Saturday, October 31, 2009

Designer label colleges.

Will Barratt

While I was writing this morning on the chapter on prestige and class I realized that college rankings, all about money, are the same simple system that consumers get from designer labels. More expensive is better, more well recognized is better. Who needs to know more? The cultural capital necessary to evaluate product quality, from suits to shoes to colleges, is not an easy thing to acquire. It is far easier to rely on a simple ranking and a list. So, should we recognize this reality and brand our colleges using the designer label approach. Haven't highly prestigious colleges already done that with licensing for the myriad of products that use their logo? Decrying the college ranking system is like decrying designer labels. While I do both, it is like the voice in the desert. No one is listening above the hubbub of designer label shoes and colleges rolling around in the media flux.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Unmarked

Will Barrratt

I love conceptual propinquity, when two important concepts appear near each other. I was listening to NPR this morning about Iran and the report featured Islamic fundamentalism and the hatred of "America". Those two ideas of Islam and hatred of the US presented in conjunction, in conceptual propinquity, are misleading. I am reading a wonderful article by Peter Kaufman (Middle-class social reproduction: The activation and negotiation of structural advantages) which is great. I put his article down last night as I was reading about the notion of unmarked phenomenon which Kaufman attributes to Brekhus (A sociology of the unmarked: Redirecting our focus),

Kaufman's point is that the experience of the majority class student is unmarked on campus. Listening to NPR I realized that mainstream Islam is unmarked in the media. Most of Islam is about as moderate as is most of Christianity. Most four-year college students (75%) are second generation students which makes them the majority class on most campuses. Why are the majority unmarked and therefore uninteresting? Why do we 'background' (Jane VanGalen's concept) both the minority class and the majority class student?

VanGalen rightfully argues that we need to foreground the minority class student. Yes, and we need also to foreground the majority class student.

Contrast is an excellent way to highlight something, and social class contrast is high for the minority class student on the majority class campus. Social class contrast for the majority class student on the majority class campus is just not there, perhaps because the structure of the campus and the agency of the people reproduce the majority class. Explaining water to a fish is hard, and explaining majority class to a majority class student is hard. It is important to mark all of class on a campus, as it is important to mark all forms of religion, not just the minority or extreme forms.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Classism and the 10% rule in Texas.

“We’ve lost control of our entering class because we don’t have any discretion on the admissions" William Powers, President at UT Austin as quoted the daily email alerts.

This was said in response to the 10% rule in Texas that guarantees a spot at a selective university if you are in the top 10% of your class at any school. Management of the Texas system is trying to get rid of an admissions rule that has been a resounding success for everyone except the wealthy. It seems that some Texans want to do away with the rule through their proxies in the management of the Universities.

I do wonder who the "we" is that Powers refers to. Is it the management of the universities or is it the people of Texas who the universities serve?

There is no pedagogical reason to remove the rule.
There is no social reason to remove the rule.
More students are graduating under the rule.
More students are performing at a higher academic level under the rule.
More minority students (gender, ethnicity, and class) are going to college, doing better, and graduating at a higher rate than ever before, and than they would do if they went to less 'selective' schools.

So who is being harmed by the rule? My guess is that the sons and daughters of the rich, the students who did not graduate in the top 10% of their class are not getting what their parents think they are entitled to.