White-Collar Social Breakdown
A reader writes:
Like other commenters, I came from modest circumstances but now live very differently. My town is affluent. My husband and I are white collar professionals, as are most parents.
I think globalization has certainly hurt the poor white communities Kevin Williamson writes about. But it’s also fraying my “elite” community, although in a much different and far less dire sense.
It’s changed the way we relate to each other as fellow parents. Globalization and the tech shifts in the economy have, rightly or wrongly, convinced parents that college is a must for their kids. And with so many kids now attending college, and with the worth of a degree so diluted, many parents believe that their kid has to fight for one of the few, coveted spaces at a top tier school.
The jockeying begins early, which you know if you’ve ever observed the bitterness that occurs when the school announces who made the cut for Gifted and Talented. Adult friendships have fallen apart because one child made first string of the field hockey team and the other didn’t. I’ve heard of parents complaining to teachers about their smart kid being partnered with a “slower” kid on a group assignment, or about kids with diagnosed learning disabilities getting extra help in class whereas their kid didn’t. Our school board just sent out a letter saying it will no longer hear appeals to change students’ grades, because there were too many parents submitting appeals questioning the teachers’ judgment.
If a parent in my community saw a child coming to school with, say, dirty or torn clothes, or acting rudely, the parent would, as you call it “say something.” But I have to say, that same parent would fight tooth and nail to get her own daughter the last slot in Honors Chemistry over the kid who might deserve it more. And you know what? It probably gets tougher to “say something” when you view other children as competitors with and therefore threats to your own.
The competitive mindset infects our kids, too. Cheating is rampant and a huge problem at the high school level. In the podunk little cow town I grew up in, charity was something you did with your church youth group as good works. Now, it’s called “community service” and you do it to put on your resume. I attended a luncheon in honor of a local woman who died of breast cancer and spotted a teen that I knew there, volunteering with serving. I thanked her for her support, and she said, “Oh, I need to rack up a lot more service hours for college.”
I’ve talked to people who have pretty harsh words for Trump supporters, basically calling them racists for their attitudes about Hispanic immigration. What’s funny is that these are the same people who, in hushed tones, will remark upon the Chinese and Indian “Tiger Moms” moving into our district, the ones with the kids that are leaving their American-born kids in the dust, academically speaking.
The town I grew up in had a lot of faults, but a “winner takes all” mentality among the parents was not one of them.