Class Educated

I come from a very large Catholic family and very few of us went to college. I may be the only person in an extended family of more than 100 people who has a graduate degree. I can remember, in the 1970’s, most of my cousins and friends rejecting the middle class, and a middle class education, in a fairly explicit way. We wanted to be carpenters and plumbers and landscapers, not accountants and doctors and lawyers.

There were only a handful of college degrees in the generation that preceded us. My Dad had one from L.S.U. and I think I had at least one Uncle-in-law who did too. We should have taken the next step up the socioeconomic ladder but we didn’t. I don’t think our socioeconomic background is the only explanation but I do think that we were certainly both alienated by school and more or less institutionally ignored. We weren’t the promising students.

This sounded very familiar to me and much less new than the writer seems to suggest:

If one asked any university official, they would all be wanting to say that what they were trying to do was create a really rich educational environment leading everybody to move into strong professional trajectories. But what happens, particularly in this moment where public universities are becoming so tuition dependent, is that universities are in a position that in order to stay solvent they really have to attend very carefully to what it is that their most affluent, their most reliable set of students—set of customers, really—is going to want.

Elizabeth Armstrong, quoted in “College and Class: 2 Researchers Study Inequality, Starting With One Freshman Floor.

In my family, two of us finished college degrees and two of us did not. I don’t have children. My sister Jill and her husband Cliff both finished their undergraduate degrees. They have two kids who will be going to college in a few years. I am certain both will do well; one or both may go on to graduate school. My other sister, who finished an associate degree in her 40’s, has one of three kids that will likely finish college.

My older sister, Cynthia, died a few years ago; she and her husband, Don, didn’t get college degrees. He quite high school and got his G.E.D. Their oldest daughter finished her undergraduate degree last year, in large part because she had softball scholarships. I worry that her younger sister will not finish. She has little financial or institutional support, especially now, without her mother, who was a tenacious advocate for her children.

About Ray Watkins

I was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital. I grew up in Houston, as a part of what we only half-jokingly call the Cajun Diaspora. At a certain point during the Regan administration, I had to leave, so I served in the Peace Corps, Philippines, from 1987-89. I didn't want to return to the United States just yet, so I moved to Paris, France, where I lived for three years or so. I then moved back to Austin, Texas, where I had received my Masters Degree, and (eventually) began a Ph.D., which I completed in 1999. I spent a year at Temple University and then accepted a position at Eastern Illinois University where I worked until May of 2006. I now work exclusively on line (although that may change) for Johns Hopkins, the Art Institute Online, and Smarthinking.com. I can be reached most easily via email: raywatkins [that 'at' symbol] writinginthewild.com

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