Sunday, September 21, 2008

Class in America

Class in America is a topic that varies between the banned and the denied. I hadn't thought much on the subject until I started reading some of the stories and commentary at In the Shadow of Mt. Hollywood a blog that follows the stories that wrap in and out of the life of an English major who goes to Dartmouth and becomes a technical writer and computer programmer.

He is constantly dealing with managers who supervise him not because of their skill, but because they have mastered the right status or class markers. It is a kind of an Innocents Abroad set in modern America and the computer industry.

That led me to start paying more attention to class issues as they intersect reality. For example, A Framework for Understanding Poverty by Ruby K. Payne explains why micro loans work, micro grants are a terrible failure. In the target class, money you've borrowed is yours. Money that is a windfall belongs to your community and you can't keep it for investment or yourself. Payne's goal is to teach educators what they need to know to understand and interact with various parts of the class system, and the difficulties that are especially faced by those at the bottom. Interestingly enough, in her conclusion she comments that an untouched topic is "the need to grieve and go through the grieving process as one teaches or works with the poor."

Important if you work with communities or conduct facilitation that involves the poor.

Less friendly, (well, a downright snark) is Class: A Guide Through the American Status System. it is a University of Pennsylvania Professor's re-write (in some ways) of Molloy's Dress for Success (which, amazingly, shares the same customers as Breaking Dawn (The Twilight Saga, Book 4)) and Live for Success -- a book that has actually helped a number of people make breakthroughs in their careers.

I think that it is really too bad that schools function by teaching class issues by osmosis, at best. Too often, a lack of understanding, of knowledge and of perspective creates people as lost as John Bruce's innocents (and not so innocents) that he describes at his blog, In the Shadow of Mt. Hollywood.

And too often those who desire to be mediators, facilitators or just to help, are blocked in their efforts by not having the knowledge and perspective that would come from understanding class.

If you are politically involved, if you volunteer at a charity, if you have a career, reading Molloy, and Payne really should have been a part of your preparation, of the essential skills that you should have been provided. In fact, if I were redoing the syllabus for my Essential Skills class I would note only have made the change to The Gentle Art of Verbal Self Defense at Work (since the book I prefer is out of print -- though Elgin has a new book due out next year that may be better, only she and her editor know for sure right now), but I would have added A Framework for Understanding Poverty to the mix. Perhaps if I start teaching again.

Well, just visited

Includes social cues and recommendations, something that has been fading for a while, and something I think is important -- because consumers find it important.

Wish him well.

Also, is well worth visiting. Quality documentaries, for free download.