Social Class Reproduction

Four Rules for Teaching Writing:
Image result for image: joy of writing
Always give writing assignments that

1. you will enjoy reading;
2. students will enjoy writing;
3. students will enjoy reading what others in the class have written
4. you will enjoy writing.

If any one of these conditions were not true, then it probably wasn't a very good assignment.

Advice I give to my students: When your words surprise you, you know you are writing.

Monday, February 11, 2019

Coondogging Indentured Servitude

I began this blog to write about teaching writing. I stopped teaching two years ago and have increasingly (and perhaps unavoidably) swerved both in my activities and writing toward the political maelstrom in which we now find ourselves.

In addition to the Trump phenomenon, we have in Virginia been caught up in the blackface controversy. I have written about the bandwagon effect and my own early blackfacing below. I have risked entering into some heated conversations with many of my friends over this issue. Many progressives and more centrist democrats too quickly, I thought, called on Northrop to resign (including my two favorite candidates for president). The news pundits, such as those on CNN, jumped all over this.

I am a bit disappointed--uncertain why I should be disappointed that my friends and political bedpeople should not see the world as I see it--to see some of these knee-jerk reactions, not that I don't engage in similar responses to issues that trigger me, short-circuiting my thought processes. Trump supporters, several of whom are my friends, simply can't be in this blackface game: their support of Trump's more recent race-tinged and misogynist behavior puts them out of the blackface conversation. But the rest of us . . .

This morning I turned on the TV, which is, in a large part responsible for the ubercirculation of misinformation (Ok, Trump, we agreed on something), to find Poppy Harlow and Jim Sciutto ventriloquizing some holier-than-thou critiques of Northram's phrasing in a recent interview in which he 1. noted how he has been recently schooled on white privilege and 2. used the phrase of "indentured servants" to refer to the Africans who were first brought to America. People, including Harlow and Sciutto, are now jumping on another doesn't-he-get-it? bandwagon.

I respect that many pundits and reporters on CNN and some on Fox News are trying to keep their fingers on truth. But the nature of the media, privileging fast news, perhaps necessarily distorts; once a story (like Warren's DNA), gains traction, the pundit continue to circulate the tropes that seem like truth. And over and over again until someone asks them to pull up and think again--by which time, we have generally gone to another story.

When Northram explained in a subsequent statement that he had first called the early indentured servitude of blacks "slavery," one of his historian friends had corrected him by saying that the first African's brought to America were "indentured servants." Having some interest in history, I thought the historian might have been right and so took the trouble to do a little checking. Yes, Northram's friend and Northram seemed to have it right. I have found no source that supports the claim that blacks were immediately treated as slaves. The move from indentured servitude to slavery was gradual from 1611 to 1705, when slavery was codified in Virginia. This is history. We are in danger when newscasters and their public so quickly rewrite history. Poor Governor Northrop was simply trying to be right. But he was not in tune with the more popular narrative and so once again was put in stocks for a public shaming.

I am not an enthusiastic Northram supporter. I'm a new Virginian and catching up on local politics. But I want to protest any disinformation program that shifts the conversation from real to imagined problems. If any reader has gotten this far, he or she might also check the varied meanings of "coondogging." The pundits were nailing Northam for being a racist in the 1980s because he was called "coondog." Rather than jump on another bandwagon, they should have checked how the label has been used. I didn't find one meaning that suggested a white racist. One of the meanings referred to the act of slapping an unsuspecting male (duh) in the balls.

Saturday, February 2, 2019

The Ralph Northam Controversy.

Compared to my last post, this one should be brief. It follows from the heterodox/orthodox discussion below. By heterodox, the people in the discussion below meant multiple ways of seeing an issue; by orthodox, they meant seeing only from one’s own point of view.
After two days of hurried conversation, it seems as if the orthodox lies in denouncing Ralph Northam. Protesting the denunciation of Northram seems outside the orthodox (in the heterodox). I’m going to take a chance and go there.
I have been listening to the TV panel discussions and reading the tweeted denunciations. I also watched Northam’s press conference. I should say, I am a newly arrived Virginian, so I don’t have much invested in the discussion.
I have a difficult time imagining that Northam was lying when he said neither character in the now-notorious yearbook photo was him. Surely, he would have to consider that one of the people in the photo might call him out on this lie (unless he knew that the other person in the photo was dead). As well, whoever was putting together that yearbook (there would have been several people) and probably the advisor might call him out. 
So let me try a mind experiment. Let’s say neither character was him and he didn’t know about the photo (I never bought or looked at my university’s yearbook) until he saw it last night. Supposing whoever discovered this photo was engaging in oppositional research and thought this would be an effective way to nail Northam to the wall. Suppose, for instance, Northan has been opposing environmental destruction and the affected corporation, Dominion Utility, might have in some way encouraged oppositional research. I said: this is a mind experiment. Check out Trump’s “logic” in his tweet on the issue.
What if something like this were the case, and the most racially offensive act of Northam was to blackface and do the Michael Jackson moonwalk. I can see how a young Virginian at a military institute might have done this admittedly insensitive act in the mid-eighties. I might have known better, but I won’t swear I wouldn’t have done it. I can’t begin to tell you the insensitive, stupid things I did in my twenties. 
I’m going to end with this thought: should we give criminals the right to vote after they have served their terms? Not calling Northam a criminal, but . . . 

Heterodox/Orthodox Education

The following post to a writing teachers listserv (WPA-l) was a consequence of an over-spirited conversation among college writing (usually referred to as rhet/comp) teachers discussing the limits of free-speech in college and university environments. I'm reposting mostly because I like to keep track of conversations like this.

Lurking behind the Heterodox/Orthodox (hx/ox) controversy in this listserv discussion lay the general tilt of higher education toward a liberal social philosophy.  

Rather than liberal, I would describe the academic environment as more tolerant of diversity than the public sphere, a consequence of the multiplicity of cultures from which students mix in the new university culture. 

In saying this, I am not imagining the public sphere as singular. The public sphere is constructed of varied spheres as well. But they are more insulated from each other than are the microspheres that form the university culture. The university culture, consequently, tends to be more tolerant (a telling adjective) of diversity than the surrounding general culture. This characteristic gets loosely translated as more liberal. 

