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One of the things I have not been keeping a record of since the first of the year is the magazines I read, and I read a lot of them.

On one level, I hesitate to say I’ve “read” them, because,  unlike books, I don’t read everything inside the covers. 

Instead, I look around in them and see what I find interesting and read that.  Sometimes that’s a lot and sometimes that’s a little.  Sometimes issues get backed up over the course of months because I’ve got too much else to do.

Most of the magazines I read are more or less political, and they come from all sides of the political spectrum.  The standard list includes, among others:  Reason, National Review, Mother Jones, The Nation, The New York Review of Books, The Weekly Standard, First Things,  The Progressive and The Objectivist Standard. 

If I can get ahold of them–and I can’t always–I like to get in Free Inquiry, The Skeptical Inquirer and The Humanist.

The point, I hope, is to get a look at all points of view.

This month, I find myself in one of those situations that is both annoying and frustrating. 

I have started a book that I ought to find very interesting.  It’s called Gold and Spices, and it’s been hanging around on my TBR pile since 1998.  It’s a history of the rise of commerce in the Middle Ages.  It has the advantage of being about my favorite historical period and about an aspect of that period on which I am not well informed.

And yet, for some reason, I just can’t get myself into it.  I’ve read almost 100 pages, and I will finish it, but I keep finding myself getting distracted.

When I get distracted, I’ve been flipping my way through the magazines at a much faster pace than usual, and yesterday evening I flipped through the one called The Progressive.

The Progressive is, in keeping with its name, a magazine of liberal opinion.  In fact, of largely left-liberal opinion.

It’s probably the magazine furthest on the left of the lift up there, in much the same way The Weekly Standard is furthest to the right.

I’ve got my preferences in issues.  Give me a stack of articles on the sequester, or Latin American, from the left or the right, and my eyes glaze over.

This issue was more interesting than that.  There were articles on unions and unionizing, for instance, and that subject has been fascinating me since the first of Scott Walker’s laws passed in Wisconsin.

I was about halfway through this issue when I came upon an article that was billboarded as being about the kind of place I teach in. 

I stopped and read it because–well, let’s face it.  It was directly related to my life.

And as I read it, it became  more and more eerily related to my life.  The terms the writer used, the descriptions of students and events, all sounded as if I could have written them myself.

Then I got  to the end of the article and read the bio.

I could have written it myself.

The writer teaches at the same place I do, although she is not somebody I know.

But although I could have written this article myself, the chances are almost certain that it is not the article I would have written if I ever decide to write about the place I teach.

It was, to put it bluntly, a Good News Bible.

The writer concentrated on the successes of the system, of which there are, most certainly some.

The successes are why there is not more turnover among teachers like me. 

You go along, convinced you cannot do this one more day without causing harm to yourself or others, because you’re just going to explode some day in front of class, or worse–and then the exception comes along, the one in a thousand who is able to work through the mountain of everything wrong to get out the other side, and you begin to think you’re doing some good.

The article was something of a hat trick.

The writer was able to say what she wanted to say and leave the impression she wanted to leave because the whole thing was an exercise in subjective experience.

She told story after story about students who had not only succeeded, but inspired her.  She provided absolutely nothing in the way of statistics, or description and analysis of the system, or–well, anything.

Everything this woman said sounded very good indeed, unless you knew that the stories represent much  less than a tenth of the reality of what goes on in our kind of place.

I’m not trying to disparage the success stories.  They’re real, and they can get you high for a month when they happen.

The problem is that we don’t know why they happen, aside from saying that some people are just like that.  We don’t know why are small groups of successes succeed.

As things stand now, we cannot use what we know about them to help anybody else.

A few months ago, there was a spate of articles about  how “class” is now more important than anything else in determining who applies to, gets into, and goes to a “decent college,” and who succeeds there once they go.

For  once, the articles really were about class–not socioeconomic status, but the set of habits and atitudes we bring to our day to day living.

Some of those articles made me absolutely crazy.  They were almost always written by people with the tastes and attitudes of the educated upper  middle class, and they kept stumbling over things that anybody with a wider range of acquaintances would have known  without having to think about it–

For instance, that outside the educated upper middle class, family always comes before work, career or ambtion–and if you find yourself in a conflict between work and family, the work goes out the window.

The educated upper middle class sees dropping out of college because  it’s estranging you from you family as a tragedy.  The people who do it see it as the only desirable choice.

All of that notwithstanding, the  habits and attidues that matter to the kids (and adults) who attend institutions like mine are much more basic:  keeping regular schedules, being on time to classes and appointments, turning in work on time and neat and complete, always doing the most and not the least possible.

None of these things depend on money. 

It doesn’t matter how much the one percent makes relative to the rest of us.

