“So now my father, writing in the workbook he received at his ‘transition’ seminar, dutifully answers their questions. What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment? ‘My greatest accomplishment,’ he writes in the clipped, impossible language he has never learned to love, ‘is my family’. What was most satisfying about your previous employment? ‘I was very proud,’ he says, carefully calling up the past tense, ‘to work for the University.’”
Kristin Kovacic, “Proud to Work for the University"
I’ve been teaching at Roger Williams for over forty years now, and as one can imagine I’ve seen many changes across that time. One thing I’ve noticed is that while the student body has become more diverse in some ways (for example, a wider ethnic mix), it has become less diverse in others, particularly in terms of economic and geographic terms. By geographic I’m not talking on the regional level, but on the community level. Fewer of our students come from urban areas now. More come from small towns, suburbs, and exurbs. (Exurbia is rather like the “suburbs of the suburbs”. Consequently, I have a sense that today’s student is less aware of patterns of living other than his or her own. This course is an attempt to raise that awareness.
This course has a point of view. Its object is not to raise sympathy for the “less fortunate” or, on the other hand to reinforce the sense of the cultural or intellectual superiority of the social classes to which we belong. Rather, the point of view can best be summed up in the word “respect”. Some of you may have taken Urban America. If you have, you may remember the films Strut, and Da Feast, and if you do, you remember how important being respected was for the participants in the events which these documentaries portrayed. Both represented life in urban “blue-collar” ethnic neighborhoods. The residents believe they have a right to community respect equal to that of any resident of any exclusive gated suburb. So do I.
The quotation with which I begin this introduction has a special significance for me. I, too, am “proud to work for the University”. As you’ll soon find out, the person about whom this essay was written is no professor. But his contribution to his university is equally valuable, to my way of thinking, as is the contribution of folks who earn their living as I earn mine. Some of you have heard me go off on a tear about this in other classes. I started this course as a result of noticing that someone (I think a student) had spit gum into a urinal in the men's restroom. Did he not know or did he not care that one of the custodians would have to take that out with his hand? Read the essay, and think about the idea of respect as you do
Those of you who have had me before know pretty much how my classes operate. They tend to be a little less structured and orderly than the classes of some other professors are. I like to let the class evolve as it develops. At the beginning I provide a broad outline. You have it in your hands. Then I fill in that outline across the semester, week by week. I do this by preparing a website for the class. The URL for this class will be http://amst355Class.homestead.com. If you are uncomfortable with this method, you may want to consider transferring into another American Studies section with more structure.
Books for the Course:
New York: Random House, 2004
New York Times,
New York: New York Times, 2005
Collins, Chuck, Yeskel, Felice United for a Fair Economy (Compiler)
Economic Apartheid In America | Edition: 2
New Press, 2005
The Betrayal of Work: How Low-wage Jobs Fail 30 Million Americans And Their Families
New Press, 2011
Rachel and her Children
New York, Random House , 2011
De Graaf, John, et al.
Affluenza: All-Consuming Epidemic
San Francisco, Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc. Third Edition, 2014
It seems a bit ironic to me to teach a course on social class using materials which are so expensive. There are alternatives to reduce the price some: All of these are available as e-textbooks or Kindle books from Amazon.com.
For something completely different, a mystery novel, by Richard Price. Samaritan also is not the standard fare one finds in typical University courses. I hope class members are going to find this book interesting. I chose it because it presents variety of characters interacting in ways which bring issues of class and race to the fore. Be warned in advance that the language is a little raw, and the story, if brought to the screen faithfully, would receive an X rating.
We will mash-up two versions of Class Matters. The text version is more inclusive and structured, the Internet version more interactive. (You’ll use a lot of Internet sources in this class–one of my auxiliary purposes is to leave you better equipped to use the Internet for scholarly work). The book’s website is http://www.nytimes.com/class. Why not take a few minutes in the next several days to look it over? This will give you a good sense of what the course is all about. You’ll get specific assignments from this website later in the semester
Following its publication in hardcover, the critically acclaimed Betrayal of Work became one of the most influential policy books about economic life in America; it was discussed in the pages of Newsweek, Business Week, Fortune, the Washington Post, Newsday, and USA Today, as well as in public policy journals and in broadcast interviews, including a one-on-one with Bill Moyers on PBS’s NOW. The American Prospect’s James K. Galbraith’s praise was typical: “Shulman’s slim and graceful book is a model combination of compelling portraiture, common sense, and understated conviction.”
Beth Shulman’s powerfully argued book offers a full program to address the injustice faced by the 30 million Americans who work full time but do not make a living wage. As the influential Harvard Business School newsletter put it, Shulman “specifically outlines how structural changes in the economy may be achieved, thus expanding opportunities for all Americans.” This edition includes a new afterword that intervenes in the post-election debate by arguing that low-wage work is an urgent moral issue of our time. Amazon Review
Jonathan Kozol has dedicated nearly his entire life to the challenge of providing equal opportunity within our public schools to every child, of whatever racial origin or economic level. He is, at the present time, the most widely read and highly honored education writer in America. When he is not with children and teachers in the their classrooms, or at universities speaking to future teachers, Jonathan is likely to be found in Washington, where he has spent much of the past ten years attempting to convince his friends within the Senate leadership to abandon the entire corporate agenda of measuring success or failure in our schools on the basis of a narrow slice of numbers on one-time standardized exams. His books have been adopted at hundreds of universities nationwide, where he speaks with passion in defense of the dignity of dedicated and creative teachers. I hide things under pictures. Click on this one (and perhaps under others, as well).
