Thursday, January 24, 2008


This meme, What Privileges Do You Have?, was started at with permission from the authors of the exercise upon which it was based (see names and link below).

First, my responses: Bold the true statements.
1. Father went to college.
2. Father finished college.
3. Mother went to college.
4. Mother finished college.
5. Have any relative who is was an attorney, physician, or professor.
6. Were the same or higher class than your high school teachers.
7. Had more than 50 books in your childhood home.
8. Had more than 500 books in your childhood home.
9. Were read children’s books by a parent.
10. Had lessons of any kind before you turned 18.
11. Had more than two kinds of lessons before you turned 18.
12. The people in the media who dress and talk like me are portrayed positively. (I don't know about talk, but I don't see anyone who dresses like me!)
13. Had a credit card with your name on it before you turned 18.
14. Your parents (or a trust) paid for the majority of your college costs. (college yes; they paid nothing for graduate school)
15. Your parents (or a trust) paid for all of your college costs.
16. Went to a private high school (but on scholarship).
17. Went to summer camp. Went to a YMCA summer camp and it was no privilege! (it was a miserable, MISERABLE experience). YMCA camps were not a privileged sort of thing to do in my community, but generally were a cheap way parents could get their kids out of the way for a couple weeks in the summer, and those who could not afford it could get it for free or at a reduced rate. Expensive family vacations or the kinds of camp for music, arts, sports, academics, etc. were for the privileged.
18. Had a private tutor before you turned 18.
19. Family vacations involved staying at hotels.
20. Your clothing was all bought new before you turned 18.
21. Your parents bought you a car that was not a hand-me-down from them.
22. There was original art in your house when you were a child [kid’s work is original!]
23. You and your family lived in a single-family house.
24. Your parent(s) owned their own house or apartment before you left home.
25. You had your own room as a child.
26. You had a phone in your room before you turned 18.
27. Participated in a SAT/ACT prep course.
28. Had your own TV in your room in high school.
29. Owned a mutual fund or IRA in high school or college.
30. Flew anywhere on a commercial airline before you turned 16.
31. Went on a cruise with your family.
32. Went on more than one cruise with your family.
33. Your parents took you to museums and art galleries as you grew up.
34. You were unaware of how much heating bills were for your family.
from Step into Social Class 2.0: A Social Class Awareness Experience, by Will Barratt, Meagan Cahill, Angie Carlen, Minnette Huck, Drew Lurker, Stacy Ploskonka, Indiana State University, © 2008)

What's interesting to me was the purpose of this exercise. If you go to
Step into Social Class 2.0, you will find an explanation from Prof. Barratt, which makes it clear that the purpose is to get people thinking and talking about class differences. It acknowledges that the items or categories are not necessarily representative of class differences everywhere, but the part of the purpose of the exercise is to identify the emotions drawn by responding to the questions.

Also, near the bottom of the page are links to other resources, including his "Nine Points" document which identifies different kinds of privileges, such as Economic Capital, Cultural Capital, Social Capital, and Academic Capital, all elements of privilege that can make a difference in success in college. Included in the list are items such as Social Class of Origins, Current Felt Social Class, Attributed Social Class -- i.e. highlighting the importance of perception and the complex interaction of all these different elements.

I find all this fascinating, especially since my son, now a freshman in college, has for some time been very conscious of these differences in light of his high school friends' backgrounds, the choices they made in selecting colleges, and the atmosphere in which he is currently studying (a state university, albeit one that is very difficult to get into), which he selected in part due to his sense that there were less differences between him and most of the students there than maybe there were between he and his high school friends (mostly at private schools) (note: he wasn't sure whether it was a positive or negative thing being with people more similar - he thought long and hard about it, and, I think, made the right decision for him).

Of course, these kinds of class differences impact much more than social relations and academic success in college -- the point is simply to get college students to think about how those differences work in their own environment. For some of us old fogeys, long out of our 20's and the conventional time for being in college or university, it's interesting to look at how such differences have played out in our lives and how they shape how people socialize, work, and worship together.

I realize that many people are using this meme to meditate on the blessings of having grown up with certain advantages in life. That is a fine and worthy thing to do. But I wonder if the exercise can go further and prick our awareness of how class differences actually operate in the U.S. (which, I gather, is far more subtle, though no less pervasive, than places like the U.K.). As much as I have been "privileged" in many respects, as evidenced by my responses, nevertheless they did not put me anywhere near those who truly exercise power and influence in our society, some perhaps by choice (and/or accidental circumstances or personality), some having to do with the fact that as "privileged" though I may have been (and still am) in terms of having work, a home, and a decent income, I lack the kinds of privileges not really addressed by these questions. Such privileges may include those that come from social and professional networks, which one can get a head start in by virtue of one's family of origin, place(s) of origin, schools (private high school and/or higher education), and employment.

Of course, as the authors of the exercise point out, not everyone who has various kinds of "capital" growing up necessarily spends it in ways that produce success or even maintains one at the level where one started. Nevertheless, there are all sorts of subtle differences within the categories represented by the questions -- i.e. whether parents' parents went to college, whether anyone went to public or private colleges or universities, what kind of town, city, or state did one grow up in, how large a home did one live in, what kind of financial distress did one's family live with, what kind of sacrifices or embarrassments did one experiences as result of finances, what kind of social class did one perceive to be raised in, to what extent did one live or attend school with those with greatly contrasting social, economic, ethnic or racial backgrounds, etc. All these things feed into the kinds of differences that are critical in college and early employment, which seem to be those targeted by the questions.

More important, perhaps, is that this kind of exercise does not begin to address the question of which kinds of "advantages" are truly advantageous in the sense of being "good" or able to be used for "good" ends. In other words, it assumes a hierarchal set of values and that one is more favored if one reaches a certain level or status. They may well correspond to the social reality that the majority view themselves as living in, but it does beg some questions. While growing up poor, hungry, poorly clothed, housed, and poorly educated no doubt are terrible disadvantages, I suspect that having warm, loving parents may be greater blessings, and in that sense, more advantageous, than growing up in a seriously dysfunctional household among the wealthy and well-educated. But I guess values and status are apples and oranges. But shouldn't values determine whether and how one might try to influence what kinds of status-giving advantages should be promoted for all (whether or not that results in reduced status)? Is status the same as welfare?

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