erikred: (baaaaa)
[personal profile] erikred
Ganked from [livejournal.com profile] 2wanda.

An explanation of the original exercise follows at the bottom. For blogging purposes, bold those statements below that you feel describes your situation.


Father went to college
Father finished college
Mother went to college
Mother finished college
Have any relative who is an attorney, physician, or professor
Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers
Had a computer at home

Had your own computer at home
Had more than 50 books in your childhood home
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home
Were read children's books by a parent
Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18
Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively
Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18
Have no student loans
Went to a private high school
Went to summer camp
Had a private tutor before you turned 18
Have been to Europe
Family vacations involved staying at hotels
Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them
There was original art in your house when you were a child
Had a phone in your room before you turned 18
You and your family lived in a single family house
Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home
You had your own room as a child
Participated in an SAT/ACT prep course
If you had your own cell phone (or pager) in High School (as technologically available)
Had your own TV in your room
Owned a mutual fund or IRA in High School or College
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16
Went on a cruise with your family
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family



This was originally an exercise designed to "illustrate privilege." It's part of University of Illinois Professor Will Barratt's module on Social Class on Campus, listed as Take a Step Forward. The original exercise is supposed to be done with a standing, mobile group; participants line up shoulder-to-shoulder, and, as each of the conditions above is called out, those who feel the statement to be true take a step forward. Participants are encouraged to pay attention to how each question makes them feel but are instructed not to talk until after the exercise is completed. After all of the statements are read, participants are reminded that they are all now in the same academic position, but are asked to reflect on whether having certain advantages made it easier for them to get here. Discussion follows.

i tried to answer these as strictly as possible, but it's impossible not to want to seek some recognition of ambiguity or at least diverse circumstances. For example:

Father went to college (but dropped out after a year to join the Navy as an Enlisted Deck Swab, Zero Class)
Father finished college (after successfully applying for the Officer Candidate School; he then finished his BA and MA in Hospital Administration while I was finishing Elementary School)
or
Had a computer at home (a TI-99/4a and a tape recorder for storage; you hooked it up to our B&W TV)
or
Had more than 500 books in your childhood home (no, but my grandfather had a paperback library that took up an entire room and included Edith Hamilton's Mythology)
or
The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively (if you meant white, middle class people, sure, but if you mean geeks and intellectuals, guess again)
or
Went to summer camp (as a military brat, I was an instructor at a Boy Scout summer camp supervised by Marines; if this somehow conveys privilege, I would dearly love to see how)
or
Have been to Europe (and paid for it myself by working through college, thank you)
or
Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them (my dad found me a 1967 Oldsmobile 98 for sale by a very nice old lady in Ramona for $1000. The privilege here? Having a dad who was good at finding a great deal)
or
You had your own room as a child (military housing rules: 3 kids, three bedroom house)
or
Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16 (we lived in Okinawa for two years)
or
Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up (we lived in DC for a lot of my childhood; the Smithsonian is free and close by)
You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family (we lived on military bases until I was in High School, and then we lived in San Diego; what are these heating bills you speak of?)

Obviously, though, on some level I'm not the audience this exercise is intended to reach; I already understand that, as a the product of two working-class parents who worked their way into the middle class, I benefited from circumstances that were beyond my control, and I'm grateful for it. I don't assume that everyone had the same circumstances growing up, and I recognize the need for social programs to help people escape poverty and cycles of ignorance. If I thought for one minute that my background held the panacea for the world's social inequalities, I'd be 100% behind a military draft; voluntary enlistment worked for my dad, after all.

But I don't think that would be work out so well for a lot of folks; in fact, I knew plenty of kids, growing up, for whom it didn't work at all. I don't have an answer, but I do have some pointers: more education, more housing, more safety, more jobs; less finger-pointing, less greedy snatching, less attitude, less me-me-me. We don't have an even playing field, not remotely, and it would be nice to make a dent in that.

Date: 2008-01-02 01:11 am (UTC)
tagryn: Owl icon (Default)
From: [personal profile] tagryn
Mine came up reasonably close to yours. I think it reflects accurately the advantages of a middle-class upbringing, but if the course was being taught at an Ivy League college instead of a Big-10 school the definition of "privilege" might need to be adjusted; few Big-10 students had vacations in the Hamptons or trust funds to fall back on, for example.