My comment on the heterodox/orthodox controversy: 

Although there have been moments of irritation, the conversation has been thoughtful (I particularly appreciated Eric's last post), reflecting in many ways the political conversation to which we have been subjected for the last three years. For those of us who assume that the educational industry is only one of many social reproductive mechanisms, this reflection is no surprise. As rhet/comp professors and graduate students, we may fondly imagine ourselves as thinking, in a self-damming phrase, "outside the box," when we are basically just in a slightly different box than, say, engineers, airplane pilots, or farmers. 

Conversations like these are interesting but essentially not about teaching. My own particular box, constructed largely by 60's educator-radicals, John Dewey, and Paulo Freire, was framed by my love of writing and the pure pleasure that came from passing that passion on to students in my classes (it would take a long essay, maybe a book, to explain Dewey, Kozol, Britton, and Moffett as the sides and perhaps Berlin and Freire as the top and bottom of the box with me and some of my friends rattling around inside.)

The discussion of heterodoxy and orthodoxy in education (and society, which we mirror) might shift a bit if historicized, beginning perhaps with the free speech movement in the 60s (Mario Savio) as a response to capitalism, the civil rights movement, and the US intervention in Viet Nam and Latin America. As time passed, hx and ox faded into and away from each other, like colliding galaxies, dragging with them parts of the galaxy through which they had passed. 

There was a time the 90's and early 2000's when the orthodoxy in our field was that we were the center of the universe (Berlin made this mistake, dragging a host of us with him ). In that frame, the ox was that teachers who imagined teaching as a non-political act were naive. Inside the box (the orthodoxy), all teaching was political.

It is worth remembering the discussion surrounding what was known as the Texas debacle (late 80s, I think) and George Will's coining of the phrase, "political correctness," which to many of us has since been coded as a liberal attack on what is ironically framed in this thread as the conservatives' free speech. With all due respect to Dayna's posting of links to data supporting the existence of the Heterodox Academy, the first link points to a survey conducted by the CATO institute; many of the items in the CATO survey hinged on the code of "political correctness." 

For people who have regretted the sometime volatile nature of the discussion: This list is clearly not a safe place. Why should it be? The list is a kind of training ground for publication in the academy, which is also not a safe place. The academy itself is not a safe place (read Jeff Schmitd's Disciplined Minds); as I noted above, one of our primary (but hidden) functions is to reproduce culture-- with some gestures toward what we uncritically imagine as critical thinking, detached from identity politics and experience.

In my career, I argued (as I did in Going North, Thinking West) for teaching writing, not politics. And I really mean the love of writing so that my students would have writing as a passion for the rest of their lives. Like singing. Like dancing. Like breathing.

Sunday, January 6, 2019


I don’t really know how to get a tweet thread going (by today’s standards, I still write by carving letters in stone), but I would like to start a thread that is title for this post. I am obviously addressing the Elizabeth Warren/DNA issue. The Scot part of the pic links more to me, but I can’t imagine that I don’t have some NA blood in me as well. I’m 12thgeneration gringo on my father’s side and probably about 6thgeneration on my mother’s side—and that’s not counting the distaff (what a revealing adjective!) sides of both my father and mother. I can’t imagine there weren’t some mixed marriages along the way—or I don’t know anything about sex. I know for sure (well, sort of) that the Caldwells were Scotch-Irish. So the Scotsman in the picture. [I know there’s an up and down issue in the pic, but it was the only NA/Sc image I could find.]
So I’ll say it right here in case I ever run for public office: I have some Native American blood in me. It’s kind of way back, but it’s there. If anyone wants me to take a DNA test to prove it, please send me (email: iwpeckham@gmail.comfor my physical address) one to take. I’m very proud of this part of my heritage. Those are my ancestors who really owned this country before my illegal-alien ancestors came over and killed most of my NA ancestors and took away their land.
I should hope my point is clear (and here I’m addressing pundits): enough of this stupid conversation about Elizabeth Warren’s DNA. Didn’t you learn anything from your having gone on and on about Hillary Clinton’s email? And look where that conversation got us. Please, pundits, let’s move on to substantive issues. 
Let’s demand a topic shift from ourselves and anyone we know. If you tweet, tweet a message to #enufWDna to let others know whether you, like me, have had enough of that stupid DNA conversation. Basically, Warren and Obama (who, let’s note, happens, like me, to be mixed race) did exactly the same thing: got some kind of data to shut up idiots like Trump.

Sunday, December 2, 2018

Dog Language

After dinner, I’m by the fire, sitting on the couch, writing. I’ve been doing this for some time. Lola comes in front of me, stands there, whimpers. I keep writing while the whimpers turn to whines. I say, what do you want? I try to see if she wants to go outside (no), go upstairs (no), get up on the couch (no). Frustrated, she gets a fake bone she sometimes chews on and stands in front of me again. 
Ok, so you want to play. I try to take the bone away. She lets it go (rather than play tug-a-war with it). I toss it across the room. No, she doesn’t want to get it and have me throw it again. I get up, say, all right then, you want to go outside. I go through the dining room and out to the back door on the other side of the kitchen. Lola doesn’t follow me. She gets the bone again and stands with it in the doorway between the dining room and kitchen. Come on, Lola, I tell her, a bit impatient, holding the door going outside open. Nope, she doesn’t move. I realize then that next to the doorway in which she is standing is where I give her food and water. I had fed her, but she was still hungry. That’s what she was saying.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Social Reproduction in the Classroom

