Culture · Education · Political Correctness · Politics

How We Learned To Be Snobs

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Snobbery is the basic cause of our nation’s present troubles. Sadly, we have been encouraging it for many years, I know because I was present the creation of modern snobbery.

First, a definition.

Snobbery flourishes when everyone is being rated on the same scale, as when the “No Child Left Behind” program forced children to move lockstep from K through 12, studying the same subjects, taking the same tests.

We have abandoned that program, thank heavens. But society still coerces students to feel it is essential that they go to college and to the “best” college possible. We ignore the fact that people who do not care for algebra or Proust may, indeed often, turn out to be “smarter” (a word no one can define) than people with degrees enough to paper a room.

America wasn’t always like this.

Before WW2, some people had college degrees; some professions required them, but most people did not, and this was not a handicap.

Old fashioned American snobbery was based on money.

But in a commercial society. a person whose status depends on money can never be fully at ease. The damndest people can get ahold of it and the grandest people can lose all they’ve got. The people with old money have to accommodate the folks with new money, and the people who used to have money have to learn new skills to survive. To some extent this uncertainty mitigated class differences.

But since 1960 we have had to deal with a more invidious class marker (bred in the bone, supposedly) that has led to the idea that America is divided into the elites and the deplorables.

In 1960 I was teaching at a private boys’ prep school  When I was hired, I’d never heard of the SATs. I learned that my job was to get my students into colleges that accepted students largely on the basis of their SAT scores. The test was supposed to reveal a student’s “potential” for successfully completing college level work. Even in the innocent ignorance of my youth I had my doubts about this statistical winnowing. And the scores’ effect on my students was disheartening. When they learned their scores, they knew what (not “who”) they were: “Harvard material” or “state university material.” “Material” in any case.

Years later, I read Daniel Boorstin’s The Democratic Experience

In that book, Boorstin noted that 1960 was the first year the College Board told students their scores. Previously it told only the schools where they applied for admission. That same year, the president of the College Board made a speech in which he revealed that there had been “great fear” at the company that “students would have their values warped by learning their own scores.” Put more bluntly, he was afraid the students with high scores would be derided by the deplorables, but to his delight the students who made low scores were the ones who were derided—their lowliness having been scientifically confirmed by a multiple-choice test. He gleefully reported that his own children and their friends were referring to such “unfortunates” as “jerks,” while regarding with “awe” the “genius” who made 700. This, he declared, was a “triumph of morality.”

Yes, he actually said that!

And our screwed up belief that we should not be judgmental (that is, should not use our own experience to judge people on their character and achievements but should let multiple choice tests do our thinking for us has) been making things worse ever since.

 

Culture · Politics

In Praise of America

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FIRST CUP OF COFFEE: I feel like going back to bed. A few days ago I read about my corrupt governor, New York’s governor, Andrew Cuomo, saying that “America was never great.” And then today I read about a guy who went to Washington Square Park in NYC and interviewed some students from NYU. They agreed with Cuomo—were even more critical. America has never been great, It’s just a POS. Good Grief!

Neither Cuomo or these kids know beans about America. No, it isn’t perfect, never has been, but a steady stream of oppressed minorities come here because it’s better than anywhere else. And it keeps getting better, in spite of the media’s efforts to make our relationships seem worse. And the reason America keeps getting better has to do with the ideals promoted by the Constitution and by Christianity. In my lifetime, the personal relationships between people of different races and religions have been spectacularly transformed for the better. The government passed laws that helped, but those laws would never have passed if Americans hadn’t supported them. Politicians don’t swim against the current. Asians still face prejudice from the Ivy League schools but that’s not going to last long.

With Respect to Women’s Suffrage,

America led the way. Wyoming, a state dominated by macho white males, gave women  the right to vote in 1869. The United States as a whole followed suit in 1919. Then came England in 1928, France in 1945, and Mexico in 1953.

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As For the Marshall Plan:

A while back a cynical young man told me the American Marshall Plan that committed the United States to helping the Europeans recover from WWII was just a way to keep the Russians east of the Elbe. First, what’s wrong with that? Where has communism brought people anything but misery? Second, American support for the Marshall Plan was based on Christian principles enjoining us to forgive our enemies and to help our neighbors. But, of course, Christianity can’t be mentioned in colleges.

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“It’s the same thing, without mechanical problems.”

Enough of this sermonizing. Years ago, I wrote a poem about a pair of cynical students, It’s not “made-up”; it really happened.

OVERHEARD AT LUNCH

A student at the table next to mine
said that his professor said
that stupid people used to think
that we Americans went over there
like superheroes in a comic book
and saved the helpless Europeans.
“Yeah,” replied his friend,
“We swooped down from the sky.”
They laughed, those two young men—
too wise already to be taken in.

After the Battle of Okinawa
a civilian wept and would not eat.
A Nisei questioned him and said he said
he’d killed his daughters and his wife
to spare them from
the atrocities to come.
Oh, yes, he read the leaflets promising
no civilian would be harmed,
But he was not a fool and had not been
taken in.