The Life Cycle of Social Classes

Here’s a new item for those who are, like TCT, tracking the theme of the rise and decline of dominant social classes.  The prevailing spin on this new result is to see it as a question of “culture.”  In reality it is pure class: the aspiring hegemons are at the top, and the declining emperors are in laughable decline.  And it absolutely figures:  Comparatively wide-spread educational excellence is meaningful and important in societies whose ruling elites are still young and open enough to at least consider exploring unconventional, reality-based answers.  In places like the United States and Britain, meanwhile, the superannuated corporate overclass nailed its windows shut 30+ years ago, and keeps adding new layers of boondoggle and cant to wall out the world.  Despite its de rigueur claim to care about “catching up” again, few things would be more threatening to long-established patterns of domestic stratification than a sudden wave of actual concern for good teaching and popular educational advancement.

schoolclass

[Source: The New York Times, December 7, 2010]

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Michael DawsonDouglas PressmanSean G Recent comment authors

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Sean G
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The answer, obviously, is that China has charter schools, school prayer, “balanced” education on evolution and global warming, and no teacher’s unions. Right?

Douglas Pressman
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Much of the Chinese phenomenon is owed to the palpable ethos of a civilization that has revered literacy and scholarship for thousands of years. There is nothing comparable in American culture, particularly since the inroads made by television and professional sports. Additionally, Chinese children know from a very early age that they are in fierce competition for jobs, status and security. They also know that most of their future life chances hinge on exam scores, not personality contests. Finally, parents in China are deeply committed to producing successful children, and in recent years, millions of parents have had the resources… Read more »

Michael Dawson
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This topic of schooling has always struck me as a possible book project. Doug nails it in noting that, when “job, status, and security” are truly opening and expanding, people seek education and work hard at it. When imperial power still lies ahead, overclasses tolerate or even encourage the process. But the reverse is also true. When a corporate capitalist oligarchy is in decline, it is forced to move its lips about education, but the actual prospect of delivered improvements is anathema. As to China’s ancient Confucian emphasis on knowledge and study, I grant that point, though I’d say that… Read more »