“Some people are just not meant for college…”

Last night I had one of those maddening Facebook arguments– I’d like to think it was a debate, but it was probably just an argument–that illustrate just how pervasive conservative ideas have become. The key phrase was, “some people are just not meant for college.”  A few hundred years ago that was the exact phrase used to justify keeping everyone  in the political dark except for white men with property. Now it’s become one of those falsely “hard-nosed” phrases that certain otherwise liberal people use to sound “realistic” and “pragmatic.”  We’d love a world in which college is affordable for all but “some people are just not meant for college.” Is it just genetics?

It’s nonsense, of course. Even as recently as fifteen years ago no one who considered themselves liberal, much less progressive, would ever say such a thing; the echos of the long history o discrimination and eugenics were too strong. Years of conservative marketing, though, seems to have wiped out the semantic common sense that sends up alarms when something like this pops up.  It’s also a problem of our American ignorance about socioeconomic class and our increasingly distorted self-image as a culture that encourages equality and mobility.  At one moment we seem to be moving towards an understanding that inequity is a result of policy, and then the insight fades again.

These were my brood-y dark thoughts as I read, “For class warfare, there’s the 1%, and then there’s the 0.1%,” by Henry Banta on the Nieman Watchdog website. Underneath the persuasive conservative rhetoric– especially tropes like “some people are just not meant for college”– lies a reality that seems nearly inaccessible to what might be called the political common sense of the United States. We’ve– using “we” in the loosest sense–created a profoundly unequal society that concentrates wealth in a deeply alarming and unprecedented fashion.  That’s hard to stomach  so we respond by creating a kind of naturalized fantasy to explain the results. It “those people” again.

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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