There's opportunity, but also individual effort. Like you I recognize I had certain advantages that others didn't have, but that's true of everyone to whatever degree. When this line of education starts getting into guilt-trip, privilege-is-evil territory, that's where I jump ship.

Date: 2008-01-02 06:51 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] erikred.livejournal.com
I, too, have no interest in a guilt-trip, but I'd like to point out that the part where you say that "that's true of everyone to whatever degree" (concerning having "certain advantages that others didn't have") is, on the face of it, patently not true, insofar as those advantages may have contributed to your or my greater likelihood of succeeding academically, socially, and/or financially. It's nothing to feel guilty about, but it is certainly something to recognize, and it's also part of our responsibility, as good citizens, to point out inequalities in the system and work, where possible, to rectify said inequalities. However, thee "from each according to his ability to each according to his need" motto need not be accompanied by red flags, grey uniforms, and the obligatory chorus of L'Internationale; it can be a workable, Capitalist-friendly idea based on a positive shift toward meritocracy over entitlement.

Believe me, I went to Berkeley, I know a race/class guilt-trip when I see one, and you can recognize it, too: by watching me avoid it like the poison it is.

Date: 2008-01-02 01:59 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mumbojumble.livejournal.com
This survey is fundamentally flawed, but it's interesting to see everyone's results. BTW, I counted a shelf of books, and at 25-30 books per shelf, 500 books really isn't as much as it would seem. Now 5,000 books, that would be privilege... :)

Date: 2008-01-02 03:09 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] bookishfellow.livejournal.com
500 books, even paperbacks, is $8,000 (bought new, at today's prices) that your family didn't spend on food and heat. But further, it also represents an upbringing and household culture that values reading and makes time for it. While this is not intrinsically tied to a life of privilege, there is a strong correlation between the two.

Date: 2008-01-02 05:24 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mumbojumble.livejournal.com
It may "represent" that type of culture, but there are many more households (mine included) that acquire books in other ways, such as used bookstores, garage sales, etc., and over decades/generations, than ones that take the bill money and spend $8K over a short period on new, market-priced books, so that figure isn't really convincing. I'd venture to guess that even many families that aren't really readers would be able to gather up two and a half bookshelves of books (~500) if they lived in the same place for 20-30 years.

Date: 2008-01-02 05:45 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] erikred.livejournal.com
"even many families that aren't really readers would be able to gather up two and a half bookshelves of books"

And yet, this doesn't happen. Families (and cultures) that value reading are much more likely to have moderate or large collections of books, whereas families (and cultures) that don't, don't have much at all. Also, by your own count, 500 books covers between seventeen and twenty shelves of books, which, in a house that doesn't value or reward reading, represents a lot of shelf space.

Now, that having been said, I still find 50 and 500 to be utterly arbitrary numbers designed to evoke an image of either a couple of shelves or a library, respectively. The question is supposed to somehow get you to admit that you had a couple of shelves or a library, but those terms are subjective, so the questioners went with more quantifiable terms.

Date: 2008-01-02 06:14 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mumbojumble.livejournal.com
I agree; it certainly is an arbitrary set of numbers. I still wouldn't call two and a half large bookshelves a library, though. 500 just *seems* like a library -- that was the point I was making. Someone commented on another blog that regionality and generationality weren't taken into account with these questions, and I agree. The books question is just a symptom of a larger problem with premises here.

There was a recent survey done on American reading habits, one of those horror stories about how fewer and fewer people are functionally literate, and it made some interesting points about reading and class over generations of readers. People of my grandfather's generation, even if working class, were more likely to read than more educated young people today. OK, this isn't very surprising, perhaps, but when one thinks of this idea materially, that it was much more common to have books in the house in the 50s and 60s, all of the sudden the link between reading and privilege becomes a bit more unstable. If people live in the same house for generations, and they live in a place like the midwest, where storage space and basements are the norm instead of a privilege, 17-20 shelves really isn't that much at all, even for people who don't "value reading." Likewise, a family that moved a lot (such as yours, right?) might not have many books at all, regardless of class/privilege/intellectual vigor. I'm not arguing that there's no link between owning books and valuing education, but there are so many mitigating circumstances that make this and many other questions here really problematic as reliable markers of anything.

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