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Class-War

For Americans with means, Parenting has become pathology.

In Class War, Megan Erickson explains this phenomenon with a combination of economic and sociological analysis coupled with enormous empathy. Drawing on broad-ranging knowledge, Erickson identifies causes of parents’ legitimate stress of which much is rooted in the Education System which itself derives its spirit not from notions of Citizenship but of Capitalism.

Erickson was herself a teacher and saw the effects of this system first-hand; her ability to see her own experiences against the larger canvas of pernicious ideology and profit-making in which, as she shows, schools have become re-segregated on the axes of class and race, lends enormous credibility to this fulminatory tract. Non-profits like the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation play an important and deleterious role in these trends, with their emphasis on corporatist measurement and predatory behavior as regards Teachers’ Unions and other “public” dispensations.

Parents- well-meaning parents as most are—get caught up in the competitive nature of the Education System and use their resources to attempt to give their children a “leg-up.” In a polity in which even Education is a metered resource—going to the highest bidder- “rational” parents seek to create any and all opportunities for their kids. The biggest single move these parents make is finding a residence in an expensive locale since school funding is tied to property tax and property tax is a function of house price. The second move is to lard the child’s schedule with activities that while costly create “completeness,” but on terms that are fit for career – not character- building.

This narrow focus on one’s children inherently privatizes childhood, as children become consumers of paid-services and activities and not the lights of the neighborhood and collaborative citizens. In this sense, children are like “property” of the parents in which “the village” that it takes hardly plays a role. The idea that “other peoples’ children” are as precious as our own doesn’t come into play in this dog-eat-dog world of value-addition and special enhancements.

Life-outcomes are, as the data shows, tied deeply to economic condition. Educational attainments and performance correlate with economic class more than with any other variable. While the Right locates certain groups’ performance lags in “culture,” few commentators, Liberals included- mention how deeply Neo-liberalism is implicated in the Education System.

No doubt, the idea that parents do things to help their children is neither new nor in any way execrable. As Erickson argues, until we see the entire system of competition as a construct derived from the inherent selfishness of Capitalism, changing one element will not suffice. Not that parents should always flex their financial muscles just because they can. We certainly would benefit and grow as a society if parents- even those with ample means- opt out of this “race” and participate in the public sphere (including public schools) and the commons. Competition and privatization create consumers but not citizens. Inherent in this is a lack of empathy, equality, and decency. Though it is no doubt hard to conduct “social experiments” with children’s lives (as well-meaning parents argue with regard to their own children), we must remember that it is precisely a social experiment being conducted at scale and with utter callousness that has put so many million children in the position of permanent penury. As Erickson pointed out, even in Dickensian England was this divide understood; it’s high time Americans open their eyes.

When we hear of cafeteria workers being fired for feeding hungry children and contrast that with the endowments many fancy schools have, it’s clear that the playing field is hardly level. The Right likes to drone about parental responsibility as culture as the culprit (replete with racist and misogynistic dog-whistling) but fails to address the essential issue. No one condones the callousness, indifference, and downright cruelty that some parents display but what of the millions of good, hard-working people who face the stark choice everyday of working to put food on the table (literally a daily struggle) or Helicoptering above and around their kids? If we conclude that outside of rare cases, parents of all races and classes love their kids equally then we also must conclude that the differential outcomes that mark children’s’ lives create heartbreak and sorrow in so many parents- both sets of humans are fodder in the inhuman social experiment called Neoliberalism.

Megan Erickson, Verso 2015

Romi Mahajan can be reached at romi@thekkmgroup.com

One Comment

  1. K SHESHU BABU says:

    Very essential book on the childrens education in the socio- political conditions and the need for liberation from dogmatic world