Poor people as well as rich people have these habits and attitudes and have had them all through time.

And, in terms of life outcomes, these things matter far more than how much money you grew up with.

The children of the educated upper middle class who  lack these habits and attitudes will fail. 

The children of the lower middle class and the poor who lack these habits and attitudes will crater, and they’ll crater early.

We can pour a couple of billion dollars into the K-12 system, provide all our students with private tutors and affirmative action, screw the entire system by reconfiguring all the standards until we can say more of our students “graduated” from this and “completed” that–

But as long as the kid is twenty minutes late to every class, hands in a handwritten half page on crinkled notepaper instead of a typed three page essay, shows up at  his job interview in a stained t-shirt with the F word on it and a backwards baseball cap–

As long as all that is the case, the kid is going to fail at just about anything we hope to help him to do, and none of the other things are going to make any damned difference.

I think I’d be less of a pessimist  if I thought anybody cared.


Written by janeh

March 13th, 2013 at 8:37 am

Posted in Uncategorized

5 Responses to 'Magazines'

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  1. Two things.
    First, when we say that the upper middle class gives careers priority over family, and the reverse of this is true for the lower middle class, have we really identified two classes? Or are we just admitting that priritizing work over family gets you–on average–a different or more successful career?
    More interesting, I think, is the identification of good study and work habits, cleanliness and courtesy as class markers. There was a time when promptness, diligence, thrift, cleanliness and courtesy were not the traits of a particular class and you could practice them without “forgetting where you came from.”


    13 Mar 13 at 6:56 pm

  2. I don’t know how things are/were in the US, but in Australia when I was young, virtually everyone likely to be seen in the general population, ie upper/lower middle class and the majority of the working class pretty much all shared similar traits. The work ethic was pretty much universal and “promptness, diligence, thrift, cleanliness and courtesy” were similarly almost universal.

    I can recall a time when tradesmen and other manual workers, as well as office workers, travelled to work on buses and trains in suits or sports jackets and ties, with their well-worn shoes spit-polished to a mirror finish. The manual workers changed into their overalls and other work clothes at the factory or wherever, and at day’s end, showered, donned their travelling clothes and went home just as neat and spic and span as they were when they left in the morning. It was a point of considerable pride.

    These days, of course, anything goes, and more the pity.


    13 Mar 13 at 7:39 pm

  3. I would add that my grandfather’s most scathing judgement of a person was that he had “long hair and dirrrrrrrrty boots” – a worthless individual indeed.


    13 Mar 13 at 7:41 pm

  4. “For instance, that outside the educated upper middle class, family always comes before work, career or ambtion–and if you find yourself in a conflict between work and family, the work goes out the window.

    The educated upper middle class sees dropping out of college because it’s estranging you from you family as a tragedy. The people who do it see it as the only desirable choice.”

    “Sure, you can take classes at night at a community college or something. Maybe you’ll even get financial aid or loans to pay for your books or tuition. What they will not pay for is the time you missed at work while you were in classes or for a babysitter or for transportation. And you sure as fuck better be certain that you have some kind of aptitude for whatever you’re studying (which, by the way, you won’t know until you’ve spent a year or two studying it) because that’s the only chance you’re going to get.

    You can do it the old-fashioned way, by working your way up the corporate ladder from within whatever shitty job you have. But that is also expensive because promotions often require you to move. I got offered a promotion at my shitty service job (washing semi trucks with high-pressure hoses, the job that eventually destroyed my back) that would have required me to move several hours away. And moving costs money — remember what I said about the cost of getting utilities turned on? And how landlords check your credit?
    And then there are the intangible costs. I would be abandoning my children, for instance — I share custody with my ex-wife, who obviously was not going to be moving with me. How many visits would I get in before my car broke down? And moving away from friends and family also comes with a cost — think of the favors you do for each other (i.e. the friend/brother/uncle willing to fix the truck for free, because you helped paint his porch, etc).

    It’s not impossible, but it’s taking a huge risk. And if the new job doesn’t work out after you bet all of your chips, you’re triple fucked. And at that point the world will wag its finger at you and tell you how irresponsible it was to move when you were so poor. “Ha, you poor people are always doing stupid shit like that!”
    And on and on. People do get out of this situation — I got paid to write this, for instance. All I’m saying is that the journey is something like trying to go from the Earth to the Moon.

    By letting them launch a Saturn V rocket directly into your butthole.”

  5. Michael, you get paid to write comments?

    As to moving around, I grew up in Rochester, NY and have lived in Pittsburgh, Boston and Los Angeles in the US and Melbourne, Sydney and Wollongong in Australia.

    My sister lives in Florida. Her 3 daughters live in San Diego, Washington DC and Boston.


    23 Mar 13 at 3:10 pm

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