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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

MIDDLE CLASS BETRAYED

     constantin brancusi, blind, marble, 1916



I've listened to the news all my adult life and to this day have heard little to no evidence we have a working class, the biggest of the American classes. I hear about the middle class, the rich and the poor. Meaning, I suppose, if you're in the working class, you're poor. Everybody in the working class knows that. Interesting that they are calling the working class the poor--it's about the only thing I've ever heard on the news that tells it like it is. And it's a denial of a working class. The working class in America is the poverty class. I have a feeling the words working class are somewhat political as it is the working class the ruling class regards the enemy that must be kept down. When the Reagan Revolution began, the working class was its target, the enemy. It was said in that time the Reagan Revolution was making us into a Third World country, that is the rich vs the poor, the working class. No more middle class. The rich and the peasant class.



We hear hours and hours of concerned talk about the receding middle class. Nobody ever mentions what the "economic downturn" means to the working class. It means something that cannot be said with a smiley face; therefore, it gets glossed over and  ignored. To report on the condition of the working class in America today, not just the white, but Hispanic and black, too, is radical left wing unto communist, the enemy. Evidently, it's as forbidden to say working class in public as to say nigger, except it's more silent, nobody saying, "don't say that word." Hearing "working class" they shudder inside and say nothing. The lefties, the pinkos, the reds, the commies. The working class has bad taste. Prisons are full of the working poor. Middle class goes to a tennis club for prison and ruling class doesn't go to prison at all. The bankers Obama baled out belong in prison. The money given to the banks "too big to fail" (they weren't too big--they did fail) rewarded them for bilking millions of middle class people and the people bilked got nothing but robbed. Not even a kiss my ass. I'm inclined toward Obama, but this one needs some explaining I haven't yet heard. He's no more working toward the benefit of "the people" than Bush was. I hate to say it, but he still looks like a Republican.



When I see some attention given the working class for anything but crime and ignorance, it's told like it's from a foreign country, like French Guiana, and there's no understanding of the culture. The middle class, where the news comes from, looks only up the ladder at the ruling class with envy. When they see someone of the working class they feel superior. This is another thing about America a lot of people like to deny, that we have a very strict class structure. It's the same as denying racism. It sounds optimistic to say we have a classless society, same as it sounds enlightened to say we don't have racism. We have class consciousness and racism covered with the blanket of denial. It's awfully lumpy under there, but practiced denial overlooks the lumps easily.



The greatest problem this thinking creates is the school system. Public schools are about college prep, SAT tests. There are a few "Voc" classes for work training at laying brick, but merely a concession to a check list that requires the schools to have something for working people, a token. The middle class kids are often motivated, heading to college. The working class kids don't have any hope where school is concerned. Their only hope is to find a job that pays better than minimum wage. You don't need trig to drive a dump truck. The schools attempt to keep the working class kids interested in frustration. The school system is geared to middle class culture. Dump truck drivers are necessary. They are part of our world, an active part. Working class culture is the inferior culture, looked down on as hick, thick-fingered, redneck people that know nothing about style. The schools serve the middle class. In the schools they don't know what to do about the unmotivated working class kids. They're not motivated, because nothing is of interest to them. It's all about memorizing details for tests. For somebody who knows he will not / cannot go to college, he has no motivation in high school to prepare for something out of his reach.



I can't say any of the above is absolute, because it's not. It's a problem in varying degrees from school to school. I can't say I have any solutions for the matter. I'd recommend seeing the documentary film, WAITING FOR SUPERMAN. It's an attempt to find why our educational system failed and what can be done to get it going. In the documentary, it was found that the adults in the school system are the problem, not the kids. What little I've seen into the school system, I've found among the adults the sense that the kids are the enemy. I got the image of the teachers as cowboys inside the circle of wagons and wild Indians running all around the wagons yelling like banshees altogether out of control. Of course, that's in denial too.


In my 2nd winter here, I took a temporary job at what was then Glade Valley School, a Methodist supported minimum security prison for kids with problem parents. The teachers kept continual war going with the kids. I was dramatically told off one day by a guy who hated the smile on my face when he told me not to talk to his advisees before he does. I paid as much attention to him as I pay to other people's expectations. One of the teachers, the kind of woman no one likes, officious, snippy, tight-lipped, the kind that grows into a harridan in old age, found a coat on a couch in a place called a lounge--an empty space with some furniture that belonged in the landfill. She went through the pockets (against every civil right there is) and found "CRUMBS" in the corner of one of the pockets. It was on to find Jessica and punish her. Soon thereafter, I saw Jessica. I told her two of the teachers were looking for her. I told her which one went through her pockets and found "crumbs." When Mr Advisor brought it up to her, she said, "Yeah, I know. TJ told me." It took the wind out of his drama sail. His authoritarian demeanor fell flat at Jessica's feet and he was mad, giving TJ the what-for, evidently thinking TJ cared. When he finished I had to let him know I didn't care at all, not by saying it, but with a certain smile that says, What are you gonna do, beat me up?



Much of what the "teachers" there did to the kids was illegal as illegal can be. They knew it too. The day they corralled all the kids into the cafeteria, they told me to stand guard at one of the doors. I said I'm having no part in it. I liked the kids. They locked up the kids and the teachers not assigned to guarding the doors went through all the dorm rooms like police, throwing things out of drawers, tipping mattresses, destroying every room. They found a few kids with weed in their rooms and kicked them out. Half the teachers smoked reefer and punished the kids for it. While the travesty was in motion, I sat in the library with black construction paper and scissors, cutting out black hearts for each of the teachers. They had a wall of mail slots for their mail or bulletins or whatever. I put one heart in each teacher's mail slot. Did that ever get a reaction! It was like they took it for voodoo and it freaked every one of them, some more than others. One of them was so spooked I almost regretted what I'd done. However they interpreted the black heart, my only intent was the obvious: they have black hearts. Not one of them had the least inkling of any kind of integrity. A bunch of college graduates who couldn't get jobs teaching and were hired by this place that took anybody. High turnover.



The president or whatever they called him was a Methodist preacher put out to pasture whose ambitions far exceeded his talent. I heard him in the pulpit once, and it was a joke. He'd married a state senator's daughter thinking it would bring him up in status, but it brought her down. He wanted to be anywhere on earth but where he was. He had the demanor of someone exiled to Siberia. The school shut down after another year, a money hole for the church, and the property was sold. What a sorrowful place it was. I felt sad for the kids, who were as far as I could tell bright kids. Parents were largely middle class alcoholics and drunks who never paid any attention to their kids. Too busy with the social life at the country club. The kids rebelled by slacking off in school, then were sent to the last chance school: Glade Valley. They're regarded problems by the teachers from the first day. By lying to them, cheating them and betraying them, the teachers alienated them and made them into problems, just like the parents did. Punishment is a powerful American passion.



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