Friday, June 10, 2011

What I Didn't Have the Time to Write on "Bourgeois Norms"

"Matt" commenting at Rachel Levy's:

The problem is, (Matt Yglesias) never really defines what he means by "bourgeois norms" and that strikes me as an intentionally evasive thing to do. Are sitting up straight, listening, respecting authority figures, and minimizing conflict with your peers "bourgeois habits"?

If so, then Matt needs to spend more time in an actual urban public school because he'll find that many of those habits are present at levels greater than you find in middle class settings. I'm the product of an upper middle class white family. I also went to urban public schools my whole life and found that many of my non-white peers had far stricter parents than I did and were allowed to get away with far less than me, particularly when it came to classroom behavior and respecting the teacher. At the risk of generalizing about cultures, I find this to be true especially of kids who come from the West Indies. For the past few years I've been volunteering as a tutor at a middle school West Indian population and the idea that middle class white kids are better behaved than these kids is laughable. I would've been kicked out of the house by age 12 in many of those households (did I mention I went on to an elite university and graduate program?) It kinda reminds me of this Eddie Murphy stand up bit:


The best example I have (or corporal punishment in a KIPP school) was visiting a KIPP school a few years ago in Chicago and watching them force a kid to stand in the corner and face the wall for an entire class because he had spoken out of turn. Now, I know that we traditionally think of corporal punishment as hitting a kid, but I have a hard time imagining many people observing this and seeing it very differently than I did. The kid was clearly physically uncomfortable standing for so long and when he tried to say something about it, his teacher immediately silenced him and warned that one more word would result in being sent to the principal's office where surely "the punishment would be a whole lot worse" (those were the actual words of the teacher.) When you combine that with the obvious psychological effects of such clear public shaming, I think its pretty obviously abuse.

To think about it another way: imagine the outrage and horror by parents if a suburban school did that to a middle class white kid.

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