Inequality has skyrocketed in the U.S. over the past few decades. Social mobility has come to a grinding halt. Democracy congeals at a rudimentary, formal, political level, and crumbles–from stolen elections to secret prisons. The creative human energy that pushed capitalism, as the Marxists tried to tell us all along, was only a small step partway out of feudal relations. Despite the successive, glorious proclamations about the End of History, greater emancipatory effort is needed before the widespread development of human potential can be a prospect. This is all becoming obvious–painfully for some, uncomfortably for others. Facing the irrefutable, no longer able to dismiss the evidence as a narrow problem of racism or the South or poorly-bred Midwestern hicks or underdevelopment or bad apples not trying hard enough at capitalism, no longer needing to lie to save Cold War face, the New York Times has set upon itself the leadership task of developing its own liberal discourse on class in America.
As usual in the U.S., a land where anyone can be an expert if someone will pay him for it, scholars, usually among the least well paid in the overpopulated shouting chamber of expertise, are painted in the new hegemonic project as the villains, with their data-based insistence that people will do better by each other when they are informed—not just that class is a matter of tastes and habits, but that class is mostly a matter of high-stakes political and economic conflict, institution-building, organizing, and social movement.
The NY Times hired Paul Tough to present the argument that “elite” scholars bully goodhearted motivational speakers who are paid big checks to remind teachers to have sympathy for their working class students. Nobody objects to Ruby Payne popularizing Bourdieu to help teachers relate to poor students. Many, many kind-hearted people—called scholars—often working class, often middle class, occasionally an upper class sympathizer, have worked their whole lives, together studying, listening, comparing, experimenting, communicating about how class and caste work and hurt in America and beyond. They are trying to tell us about the crucial requirements found to make effective more than a few show-pony individuals’ tactical adjustments. They’re saying that in order to help people caught in U.S. class inequality better their lives, there’s a big piece of understanding required, much more salient and much more demanding than the entertainment, instruction, and discipline that a few personable liberals have ever been and will ever be able to give to middle class educators.
Paul Tough’s “The Class Consciousness Raiser” in the NYTimes (June 13, 2007) retreads the old standby American elite tactic of silencing scholars’ voices by painting them as the mean “elites”.
Yet it also makes one wonder how secure the NYT editorial staff feels about their ability to both acknowledge and contain working class consciousness and politics through crafting stories.