"Trickle-down economics, a theory that has been disproven numerous times...., Simply put, trickle-down economics is the idea that tax cuts on businesses and the wealthy will cause wealth to “trickle down” to everyone else. The idea was particularly popular during the Reagan administration, when it was also known as “voodoo economics.” Many people forget that humorist Will Rogers actually came up with the term “trickle down” to criticize President Herbert Hoover’s policies during the Great Depression . But working people aren’t laughing about the disastrous consequences of these policies. "
Affluenzais a companion book to a television documentary which I hope we will watch sometime during the semester. Class isn’t just about income: it is also about consumption. Affluenza is a coined word, based on the word affluence.
Affluenza,n. a painful,contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.
After the first couple of weeks we’ll be working in all books pretty much simultaneously. I want you to begin Price's Samaritan immediately, and have it finished before we bring it before the class for discussion. It isn’t a difficult read. I’ll have specific instructions for you on it shortly. Target Date for Reading Completion Monday, February 6
Work for the Course.
I’m still thinking this over. As I’ve been working on this, it struck me that it would not be impossible for me to consult with you about how you’d like to demonstrate what you learned in this course. It would also be possible to take a little time at the outset to find out what students in this course want to learn. I'm delighted that so many have signed up for this course, especially considering that it isn't exactly in "prime time". If you have friends who are still looking for a course, feel free to share this syllabus introduction with them and I would be willing to sign them in. I generally waive prerequisites for those who find the topics interesting. But I know that some of you are very much interested in persons whose life experiences are not yours: you find them intrinsically interesting, or perhaps you find them useful for the light they shine on your own personality, aims, aspirations, and ideas. Some of you may have become interested in the topic of this course because of discoveries you made in Urban America, or one of the American Studies courses you’ve taken. This course is related to Urban America in a number of ways, though its focus is on people and their lives, and less on the environments which provide the stage for them.
So, I think I’m going to take a week or so to finalize the work requirements for this course. In general, these guidelines will be observed. First, I need a minimum of four different products through which to assess your accomplishments. Second, I need these to be varied. I don’t want students to do the same kind of thing four times. I have some ideas about things which I want you to do. But I’m going to solicit your input as well. Third, I need these to incorporate Internet activities in some way. Fourth I need these to reflect all the required materials for the course. I will also be finding ways for you to collaborate with each other, and to share the results of your findings using a number of new tools available on Bridges. I’m excited about using them, and I think you’re going to find them fun, yourselves.
Some Projects upon which I’m pretty keen:
1.I want you to write something for me on Price’s book, Samaritan. I want you to look at the book from the perspective of one of its primary characters. This will make more sense to you once you’ve started the book. I’m setting the target date for completion of the reading of the book at February 6. Take some rough notes after you've chosen your primary character. I'm thinking about doing some workin groups for this project if you are o.k. with that. We'll discuss this and I’ll have details next week.
2.We’ll investigate all sections of the New York Times special, Class Matters. I'm hoping it will serve as linkage with the other books. I am going to use some collaborative procedures with this book, too. You may be working in groups, both in class and out. Start thinking about whom you’d like to work with.
3.I’m going to ask you to keep a journal for this course, in which you’ll write both reflections on the things you read, and good questions which the materials raise in your mind. A reflection is a thoughtful personal reaction. How did the material make you think? How did it make you feel? Reflections don’t have to be long. In fact, they work better in stream-of-consciousness fashion than they do as polished essays.
4 Using the required readings as compasses, I'm going to send you out to the do some Internet research. There are many interesting sources available--not all of which come up immediately on Google or other popular search engines.
5I am hoping to show a number of films in this class--how many will depend on a number of factors, including whether or not there is a class in this room immediately after ours, and if not whether you are free to stay a bit longer. Eighty minutes will be enough for most documentaries--but commercial films occasionally are longer, and I really hate breaking them in the middle.
Can’t be answered yes or no.
Can’t be answered by hunting through the material and paraphrasing or quoting the substance therein
Require thoughtful analysis to come up with hypotheses or tentative answers. These form the basis of fruitful discussions.
Persons who faithfully keep their journals (and keep them well) may apply to be exempted from any final exam the course requires
The twin supports of Academic Life are collaboration and independence of thought. In this class, there is no curve. In the largest sense, you’re not in competition with each other, and to the degree that you can assist each other in learning you’ll win nothing but praise from me. Yet it is equally important that each student exercise his/her own independent judgment, and have confidence in his/her own mind. Plagiarism defeats the whole purpose of the enterprise, and the University will not tolerate this particular form of intellectual theft. For the university statement on plagiarism, and for a general exposition of standards of Academic Integrity, consult theRoger Williams University Website. You have learned appropriate techniques for incorporating ideas from others with your own in writing classes and elsewhere. When in doubt about something you’ve written, don’t hesitate to show it to me or any other professor and ask for an opinion. The Roger Williams University Writing Center is very helpful to those who make the effort to use it. It has also posted a number of helpful documents online.
SHOW UP! That’s the key to success, as Woody Allen said. I don’t reward good attendance with gold stars, but I do diminish grades for those who take their responsibilities cavalierly. Three unexcused absences will result in a grade reduction. Five unexcused absences may lead to my asking you to withdraw from the course. I give excuses liberally. I don’t expect you to show up if you’re shedding viruses. Sharing is not always a good idea. I’m also sympathetic when there are conflicting obligations–for example, athletic competitions or special events for other classes. And life happens: there are family emergencies and the like. The key is to notify me in advance if you’re not able to make class, and to see me in my office during office hours to assure me that you know what’s going on. How do you know what’s going on if you’re not there? That’s what the website is for. Use it! Use Bridges too: I’ll post last minute announcements there, so check regularly.