Monday, September 12, 2016

The 67.5%, Anti-Intellectualism, and Oppression by the Educated Class

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

A Brief Lesson in US Education Demographics

In 2015, according to the US Census Bureau, US 32.5% of adults over 25 have at least a four-year college degree.  This is the ruling class. 

An additional 10.2% have an Associates degree, a total of 58.9% have some college or more, and 88.4% have a high school diploma or more.  All in all people in the US are pretty well educated. The US ranks 13th globally in population with tertiary education.

Look at this another way.  A lot of people start college and don't finish with any degree, a lot of people don't even go beyond high school, a lot of people never finish high school.  The majority of people over 25 in the US do not have a four-year degree.

The ruling class, the educated class, basically people with at least a four-year college degree, is only 32.5% of the population.  And yet, this minority, the educated class, manages a lot of the economy, media, consumerism, advertising, and the school curriculum.  Some people are notable exceptions, and given the population size the exceptions are meaningless.

For the other 67.5% of the people, those without a four-year degree, well, sorry about all this.

What can this 32.5% majority thing mean?  It means income inequity, it means power inequity, it means access inequity, it means systemic inequity, largely created by the people who study inequity. This inequity also means that the majority of people depend on the minority of people to run things. If the minority, the educated class, doesn't solve problems that in itself is a problem.  If the minority, the educated class, is busy solving their own problems, that means the problems of the 67.5% don't get addressed.  Oops.

It is clear that the educated class, the 32.5% are not addressing the problems of the 67.5%.  Just look at health care, social services, water, infrastructure, and the rest in areas where the 67.5% live, then look at the nice neighborhoods with good services where the 32.5% live.

Look at college attainment by group;
     32.8% for European Americans
     22.5% for African Americans
     15.5% for Hispanic of any race
     53.9% if you are Asian American
     32.3% for men
     32.7% for women

Mentally adjusting for proportion of the population by ethnicity, (77.1% white, 13.3% African American, 5.6% Asian American, and 17.6% Hispanic) and, yes, the 32.5% is mostly white people (note please that the term white is what the US Census used in the data linked here).

The Reproduction of Social Class. Most people who attend college have parents who went to college.  The US has a self-replicating system of membership into the 32.5% group.  First generation students and students with low income are a minority on campus.  Look at College Navigator, pick a college, look at Financial Aid, and find the number of Pell Grant students.  High prestige colleges have very few. Graduation rates by family education and income are what you might expect.

Chances are good that those members of the educated class are you and me. Honestly, who else would be writing or reading a blog on social class?


My hypotheses is that anti-intellectualism is the failure of education in two ways.

  1. The failure to educate all people appropriately.
  2. The failure of members of the educated class to recognize their privilege as a minority group with majority power.  This failure leads to the exclusion of members of the 67.5% group. 

Failure to Educate

The educated elite in the US, the 32.5%, have normalized a college degree.  Everyone in charge, the ruling class, have college degrees.  College preparation curriculum in high schools abound when we know that not everyone will go to college, and not everyone will be successful in college.  And yet the college preparation curriculum is favored in high schools.  The children of the college educated 32.5% set the curriculum for everyone.

The official Adjusted Cohort Graduation Rate for high school looks only at those who begin 9th grade and graduate within four years.  That number is 82% overall, Asian 89%, White 87%, Hispanic 76%, and Black 73%.  We know that college graduation rates are heavily affected by income, so we can assume that high School graduation rates are similarly related to income. Income, is related to education.

There are two conclusions to differential educational attainment by income and ethnicity.  One conclusion is the failure of the educational system to appropriately educate all students.  The other conclusion is the failure of students to achieve because of low ability. I refuse to believe that any demographic factor has anything to do with student ability. There is no credible evidence at all for any differences and intelligence between groups of people, and yet intelligence is so highly praised by the educated class and yet is evenly distributed in the population.

The Failure of the Educated Class to Recognize the System they Created

The undereducated is a phrase that assumes that everyone should have maximum education and that members of the 67.5% are somehow inferior.  The overeducated is a phrase that suggests that the 32.5% don't have common sense and are somehow inferior.  There is an assumption among people in the 32.5% group that upward mobility and educational attainment should be valued by everyone. Badges of honor for members of the 32.5% are decals in the back window of the car, class rings, campus shirts, and football weekends.

There is an assumption among members of the 67.5% that the system is rigged against them.

Oppression is always a transaction.  The 32.5% don't see their half of the transaction, believing instead in open access, meritocracy, and the good life in spite of massive evidence to the contrary. The idea among members of the 32.5% that "We know best because we are educated." is quite indefensible.

Consequences of Systematic Exclusion of the Under-educated. 

Why do people embrace the anti-intellectual, the anti-rational, the idea that my opinion is as good as your fact?  Intellectualism, rational thought, data and discourse are perceived by members of both groups as part of the 32.5% mental model.  The education groups, like genders, are seen by members as mutually exclusive.  (I recognize that this binary exclusionary membership is an indefensible idea.) Characteristics of your group cannot be characteristics of my group. Because you like science, data, dialog, and rationality, I don't.  And yes, I am well aware that this dialog is carried out in people's heads about gender, religion, and all of the facets of identity.