Diary Entry
Image result for image: bad teachingAfter 40 years of teaching, I still think of myself as an outsider, perhaps not an outsider, but certainly on the periphery. I am going to try to explain my perpetual outsider status within Jeff’s (Disciplined Minds) theory of brainwashing—which I think has traction. Jeff, a physicist, starts from the unorthodox premise that the more you go to school, the dumber you get. By the time you get your PhD, which both Jeff and I have, you’ve lost it. You have become a someone, a social-space, that your earlier self would not have recognized. The change is so gradual and disguised, you don’t know what is happening. Once, you were a student; now, you’re a professor, on the other side of the fence. You have lost that person you were.
Jeff analyzes this creepy transition in terms of educational indoctrination. I and many of my working-class academic friends add to this layer social-class betrayal, the imposture syndrome, and social-class resentment. Although I am generally a somewhat respected academic, albeit with dangerous tendencies, I still imagine myself on the edge. I have never fit in. I will say that the fact that other scholars in our field partially hear me speaks to the inclusive urge in our field. 
Jeff charts the gradual transition of physics graduate students into clones, scampering after military-industrial, multi-million dollar research grants that their younger selves would have rejected on a dime. You find yourself becoming important. You have lots of money. You get publications. You get jobs in doctoral extensive universities. You have it made with million dollar grants and $100,000 plus salaries. In essence, you get bought. Jeff says you get brainwashed.
Behind the brainwashing lies social reproduction theory (SRP), theorized by Marx and argued extensively by Bernstein, Bourdieu, Bourdieu and Passeron, Bowles and Gintis, Gee—one could go on. SRP is not complicated. In essence, it assumes that a social structure, like a man/woman, tries to reproduce itself. If we have a social structure of inequitable privileges, the social structure and educational institutions (being primary agents of social reproduction) try to reproduce these inequitable educational/ social privileges so that those of us in the upper middle-classes and above (of whom I am now one) maintain our privilege for ourselves and our children. 
Obviously, once we have run the gauntlet, we can’t really trust our perception—we would like to think we made it through undamaged, but we have no way of knowing the degree to which we became what we once swore we would never be.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

What Is Social Class?


Social Class

Before taking up the question of the intersections between social class, writing instruction, and social reproduction, I will analyze some of the major problems of referring to social class in the Unites States.  The major issues are the un-naming of class, its empirical status, what markers we use to distinguish the different classes, and what we call them.  
In rhetoric and composition, we have the additional problem of abstracting class from the larger field of marginalizing status markers, the most common ones being race, ethnicity, gender, and sexual orientation—although compositionists are beginning to recognize other markers of marginalized social groups as deserving our attention.  To imagine that any of these marginalizing status markers operate independent of the others is naïve.  To debate which marginalizing status marker deserves primary status is equally naïve. It temps the verbal equivalent of what Freire ([1970] 1995) calls “lateral violence,” peasants fighting against each other instead of against the landowners (48).  The social structure (i.e., capitalism) that depends on marginalizing social groups is our problem.  
In order to study any phenomenon, we abstract it from a larger field.  This is what I will be doing in order to analyze the intersections between social class, writing instruction, and social reproduction.  I do not, however, imagine that these intersections can be understood fully if one forgets that one hasabstracted the issue of class from the larger field of social marginalization. In practice, the analysis of class has to be reintegrated with studies of other methods of marginalizing social groups.

