stephanie jones

Archive for September 17th, 2011|Daily archive page

Expose them to big houses? Thinking about Upper Middle-Class Bling

In American Dream, anti-bias teaching, communities, discourse, economics and economies, Education Policy, environmental issues, family-school relations, Neoliberalism and Education, politics, poverty, social class on September 17, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Big houses, fancy sedans, downtown boutiques filled with expensive clothing and shoes, trendy restaurant spots with hard-to-pronounce specials.

Some educators believe that the way to “motivate” working-class or poor students is to expose them to the ways ¬†upper-middle class and wealthy people live their lives. Just let them see what else is “out there,” expose them to the bling (my word, not theirs) acquired through high paychecks, inheritances, good credit loans, and inspired by materialism and consumerism. Bigger and fancier is better – name brand purses, the most expensive imported cars, designer shoes, houses large enough to provide shelter for five families.

I sympathize with people frustrated that children and youth often grow up and find limited opportunities to sustain themselves financially. But this idea of exposing children and youth from “lower income” neighborhoods to the materialistic bling of upper middle-class wealth is more than disturbing.

People suggesting this exposure are often the same folks who demonize mothers who find a way to buy the newest sneakers for their children, or share quick glances of mortification when they see adolescents with gold caps on their teeth, or laugh out loud when a completely rebuilt older American made car slides down the street with the shiny wheels turning and a hip-hop beat thumping from the speakers.

“That’s why those kids grow up and sell drugs,” some people might say, “because they see those sneakers, those gold teeth and chains, those hooped up cars around their neighborhood and they want that bling too.”

Really now?

So you’re telling me that a $100.00 pair of shoes will make a child envious enough to become a drug runner, but showing him a $500,000.00 house will inspire him to stay in school, make good grades, go to college – and act like you?

This is really what we’re talking about folks. Upper middle-class people that say and believe these things are convinced that their own lifestyles (often of opulence and tremendous waste and materialism, though of course not always) are simply better than others’ lives. They secretly – or not so secretly – think that the gold chains and teeth and cars and music and sneakers are ugly, gaudy (is that how you spell gaudy?), disgraceful, “ghetto,” “low-class,” and disgusting. In other words, “Low Brow Bling.”

But that the material goods they acquire and consume are “classy” – pretty, understated, classic, “tasteful,” etc. etc. etc. In other words, “Aspirational Bling.”

We really need to wake up here. Bling is Bling, and using materialistic bling as a lure for supposedly getting kids to stay in school and “be like us, instead of like those people in your community” is the most absurd, classist, self-absorbent, egotistical, naive, ignorant, clueless, contradictory thing I’ve heard of.

Kids will stay in school and engage themselves when they feel like they belong, when they are valued, when they are treated with dignity and respect, when they are given some choice and power over their school experiences, and when they are motivated and inspired by the work they do there.

It’s as simple as that.

No bling required.

In fact, all that upper middle-class bling might just offend and alienate the very students some are trying to inspire and make them work extra hard to get away from anyone who represents it.

I haven’t even gotten to the unsustainability of persistent consumption of bling in the upper classes…but think about this: What if every family in North America had a 3,000 square foot home that required increasing amounts of energy to heat, cool, and water? What if every family in North America bought the newest, fanciest imported car from Europe? And on and on and on….you can see where I’m going with this.

Using one “class’s” Bling as a lure because it is positioned as infinitely better than the working-class or poor community’s Bling is simply unethical.

Encouraging more and more consumption of bigger and costlier things is simply wrong-headed and short-minded.

We have to really think long and hard about what it is we hope children and youth get out of our school systems – and surely it’s more than hoping they are envious enough to become like someone else, or motivated enough to work harder and harder so they can buy bigger and more things.

The American Dream – if there ever was one or ever can be one – must be about more than making yourself like someone else and aiming to buy ¬†“classier” Bling.

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