Portrait of the Writer as a Classist Young Man

It was only after I had roundly mocked the student’s report that my prof pointed it out: “It’s because of their social class.”

My wife has occassionally let me look over a few of her student’s papers. Usually, she wants to ensure that her comments are helpful and appropriate. Occasionally, the paper is hilarious. This one read like Borat, or an old Andy Kaufmann sketch. So when a professor friend came over, when we were all kvetching about students with low standards, I decided to share my “interpretative reading” of this paper.

She did not call me classist. She did not take umbrage, she did not grow angry. She just pointed out, in less than ten words, where my assumptions about intellect were really about class values. Where I was just as bad as standardized tests and the cultural standards that work to invisibly keep people “in their place”.

That wasn’t the end of the conversation, mind you. I did question it (long story short: I forgot that the concept “writing as a separate and different stylistic thing than normal speech” tends to be class-centered, which is why class differences in speech cadences were showing up in text), but she was right. I was wrong.

It’s always startling when you find yourself being hypocritical. I’m thankful she pointed it out. It’s pretty well documented that speaking with a southern accent will lead you being percieved as being less intelligent (for example). But I simply didn’t expect it to come through in writing.

Which leads us to something I’m thinking about: How do we disassociate certain skills – e.g. writing proficiency – from a class structure? I’m all too aware that those who break class (and other social) expectations are roundly shunned. While from our perspective that’s something to be desired, it is horribly difficult when all your peers deliberately exclude you.

So how should our society do it? How do we make the skill separate from the social class? Or do we simply recognize this, and institute crash-courses at the college level?

I’m side-stepping the “why should everyone conform to my social class” issue for this specific example; being able to accurately convey information (which is sometimes not the case) is vital. I’m not talking about stylistic flourishes, just basic composition here. There are a lot of people who (at least from what I’m being told) who have trouble writing “My Summer Vacation” in anything other than txt.

Any thoughts or ideas are welcomed, as are (as always) people telling me I’m full of it.

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