensitively, I led her into a gourmet sandwich shop. Suddenly I saw her face freeze up as she was confronted with sandwiches named “Padrino” and “Pomodoro” and ingredients like soppressata, capicollo and a striata baguette. I quickly asked her if she wanted to go somewhere else and she anxiously nodded yes and we ate Mexican.

I was raised by college-educated parents. I earned a degree from Stanford. I guessed capicolla was a fancy cheese. I looked it up. It’s fancy ham. I tried looking up “striata baguette,” but all I found was posts mocking David Brooks for thinking imperfect knowledge of Italian deli is keeping the proles down.

Image result for capicola

Class anxiety is very real, writes Rod Dreher, who grew up in a working-class family. He had to learn how to handle “cosmopolitan settings” to open doors, professionally and personally, that remain closed to others. “A man who can walk into a gourmet sandwich shop and roll with it is enormously advantaged over the man who cannot,” he concludes.

Those of us who are “front-row kids,” he writes, should recognize how culture “excludes the back-row folks (of all colors!).”

When I see something on the menu I don’t understand, I ask the server. My parents didn’t teach me about Italian deli (Jewish deli, yes), but they gave me the confidence to ask questions. That confidence does open doors.

Of course, social confidence can be learned as an adult. Kids need access to safe, orderly schools staffed with competent teachers using a content-rich, structured curriculum. The students whose parents can’t help with homework, hire a tutor, pay for computer camp, etc. need good schools the most.

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