Us citizens in the United States like to believe that our country is a land of absolute upward mobility. If you work hard enough and have enough dedication, you can get as much economic power and stability as you want. We comfort ourselves by heart-warming stories of those rare people who have gone from rags to riches.
This tends to make Americans unaware of the issues of social class, or the idea that the economic class you are born into is pretty much where you are going to live during your life and that true upward mobility into higher classes is nearly impossible.
It’s an idea that is the antithesis of everything we are taught schools, but that is the reality of life in any industrialized country.
Take education. I was born in an upper-middle class lifestyle where I went a good public school and had the money for college. Because of the jobs that my parents had the people we associated with, I had the opportunity to get a decent education that prepared me for higher education. But people born into lower economic class environments generally do not have that luxury. They may not have parental support at home and the facilities of their schools will be lacking. That does not mean that they just slack off and refuse to learn (although that is certainly a big part of the public school system) they do not have the opportunity for the education of upper and middle classes.
That changes life. For every success story of lower class students making it through college there are dozens of stories about students who just can’t hack it at a higher education level, if they can even pay for it in the first place. Too bad right?
But education has far-reaching impacts. It effects what sorts of jobs people have, what sort of environment they raise their kids in and even gets into specific experiences like war and drafts. My plan for a draft is really simple. If it starts happening I will go sign up for the Air Force and try to get flying transport planes, hopefully far away from the front lines. Fortunately I’ve had the education that gives me the opportunity to pass qualifications tests. But what about somebody who never had the chance for a good education?
Everywhere you look social class raises its ugly head. As James Loewen stated:
Social class is probably the single most important variable in society. From womb to tomb it correlates with almost all other social characteristics of people that we can measure. Affluent expectant mothers are more likely to get prenatal care, enjoy general health, fitness, and nutrition. Many poor and working-class mothers-to-be first contact the medical profession in the last month… Rich babies come out healthier and go home to very different situations… Poor babies are more likely to have high levels of poisonous lead in their environments and their bodies… Rich children benefit from suburban schools that spend two to three times as much money per student as schools in inner cities or rural areas. Differences such as these help account for the higher school-dropout rate among poor children.
And how often is this talked about? Unfortunately, discussing social class is (at least subconsciously) considered anti-American. It directly runs contrary to the idea of American exceptionalism and takes pages from Marxist and socialist thought.
For now, there are so many possible solutions and answers to dealing with the issues of class, but the most important thing we can do now is acknowledge it. Talk about social class in academic settings, bring it up in history discussions. Don’t let politicians (on both sides of the aisle) lie to you about it, because they benefit the most from the continuation of social class equilibrium.
Only then can we really start dealing the issues our country faces.