Absence of Class

Writers frequently note the aversion in the United States to confronting issues of social class (e.g., hooks 1995; Shepard 1998; Stuckey 1991; Tate 1998; Tate, McMillan, & Woodworth 1997; Villanueva 1998).  Alan Shepard compares this silence to the frankness with which class in British universities is not only discussed but objectified through academic practices such as marking degrees with class designations and allowing only certain “classes” of people to walk on lawns assigned to their class.  The mythology and historical development of the United States are usually cited as contributing factors to our disinclination to focus on social class in academia.  The capitalist mythology works best when people can imagine that everyone has a reasonably equal opportunity to achieve success, which is considered the just reward of diligence, industry, and intelligence.  Wedded to this bootstrap mythology is our pioneer heritage sanctifying Daniel Boone individuality and belittling group behavior.  Consequently, Americans are socialized into thinking that only in other countries (like England) are citizens pinned by class to the wall.
This silence in our field on class issues has been reflected by the number of sessions in our CCCC and MLA conventions.  MLA seems to have been particularly silent on the issue.  Shor (personal communication) reports that he co-chaired some sessions in 1971 and 1972 with people like Fredrick Jameson, Norman Rudich, Paul Lauter, Richard Ohmann, Louis Kampf, and Richard Wasson in which class was present as a subject but it wasn’t named in the session titles. Deborah Holdstein (personal communication) said she was in a session on the literature of the War in Vietnam in the late 70’s in which class became part of the discussion but wasn’t mentioned in the title.  Renny Christopher (personal communication), who researched this issue in order to initiate discussion on class at MLA reports that from the years 1993 to 1996, only three sessions were devoted to class—one in 1993, one in 1995, and one in 1996.  In her article, “Freshman Composition as a Middle-class Enterprise,” Lynn Bloom (1996) wrote that after issuing a call in 1993 for papers on race, class, and gender in composition studies, she received one proposal on class, compared to a dozen on race and 94 on gender.  She noted that “the C-word” rarely was named in paper titles until 1994 (657).
The first panels in CCCC to focus on the subject of social class and writing appeared in 1995, being outnumbered by a ratio of about 3 to 1 by presentations on race and gender (6 sessions on social class, 15 on race, and 18 on gender). In 1996, there were 3 on class, 5 on race, and 11 on gender.   In 1997, there was a brief and odd explosion of social class issues with 20 sessions on class, 39 on race, and 31 on gender, but by 1998 (oddly enough, the year in which CCCC saw fit to devote a special strand to sessions that mentioned Paulo Freire, who died in 1997), there were 8 sessions on class, 5 on race, and 18 on gender.  In 1999, class and race issues began to melt away with 6 sessions on class, 4 on race, and 8 on gender.  There has recently been some resurgence of interest with 24 on class, 42 on race, and 28 on gender in 2000; 28 on class, 55 on race, and 41 on gender in 2001; and 19 on class, 45 on race, and 22 on gender in 2002.    
Admittedly, mine seems like a reductive reading of how class has either been silenced or gained voice as an issue in our profession.  As Holdstein has reminded me, 
. . . the MLA and CCCC have always had program sessions and topics that treated issues of social class/working-class . . . .  The subject heading designations at many conferences, of course, seem to develop much later than any actual, dominant treatment of the subject at hand. (personal communication)
I have relied for this analysis only on data that was readily available—my contention is (and in this Holdstein seems to agree) that when an issue gains prominence, it is named and indexed.  It would be interesting of course to do a closer analysis of how the issue of class and race in particular were subsumed in other topics.  For the moment, I have used class as it has been named on paper titles only as an indication of the degree to which it is objectified in our collective psyche.
Our journals reflect a similar silence in English studies on issues of class. To gauge this, I searched ERIC, limiting the journals to College Englishand  CCC (College Composition and Communication)—two mainstream journals in writing studies, one of which crosses over into literature. I am not reporting on all journals listed in ERIC because of the other disciplines represented there.  I was looking only for an indicator of the degree to which class had been recognized as in issue in our discipline.  The on-line database includes articles from 1967 on.  I used in my search words that were major descriptors and I searched for SU or subject—which collects references in the descriptor, the abstract, and the title to the search term.  Using “social class,” I found 14 articles.  Using “race,” I found 9 articles.  Using “gender,” I found 5, and using “feminism,” I found 96.  I was surprised by this search and repeated it several times—always with the same results.  It almost seems as if it is as impolite in these journals to refer directly to race, class, or gender.  The comparatively welcome naming of feminism was mostly likely the consequence of feminism emerging as a theoretical field of inquiry rather than designating a social group category. 
I have conflicting responses to these claims and evidence of a cultural aversion to class issues.  My personal history as an academic with a working-class background has made me suspect these claims of silence.  I personally enjoy reading about, thinking about, writing about, talking about class and to a certain extent, some of my friends and colleagues seem interested in the discussion.  On the other hand, I have been in many conference sessions where others report difficulties in bringing up these issues with their colleagues and students. The brief research that I have done and reported above suggests a certain silencing, albeit one I have not experienced in my professional life.  
On the surface level,  whether one avoids or welcomes the discussion might be a function of one’s own social class origins.  Lawrence MacKenzie (1998) writes that “an oppressive requirement of being or appearing middle class is to avoid social class talk . . . .  to speak of class is itself, conveniently, déclassé” (105).  MacKenzie is a working-class academic labeling a feature of middle-class membership.  When you come from one class, it’s tempting to notice negative features of the “other” class—MacKenzie and I probably interpret the desire not to talk about class as a negative feature in the native middle-class ethos.  Nevertheless, there might be something to MacKenzie’s claim. If you belong to the middle or upper classes, you might prefer not to mention the social game that has made it easier for you to be where you are.  
Working-class people are on the obverse side of the true-grit coin.  They know that—as bell hooks (1995) has put it—class matters; consequently, they might be more willing to talk about it.  Class recognition is deeply embedded in their identities particularly among those who have crossed from one social class into another (see Giroux 1991).  They understand that class is very much a part of the reason they are poor. Laurel Johnson Black (1995) writes of the division between the classes: “I learned that the stupid rich bastards always underestimated us, always thought we were as dumb as we were poor, always mistook our silence for ignorance, our shabby clothes and rusted cars for lack of ambition or war” (15-16).  That’s recognition of class.
I conducted some serendipitous research in 1999 that supports this hypothesis on the relationship between social class origins and one’s willingness to discuss the issue.  As a consequence of another discussion on WPA-L (the Writing Program Administrators listserv), I invited members to send me 20 to 30 minute reflections on their social class origins and what their origins had to do with how they teach.  Within three weeks I received twenty-five replies. Of the twenty-five responses that I received, 13 of them had been written by academics with working-class backgrounds, 11 by academics with middle class backgrounds, and 1 by an academic who was a clear border case.  That is, 56 % of the responses were from working-class academics. Other research that I have done on the relationship between social class origin and academic position suggests that 34 % of  rhetoric and composition professors have working-class origins, 66 % having middle-class origins, and less that .5 % having upper-class origins (n=291).  These statistics imply that working-class academics are more willing to put class on the table.  
