Wednesday, July 8, 2015

“Rich kids” and English

Linkbait from The Atlantic : “Rich Kids Study English,” complete with a stock photo of an oh-so-white, oh-so languid young woman, shades on, shoes off, reading, sort of, supine on the grass. The more temperate claim that the writer advances: “Kids [kids ?] from lower-income families tend toward ‘useful’ majors, such as computer science, math, and physics. Those whose parents make more money flock to history, English, and performing arts.”

I am skeptical about this claim. It’s not clear how much statistical evidence supports it: all we’re told is “National Center for Education Statistics data.” The graph presenting this evidence seems far from conclusive: “Associate’s Degree only” goes with an average parental household income of $56,636 ± $41,496. English goes with $99,533 ± $59,856. Of all majors listed, the greatest range in parental household income goes with the English major, which would seem to suggest that its students come from all kinds of backgrounds.

Which I believe is the case. I’ve known countless students from decidedly unprivileged backgrounds who have chosen to major in English. (I was one such major too.) This Atlantic piece furthers the pernicious idea that traditional study in the humanities is for a privileged few, while more practical fields offer a proper path for the rest of us. I will quote from a previous post:

If powerful and moneyed interests now seeking to reshape higher education have their way, “college” will soon become a two-tier system, with the real thing for a privileged few  . . . and credits and credentials, haphazardly assembled, vocationally themed, for everyone else.
The idea that the humanities are for “rich kids” is one that any humanist must reject.

comments: 3

Diane Schirf said...

This is meaningless without time frames and trends. I too grew up with a distinctly unprivileged background and majored in English because that's what I like and what I'm good at. As long as we have a somewhat literate society (somewhat), there's a need for reading, writing, editing, and communications.

One of my favorite lines on The Big Bang Theory comes from Penny's father: "I want grandkids before I die, and I want them to grow up in a house without wheels."

And Sheldon: "No. No, my mum had to fly back to Texas to help my dad because the house had slipped off the cinderblocks again."

The Arthurian said...

Hi Michael,

"This Atlantic piece furthers the pernicious idea that traditional study in the humanities is for a privileged few, while more practical fields offer a proper path for the rest of us."

Not sure how that squares with this:

"It is sad to say, but I’ll say it: Borrowing $64,000 to finance graduate work in the humanities is folly. Borrowing any amount of money to finance graduate work in the humanities is folly."

Is it just the borrowing?

Michael Leddy said...

@Diane: Amen.

@The Arthurian: Notice that that post is about graduate study. Borrowing to do graduate study in the humanities (with the hope of a tenure-track position) is a bad choice. The cost of higher education and the debt that results are large problems, whatever the major.