Final Thought

What voice do the voiceless have?  Where are the media outlets for the 67.5%?  Is it Fox News?  Is it conspiracy theory web sites?  Or are these outlets conscious efforts to exploit the 67.5% for financial gain.

A riot is the language of the unheard.  M. L. King, 1966 


tl;dr the US system is made for and by the college educated, sorry.

Watch Mike Rowe do a Ted Talk about the 62.5%

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The secret handshake, one reason for campus orientation programs, and one reason orientation fails.

Will Barratt, Ph.D.
Roi Et Rajabhat University

Assumed knowledge in cultures

I have been fortunate enough to enter into many different cultures in which I was not native. One of the first pieces I wrote as a young professional was for The Campus Ecologist.  I quoted some material from our local English language newspaper in Budapest about the upcoming November 7 holiday in that city.

"Opening Hours All foodstores, markethalls and markets will be open until 7 pm on Friday. On Saturday, stores in Budapest will keep the usual public hours. Tobacconists, pastry and flower shops will keep Sunday hours, catering establishments the usual Saturday hours. All other stores and department stores will be closed.

On Sunday tobacconists, pastry and flower shops, catering places, foodstores and markets, will keep Sunday hours. All other stores will remain closed. Milk, bread, and rolls will be on sale at designated catering points on November 7 and 8."

As you can see there was missing basic information.  That information was assumed to be general knowledge for members of that culture.  Of course everyone knows tobacconists' Sunday hours. Hungary was a mono-culture when I wrote that piece in 1988 and the Hungarian people were unused to outsiders.  I currently (2016) live in Roi Et Thailand, on a world map we are between the N and D of Thailand, in the northeast.  This is an economically disadvantaged and largely rural area and the people are not used to outsiders.  Dr. Will and Dr. Leslie make up half of the European looking international faculty on our campus, out of 500 faculty members.  There is a lot of assumed knowledge that we keep finding out about.

We are getting better at entering new cultures after lots of practice.

Welcoming or unwelcoming cultures

Social class, as I have written before, can be seen as a collection of subcultures arranged in a hierarchy of prestige. Cultures have unwritten rules, from one perspective unwritten rules are what defines a subculture, a collection of unwritten rules about food, music, behavior, and the myriad behaviors of people, including tobacconists' Sunday hours. The emphasis is on shared knowledge, assumptions, values and ideology.  Cultural natives learned this at home and by being immersed in the culture.  These rules define the normal life.

As the world is woven closer together across national and regional boundaries cross-culture contact is more common.  We, the universal human we, begin to understand that people come from cultures different than ours, and some of us begin to help them learn our cultural ways.  There is also a group who seeks to keep culture private and for members only.

Social class and the secret handshake. 

Travel guides for tourists typically list some of the cultural norms.  In my part of the world greetings and touch are a little different than in other parts of the world, so the guides help explain the Wai and rules of touch (basically don't).  Cultural assumptions apply to Buddha images and behavior in temples, and we provide guides to help tourists learn respect for the Buddha.

In Thailand's tourist areas, where there is an expectation of positive cross-cultrual contact, there is a lot of help learning the secret handshakes, or in this case the rules of the Wai, in Thai culture.

Welcoming and unwelcoming campuses

Every social class subculture has a collection of secrets, cultural assumptions like tobacconists' Sunday hours. Not every member of a culture is pleased to share these secrets with outsiders.

Knowledge about the new cultures is critical when people move across cultures.  And thus, we have campus orientation for new students moving into the campus culture where we teach you the official version of campus culture.  We also have the enculturation of students happening during their first few weeks on campus when they learn the student carried cultural norms of behavior, like drinking, drugs, and sex.

Most official orientation programs focus on campus traditions, enculturating students to the campus culture.  Not enough orientation focuses on introducing people to the culture of college and the norms of the academy, like the syllabus, like office hours, like how to study effectively, career paths, and the like.

Membership in the upper-middle-class, or the ruling class, is not easy to come by unless you were born into it.  There are guardians at the gates of the Upper-Middle Class (UMC) campuses favor a certain privileged and monied background: standardized tests, high tuition, high grades, experiential learning and volunteer work, year abroad experiences, prestige variety of English, fashion sense, social capital, cultural capital, and knowledge of tobacconists' hours.

And yes, there really is a handshake.  I have taught the handshake to many people.

Which are you: welcoming or unwelcoming?

Based on personal experience and bias I would guess that one of the many reasons that students from the lower economic strata in the US are not successful in college is that so many people, faculty, students, staff, and administrators, are not welcoming.  Too few of us help cultural immigrants learn the secret handshake.

There are, of course, individual and social consequences to this unwelcoming attitude.

tl;dr campus has a culture, college has a culture, how do we teach outsiders about this culture? Are you welcoming to cultural/college strangers or unwelcoming?

I want to acknowledge Kristin Cothran for keeping this idea of the secret handshake alive and in my heart.