There are, however, further complications for working-class academics. To put the case bluntly: becoming academics is our way of escaping the working-class.[i]In order to escape, we have had to make over our identities in serious ways.  I suspect that many of us would prefer not to make apparent what we were trying to cover (see Tate 1998; Sullivan 1998).  James Paul Gee’s (1996) theory of primary and secondary Discourses  provides a way of understanding the kind of identity revision I am suggesting.  In Gee’s usage, a Discourse means more than one’s linguistic habits.  It is more like Bourdieu’s concept of habitus.  As well as speech codes, it includes things like dress codes, grooming habits, ways of moving, housing, furniture, music, movies, reading material, sports, etc.—in short, everything that contributes to one’s identity as a member of a social group. The primary Discourse is the discourse of one’s family and close friends who share one’s habitus.  The secondary is the public Discourse—the one we “put on.” We learn to pretend it when we enter school.  Identity discord occurs when the primary and secondary Discourses seriously conflict—as do working and middle class Discourses (Gee 1996, 137).  
Working-class academics consequently learn to submerge their working-class or primary Discourse as they struggle to replace it with the adopted middle-class Discourse. Pat Sullivan (1998) writes about this covering over and coming out:  
I had never told either friend, nor anyone else I have ever worked or studied with in academe for that matter, the social and familial circumstances of my life.  In trying now to take measure of that silence—now, as I am about to break it—I am stalled by a wave of fear.  There is a voice inside me that has been there as long as I can remember, and it says that it isn’t right to speak of private matters, family matters, money matters. That there will be hell to pay. That it is safer to “pass,” to keep projecting a self who has made it, than to disclose the conditions of getting there. (232)  
Once we have made it, once we have learned to call dinner lunch and supper dinner, let alone what to do with the different glasses and extra dinnerware on the table, we do not like to be called back to our social class origins. We have worked hard to erase them. Even now, when I am sixty-two and dominantly middle-class, I watch others to find out how to eat when I go out to expensive restaurants.  There are certain things I can’t seem to get “right.”
Gary Tate (1998) has sharply brought this conflict into focus in “Halfway Back Home.”  He describes in this searing essay his struggle to disguise his social class origins. 
My rituals of denial continued through graduate school and into my teaching career where they assumed many forms.  I have tended until very recently not to sympathize with students who have trouble overcoming the odds of a deck stacked against them. . . . I have also tried to prove that I belonged by adopting the highest possible standards.  The better the college, the higher my standards—read “degree of insecurity.” During one two-year period at a good liberal arts college, I taught 179 students.  In that two-year period, I gave two A’s. . . . I lectured on the latest composition theories while penalizing first-year students for the slightest deviations from Edited American English. . . . The scorn I felt for my past, my parents, my students was nothing compared to the scorn I felt for myself, which explains, in part at least, my final act of denial: a turn to drugs. (254)
One can read deeply into Tate’s brief story here.  The desire to look middle-class might make one more insistently middle-class than those who are born to it.  Freire ([1970] 1995) comments, “It is a rare peasant who, once ‘promoted’ to overseer, does not become more of a tyrant towards his former comrades than the owner himself . . . .  In order to make sure of his job, [he] must be as tough as the owner—and more so” (28). I underscore Tate’s rigorouspractice with Freire’s analysis of the overseer to mark the strategies that working-class academics who want to erase their primary Discourses employ. By silencing the working-class students who are also trying to escape, they are silencing their working-class selves—the ones lying underneath the veneer of working-class academics.  Tate is right: drugs kill the pain and keep us quiet.  Of course middle-class drugs come in various disguises.
This reading of working-class academics contradicts my speculation that working-class academics seem more open than middle-class academics to discussions of class.  This contradiction is perhaps accounted for by the development of working-class studies. Although teachers like Ira Shor, Barbara Foley, Richard Ohmann, and Paul Lautier were writing books and articles and giving papers on class issues from the 70s on, class didn’t become a named focus like black studies or women’s studies until the 90s.  A book edited by Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey, Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working-class (1984)seems to have been the cornerstone on which this new focus was built.  Strangers in Paradisewas a collection of essays in which academics from the working-class, one, admitted, that they did indeed have working-class origins (the kind of thing Sullivan and Tate were trying to hide), and two, the anger they felt over having denied their origins. Perhaps within this anger lay the suspicion that everyone from the higher classes (that is, the significant majority of their colleagues) saw beneath their pretense.  Bourdieu (1984) calls pretenders like me and the writers in Strangers“parvenus” or “late arrivals” (164); Gee (2004) first called them “latecomers” but later switched the term to “authentic beginners”—distinguishing them from “false beginners” who were born to the game. The parvenus have to learn the rules from scratch.  Bourdieu’s point is that those who were born to the condition alwaysrecognize the parvenus, who reveal themselves by over-monitoring their behavior.  Tate’s rigor is a case of over-monitoring.
No matter how hard working-class academics struggle to disguise their origins, the false-beginners know.  To explain this kind of paralinguistic perception, Gee (1996) refers to studies that explain how “real Indians” know each other.  It’s not in what one says or looks like; it’s a way of being.  One real Indian recognizes another as well as the pretenders, who no matter how hard they try, will always be outsiders to Indianess (129-130).  I understand this: I can recognize working-class academics without hearing them speak.  I recognize the middle- and the sprinkling of upper-class academics by the law of exclusion—and I assume that’s how they recognize us.  This fear, then, of being seen throughmight account for the anger expressed in Strangers in Paradise.  As Pat Sullivan has made clear, it also accounts for the silence.
But in the early 90s, conditions changed.  Janet Zandy, one of the primary forces to bring about this change, helped to give voice to working-class women by putting together Calling Home: Working-class Women’s Writings(1990).  In 1994, she collected essays from working-class writers and published them in Liberating Memory: Our Work and Our Working-class Consciousness. The writers in both books are given space within which to recall the experience of growing up working-class. Continuing the tradition which began with Strangers in Paradise, C. L. Barney Dews and Carolyn  Law (1995) collected essays from working-class academics and published them in This Fine Place So Far From Home: Voices of Academics from the Working-class.  In 1996, John Russo and Sherry Linkon developed the Center for Working-class Studies in Youngstown, Ohio ( and have been sponsoring conferences on working-class studies every other year. During these years (1995 and 1996) sessions devoted to class and working-class studies began to appear at CCCC, most of which were organized by Ira Shor and his graduate students, Caroline Pari, Leo Parascondola, and Eileen Ferretti.  In 1995, Doug Paterson, Mary Machietto, and I organized the first Pedagogy and Theatre of the Oppressed conference in Omaha—which became a yearly event and a place for artists, teachers, and cultural workers to meet.[ii]  The cumulative effect of this activity has been a recognition that those of us who were ear ‘oles, who worked to make ourselves over, could freely acknowledge our working-class origins.  This liberation of our memories is again captured by Gary Tate’s (1998) description of his own liberation when he stumbled across a revised version of Strangers in Paradise.  He writes
To put it simply, I found myself in that book.  As I read account after account of the pain and discomfort and anger of these authors as they had tried to negotiate the rituals and traditions of the academy, it was as if my entire previous life changed in front of me.  “Yes!” “Yes!” I kept saying to myself. ‘I am here, in this book, on almost every page. (255)
In short, this legitimation of our working-class identities has spread, accounting, perhaps, for the higher proportion of working-class academics who responded to my call for reflective narratives on their social class origins and how they teach.  The subject of class may still be déclassé for many academics, but not for a rising proportion of working-class academics.  In the latest turn of the naming game, it is now cool to be working-class (well, to have come from the working-class and maybe dress working-class—but not beworking-class).  It’s enough to make me buy a suit.

