The Not Quite Adventures of a Professional Archaeologist and Aspiring Curmudgeon

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Working-Class Students

I have not been blogginf as much as I would like this week because I have just started another field project. I suspect that I'll be more-or-less back to normal int he next week or so, however.

In the meantime, I wanted to post a quick thing about my own personal history - sort of a quick explanation of one aspect of why I am the way I am. As I was driving back from the field today, I heard this podcast (the second segment, starts around the 14 minute mark) about British working-class students at the top universities in England. The expectation had been that when studying these students, the researchers would encounter a good amount of hostility and antagonism rooted in a "class warfare" attitude. Instead, they found that the students found themselves enjoying the university experience, as they were for the first time surrounded by other people who valued intellectual pursuits as much as they did.

This was pretty similar to my own experience when I went to UCSC back in the mid-90s. I had grown up in a working-class neighborhood, and throughout my childhood, my interest in reading and my enjoyment of "school subjects" like history (and my correspondign disinterest in things like sports) led to me being labelled the local nerd, and also was one of the factors that led to me being largely alienated by my peers.

The same continued throughout high school, and when I began taking classes at the local community college, many of my neighbors began to look a bit askance at me. When I went to UCSC to earn a BA, many of them stopped talking to me. A few began to regard me as human again after I graduated and went to work at a low-level corporate job. However, when I left and began graduate school, these folks and a few others once again regarded me with disdain.

What is odd to me is that many of these folks made comments to my sisters to the effect that they wished to not speak with me because I thought that I was "too good for them." In truth, I would have loved to have maintained contact, but I found that a lot of people took my pursuit of my own interests as an afront to them. And, yes, I did make friends at the university - I was around people who saw my intellectual pursuits as a worthwhile thing, and didn't spend their time belittling them.

In the end, I understand what happened - and I have certainly kept in touch with some of my old friends - but I have never been able to really been able to quite come to terms with it. It was, however, good to hear the podcast and know that I am hardly alone.

1 comment:

Lt. Cccyxx said...

I can relate to this all too well. Social norm enforcers indeed - the effect may be to pull some back into the herd, but others just get driven further away. I was never much into what we were learning in high school - I distrusted it as propaganda - but had my own interests. Who else walked to the rich town nearby to use their library on the weekends? When I showed up at my undergrad state university it was an incredible intellectual awakening. To this day so many don't understand and the assumption is always that I think I'm too good for them. Heck no - I wanted acceptance back when I was a kid, probably would have given up a lot for it. But I couldn't give up who I was.