Ontology of Class

Lower, working, lower middle, middle, upper middle, upper, underclass, working poor, homeless, overclass, subordinate class, dominate class, elites, non-elites, dominant elites, professional, intellectual, professional-managerial, proletariat, petite and petty bourgeoisie, bourgeoisie, exploited, exploiters, capitalist, fast capitalist, corporate, bureaucrats, middle management, white color, technocrats, blue collar, labor, manual, higher non-manual, lower non-manual, skilled manual, unskilled manual, peasants, landowners, propertied class.  Class matters,  but what is it?
My tendency is to be casual about which labels we use, because class is a conception.  It does not have a concrete reality that is “out there” somewhere to be recognized, analyzed, and described.  But a good deal is at stake when one names the different classes.  Dividing people into lower and upper-classes assigns moral and personal values to members of either group.  This value reverberates throughout our language, chiefly through the associations that lie within the words.  George Lakoff  (1987) in Women, Fire, and Dangerous Thingshas analyzed how metaphors like lower and upper are embodied—they come out of our bodies (262).   In this case the feet are the lower; the head is the upper.  The feet are for walking; the head is for thinking.  The lower class is for doing; the upper-class is for organizing, directing. The lower part of the body is for sexual reproduction and excretion; the upper part of the body is for circulating the blood, getting air, seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing, thinking. The lower class is for having babies and taking care of various waste products; the upper-class eats and thinks. The historic association and ideological power of the lower/upper dichotomy is instantiated through the visually concrete descriptions of hell and heaven.  It is of course no accident that the head of heaven is King and male (and white).  One could go on.  It doesn’t take a lot of thinking to understand what kind of conceptions are naturalized by speaking of the lower and upper classes.  No matter what words one chooses, one will load into those words a series of associations and a babble of previous voices that have used them in specific contexts (Bakhtin 1981).  So a lot is at stake when we name class. 
Likewise, much is at stake when we choose criteria by which to identify the different classes.  The basic division seems to be between the Marxists and everyone else.  The Marxist in turn are divided between the big Ms and little ms with the latter sliding into everyone else.  The classical Marxists insist that class has to be defined (following Marx’s analysis of the capitalist social structure) by a group’s relationship to the mode of production.  Marx divided these into the bourgeoisie and proletariat—or those who own the means of production and those who sell their labor for less than it is worth and consequently create profit for the bourgeoisie.  Several quasi-classes slide into or out of these two major classes—e.g., state bureaucrats, middle managers, and so on.  The problem of the in-between classes has grown more complicated with what has become known as fast capitalism within which well-paid laborers like computer programmers may have significant investments in the companies they work for.  
The “everyone else” group includes theorists who have looked outside the mode of production for ways of defining social classes and their relationships. Pierre Bourdieu (1984) broadens the notion of capital (and who owns it) to include such things as educational, social, cultural, linguistic, and symbolic capital.  As well as opening up a multi-dimensional perspective on one’s social position, Bourdieu theorizes a dynamic relationship between the different kinds of capital; thus, one can trade in a little economic capital for some educational or symbolic capital.  Because of this dynamic relationship and multi-dimensionality, Bourdieu thinks of social class as situational, relational, and spacial. And finally, Bourdieu doesn’t speak so much of a social space as of a trajectory, one’s path from birth to death. 
Another element has to be taken into account when we speak of social class: and that is the position from which we speak.  On a broad level, this might refer to the country from which we speak. As I noted above, discussions about class take on a different tone if one is speaking from within England or the United States.  Class is an accepted, unproblematic notion in England whereas in the Unites States, it is sometimes fiercely denied as a useful concept.  American theorists have to work their way through an ideolology that attempts to erase class.  A case in point might be found in Richard Ohmann’s (1982) challenge to Basil Bernstein’s theory of linguistic codes characteristic of different classes. Ohmann faults Bernstein’s analysis because Bernstein fails to account for the class categories that he uses—that is, he fails to establish and justify his criteria and the categories. Rather, Bernstein, according to Ohmann, blithely assumes the categories of working and professional-managerial classes and on the basis of his research assigns codes characteristic of these different classes.  Bernstein does seem to have taken these social classes for granted, but part of the difference between Bernstein and Ohmann might be accounted for by the difference between England and the United States.  Bernstein makes assumptions that Ohmann insists must be accounted for.
Self-referentiality is also at work when one tries to map the position from which one speaks and thinks about class.  As I noted in my discussion of the silence within English studies on class-based issues, the class from which one speaks shapes one’s speech.  A person who comes from the upper-classes simply can’t understand class the way I do.  And I can’t understand class the way someone who comes from the welfare class does. We can communicate, but our conceptions of class will never be the same.

Objectivity of class  

In our postmodern era, it seems like an unproblematic claim to say that class is only a conception,  an “in here,” not an “out there,”  but “class is a conception” are fighting words if one is, for example (as I was recently) in a conference on working-class studies.  One might as well say in a conference devoted to African-American literature that race doesn’t exist, that it is a conception and exists only as a social condition in the speaker’s mind.  I need to emphasize: calling class a conception doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist; it simply doesn’t exist “out there.”  Strictly speaking, nothing (no-thing)exists “out there.”  This line of thinking stretches from the sophists (see Enos 1976) to the hypermodernists. Naming-words point to categories of things, ideas, or actions.  Any category is by definition not “out there.”  A name that refers to two things that seem similar refers to a mental concept of those two things with the concept being built on features that the two things have in common while ignoring their differences.  As names for categories point to groups with larger membership, the name increasingly points to something that is “in here” rather than “out there,” that is, one is describing more and more one’s way of linguistically organizing reality rather than to organizations that have an objective existence (see Lakoff 1987; Moffett 1968; Rosch 1978).  One’s way of linguistically organizing reality is of course determined by one’s social existence, which includes the language into which one is born.  
There are, however, degrees of unreality.  “Life,” for example, is a high-level abstraction.  It points to a conception based on just about everything. “Life form” is more concrete, more out there.  Drop down through several levels and we might get to “dog,” which is still a category that exists at a high level of abstraction.  My greyhound, Una, for example, doesn’t have much in common with a St. Bernard, let alone a Pekinese.  Una seems to think that she is different from other greyhounds, which is why she sniffs them. The point is that once we get to the unit of one, we hit the concrete, and even units of one (like ourselves) are arguably conceptions.
This theory of classification is in opposition to a traditional or Aristotelian notion of classification—which Lakoff (1987) calls a folk theory of classification (5). Aristotle imagined that there were real categories of things in material reality—as did Rosch (1978), until she began looking closely.  Aristotle felt that through a careful and disinterested investigation of the examples of things, one could identify and describe the natural groupings—or categories. But as postmodernism has insistently claimed, what one sees depends on who, from where, and why one is looking.   
In contrast to the Aristotelian conception of classification, contemporary theorists work from some variation of prototype theory, developed by Eleanor Rosch (1978).  Rosch claims that categories work on the basis of best instances or prototypes. When people in the Midwest, for example, think of birds, they tend to think of a robin or of another bird very much like a robin.  They don’t think of emus.  Likewise, we have a prototype image of a mother—and it doesn’t fit a woman who has had a child that she put up for adoption at the child’s birth.  When things have many points in common with the prototypes, this kind of classification generally works well.  In fact, it seems as if we are using words (categories) as Aristotle thought we should use them—to refer to categories that have objective existences. But when items move away from the center, meaning gets fuzzy.  Out at the edges, in fact, instances may have nothing in common with the prototype: instead they have features in common with something that is closer to the center that in turn has something in common with something else closer to the center and so on.  Wittgenstein (1958) based his theory of meaning on this “family resemblance”(Aphorism 67).  
People communicate comfortably when the instances they are referring to fit the prototypes.  When prototypes don’t mesh or when the words are pointing at things toward the edges, communication gets messy.  Of course we can’t be thinking about all of this when we talk to each other or we would be reduced to the Laputian strategy of carrying our meanings around in bags. We have to pretendthat the folk theory is the real theory.  But when communication breaks down, it is useful to understand how we actually classify because then we might be able to locate the points of failure.  This may have been the kind of breakdown that led to Ohmann’s critique of Bernstein’s notion of class.
I have explored classification theory to lay the foundation for what I mean by class.  I am referring to a system of relationships within which people act toward each other as if the groups didexist—as in their minds, they do.  There is some kind of objective hierarchy of social positions based on a differential distribution of resources and constraints that govern any individual’s choice of actions (Breen and Rottman 1995). I am imagining this hierarchy as existing on a continuum from few resources and maximum constraints (e.g. prisoners) to maximum resources and few constraints (e.g., members of the elite), but as Bourdieu (1984) makes clear, a linear model is an abstraction/distortion of a more comprehensive model that maps an individual’s social space on the basis of several kinds of capital.  When I am referring to class, I am primarily sorting on the basis of a person’s occupation, level of authority,  assets, level of education, and social relationships.  I do not imagine that these are the only determinants of class, but they are common ones most people recognize.  Following Bourdieu’s distinctions (adopted from Marx), I will frequently refer to class fractions.  The most useful class fractions are the economic and intellectual fractions that exist in opposition to each other within any particular class. Adapting some brief descriptions from Kerbo (1996, 12-13), here are some features of the classes to which I will commonly refer:
Lower class: working-class with no property and few assets; minimum wages if any at all.  Rarely higher than a high school education, who are often unemployed, and have no authority.  
Working-class:    Generally own some property and may have other assets.  Wages range from low to significant.  A subcategory is skilled working-classwhose wages are generally significant. Generally hourly wages. Rarely higher than high school education. Manual labor.  Do not have much authority. 
Lower middle class:  May own some property and may have other assets—frequently less than members of the skilled working-class.  Low to middle wages—that is, wages approaching the mean (about $38,000 in 1999). Generally hourly wages; most members of this class are required to be on the job at certain times of the day and for an allotted number of hours.  High school or two-year college education is the norm—although increasingly many four-year college graduates belong in this category.  Basic white-collar labor with little authority (e.g., sales people).
Middle middle class: Own property—their own homes and perhaps some other assets.  Increasingly this class is investing in stocks through mutual funds.  Salaries are near the mean.  Most of members of this class are not in control of their time, although as they become more professional, they decide their own hours. Bachelor’s or master’s is the norm. White collar jobs with some authority—low-level to mid-level management in businesses.  This class may include shop or small business owners.  Members have some authority—they direct other workers. 
Upper middle class:  They own their own homes and generally other property.  They also have significant assets—certainly stocks and bonds. Salaries are significantly above the mean.  Members are in control of their own time. Higher degrees are the norm: Ph.D’s, M.D.’s, LL.D.’s.  These are professionals and upper-level management.  Significant authority.  
Corporate class:  Own significant property and assets.  High income. In charge of their own time. Higher degrees are the norm.  High authority and power in corporations. These are top executives and board members.
Elites(also referred to as the executive elites). Very high in property and assets. Income derived from investments and ownerships in major corporations.  Entirely in charge of their own time.  Many in fact may not work or have positions that are essentially decorative. Generally have completed college, but because of social and economic capital, educational capital is not a requirement.  Very high authority.  These are the members of the old established families.
A few caveats are in order to complete this schema of  class strata.  First, the divisions are affected by the environment: class systems are different in urban, suburban, town, and rural areas.  In general, one could say that in denser populations, the degree of difference is higher and the segregation is more complete—class is ghettoized.  
Second, farmers and ranchers cross class lines.  Their class depends on the size of the farm or ranch.  They are all self-employed.  They are in charge of their own time and work.  Increasingly, more of them have college degrees. Still, they do manual labor. Assigning them the same class positions as non-rural workers does violence to their habitus.  If I weren’t concerned with simplicity of reference, I would locate them in categories different from urban categories:  I would separate them into workers (hired hands); small farmers; and large farmers. All three classes have something in common with the working classes because their decisions and labor are directed toward concrete reality—as opposed to the generally abstract reality of the upper level management and corporate classes (Bourdieu 1984). The hired hands are straight working-class, but the small farmers also have features in common with the middle and upper-middle class, particularly with regard to their autonomy.  In Bourdieu’s terms, they would be called petite bourgeois. The large farmers could easily be compared to the corporate class with the exception that their decisions are directed toward concrete reality. 
Third, references to education is relative to the times.  An M.A. in 1950 would perhaps be equivalent to a Ph.D. today. Certainly, an M.A. now would equal a B.A. in 1950.  Bourdieu (1984) describes this phenomenon in terms of the privileged classes continuously having to raise the bar in order to maintain their “distinction,” or their distance from the common people.
Fourth, an individual may belong to more than one class.  This is especially true of people who are in transition, such as working-class graduate students or even working-class academics, who will always be late-comers. 
Finally, this entire discussion might have been avoided if I had simply quoted Elspeth Stuckey’s (1991) paraphrase of W. Lloyd Warner:  “You know your class by who invites you to dinner” (4).

[i]This sweeping generalization embeds three major sub-claims that I will not argue but I want to make explicit.  They are 1, that my motivation has been similar to the motivation of other working-class academics; 2, that being an academic is one way of escaping one’s working class condition; and 3, that the working-class condition is something one would want to escape.  
[ii]Doug and Mary were really the leaders of this project, which focused more on theater and the work of Augusto Boal than on writing and Paulo Freire.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Being Retired

Recently, someone in my former field interviewed me about being retired. I told her I preferred to think of myself as unemployed. After I quit my last academic position as a consequence of a contract dispute (message: read your contracts carefully), I tried for a few others, but no one wanted to hire me. 
That wasn’t a whine, just a statement that none of the four or five universities to which I applied made me an offer—although I got close with one. Admittedly, I was seriously circumscribing my possibilities by applying only for positions near either my son in Kansas City or daughter in Harrisonburg, VA. I have not been searching for a position because I need a job. I was looking because I like to teach and direct writing programs.
The field is competitive. There are all sorts of reasons why most universities would not want to hire me: I’m a bit of a contrarian. I think grades are idiotic; argument as a genre, overrated; and personal writing, underutilized.  Introductory writing courses at the university level can use writing as a way of having students engage in conversations with their classmates about issues that affect them, not us: like the pressure of exams; the gap between home and university life; what kind of professions and life styles they are imagining for themselves. It’s actually easy to imagine writing topics that young people would want to write about and share with each other as long as you don’t place them in pseudo writing situations over which hang the sword of grades. 
You can see why most universities might not want to hire me. I might be a bad teacher, but that’s simply not true. I’m a good teacher. When my students left my classes, most of them were more writers than when they came in. I began under the assumption that people like to write—until the desire gets schooled out of them. My job was to school that desire back in.
And I’m old, at least as far as the clock goes. That might not be the dominant reason that schools to which I have applied wanted to keep me at arm’s length. But I’ve wondered about the degree to which my age was working against me. I’m 74 and no one wants to hire a full professor and have him or her hang around for two years before vanishing to the Barbados. 
But I could teach until I die. Teaching is a wonderful profession. I can help any group of students discover more about themselves, their classmates, and their relationships to the world by writing. I have enjoyed teaching simply because I have helped bring writing into my students’ lives. I miss it.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

The Art of Being Alone

Being single is interesting. In the early years after Sarah died, I was a bit embarrassed about being single, like when going to a movie, a dance, a party, a restaurant, a bar. Not having a partner—a date. As if no one would have me. After seven years of being alone, I’ve gotten into being single. I like to eat in a restaurant alone. It’s hard to describe, but I like to advertise that I’m okay with being alone. I can go the rest of the way by myself.
Of course, I am not by myself. I have Lola, my dog, my most constant companion. We love each other. I recently wrote a song for her: “When I look in your mind, that’s what love is.” I also have two wonderful children and four equally adorable grandchildren. And more friends than I can count. But still, there is something about not having a partner.
I wonder what it is. I’ll skip the sex issue. I wonder why some of us (certainly me, who was used to being a couple) shrink from being alone. It takes courage to face life alone. This requirement of courage has been understudied. People commit suicide when they find themselves in the wilderness. Durkheim described it as anomie, not being heard. Certainly, the desire to have a partner has something to do with language, being a linguistic biped, as Burke more or less called us.
I realize I am confused here. I am merging singleness with social isolation. Maybe I’m equating being partnered with social acceptability. You are not ok when you’re alone. In high school, it was so uncool to not have someone with whom you could dance. 
I thought I was going somewhere with this post, but I find that I’m not. I was nodding toward the ideology of partnership, of procreation, but I can’t get there. Something is missing. I suspect it would announce itself if I were to fall in love. I suppose what I’m asking is why we need love? I know that being in love is wonderful: I’ve been there. I still am, in a way, because I’m in love with Lola. But welcoming love and needing love are not the same thing. 

Monday, March 26, 2018

Telephone Call—leaked:

DT: Hi, Pute. Donnie here. Needed to chat.

Putin: Hi, Donnie. About what?

DT: You know about my problem with that broad, right?

Putin: Which one, Donnie?

DT: Oh, come on—you know. The Storm.

Putin (chuckling): Oh, yes, the one who spanked you. (chuckling again). Of course, we know what you like, ha, ha—showers and things like that.  Ha, ha.

DT: Hey, you said, you’d never . . . 

Putin: Ok, take it back; take it back. It’s just funny, given the spanking and how that must have gotten you off. Ha, ha.

DT: All right, all right.

Putin: So what do you want?

DT: I need to do a biggy tomorrow, and I just want you to know . . .

Putin: Ahhhhh. More tariffs? Nuke rocket boy?? Suspend communications with the U.K.?

DT: You know I have to do something against you.

Putin: Yes, yes, I knew why you were calling, my agents . . . 

DT: Yes, I’m going to have to kick some of them out—the spy thing and all that.

Putin: Mmmmm?

DT: About ninety—that should get some news.

Putin: Are you serious, Donnie? 

DT: I have to, Pute. I have to show you’re not running me . . . 

Putin: But, Donnie . . .

DT: Ok. Yes, I know. But . . . ok, seventy.

Putin: (pause) 60.

DT: Ok, 60; that will show them you’re not jerking my strings

Putin: But, Donnie . . .

DT: Yes, I know, but appearances, Pute.

Putin: And they really don’t have to leave right? Like the sanctions, right?

DT: Right. It’s just the news cycle—fake news.

Putin: Go ahead, Donnie. We’ll fix it up later at our meeting. Good time to take care of it.

DT: Thanks, Big Boy. I knew you’d understand.