October 2nd, 2003

Yo Maniacal Tang

Class Dismissed

(I just posted this long winded reply to a post in response to an entry in wild_irises LJ, specifically this comment about class and education. I liked it so much I'm reposting it here, as flawed as it is.)

Okay, so I couldn't resist the play on words: I blame Jay Ward's influence on my feverish 5 year old mind back in the (cough) 60's. However, it does closely mirror my take on the idea that education and "class" is in inextricably linked, with emphasis on the word "inextricably".

FIrst, there's the definition of "over-educated" to get out of the way. It's already been pointed out that it is currently impossible to truly over-educate themselves in terms of complete knowledge, though I believe the original poster was referring to what they saw as "useless" information. For example, if you're entire life is centered, say, in rural Iowa, then why would you learn Swahili? To many (even to me, I admit!) this is akin to a bald man buying a very expensive hair brush: It's not going to get much use, at least in that context.

But if we throw a little bit of INTENT into that mixture, say, the desire to travel to a place where that knowledge is valuable, or a field (say, anthropology) that has a sub-genre that requires it, then it isn't over-education in the truest sense of the term. Someone who doesn't understand why anyone would want to leave beautiful rural Iowa for some foreign land (or even Chicago) would STILL consider this over-education, but the choice of the individual trumps that single mindedness.

In fact, what might be happening is more a conflict over ability giving some people choices that others don't have, and an unwillingness to admit that, politicians and plebeians to the contrary, that we're NOT created equal after all. This is a dangerous thought to express in an era where, literally as we watch, the "false inequities" of race, gender, sex (not the same thing, of course!), religion, and sexual orientation are being torn down, sometimes in spite of violent opposition, and will be (unfortunately) for the forseeable future.

How can we, on one hand, declare that we all have equal access to opportunities, when the harsh reality is that we were constrained by the talents we were born with? True, "class" membership may have a hand in shaping those talents if they exist, but even being born into the "wrong" class is not an impassible barrier to the fulfillment of those talents, whatever they are.

For whatever reason I was born into a dirt poor working class family with an IQ so damned high I'm embarrassed to write about it. Personally, I believe my primary talent for problem solving, even on those stupid tests, makes me look a lot smarter than I really am. But there was always something about my intelligence that intimidated people, even some of my teachers and DEFINITELY many of the administrators that had no idea what to do with me.

After a certain point education seemed to be the only way I could be satisfied with my SELF, my state of being -- I really wasn't fit for sports, and though I liked to use my hands I wanted more for myself. So I made a conscious CHOICE toward further education. In the context of this debate this can be construed as a desire to rise above my class, but to me it was a choice to be myself, and nothing more.

There's an interesting point here about perception being valid despite reality: True, the reaction is "valid" in the sense that people are entitled to their reactions, but (using the example in the main post) if someone who is "black" perceives rude behavior from a "white" person to be racist in origin, that in and of itself IS racism. Thus anyone who would perceive MY behavior as deliberately insightful, as if I wielded my intelligence and education as some sort of club to suppress the less educated or intelligent is equally prejudiced against me, or anyone else of intelligence.

This would have applied regardless of education, actually: If I choose never to read a single book or attend school, I would still have the raw talent that would set me apart. The best I could have done was suppress it (or the worst, depending on your point of view of wasted potential). My mother actually presents as a great example of that: She's certainly where I inherited the intelligence (and the moderate to severe ADHD, but that's another story!), but took a decidedly different route. As a woman growing up in the 50's her education was almost considered a mere "formality" -- in a way ANY education in a woman was deemed "over" education, as all she really needed to know was how to raise children and keep a husband happy. Amazing how much can change in 50 years...

Anyway, her intelligence set her apart (and made her miserable) as she tried to follow that "script", only to find herself chaffing against it (as so many others did). This was in spite of her supposed "class", though she made little attempt to rise above it.

When I finally did, it was viewed with an odd mixture of pride and anger: The former due to the perception that I was making a better life for myself, the latter over the sudden distance between us all, literally and figuratively. My mother is the only person I'm still close to... and she sometimes has a hard time keeping up.

Thus you wind up with me, an "over educated" working class refugee from NYC who is just as likely to use polysyllabic big words as he is to just flip you off and call you a {expletive deleted}ing idiot. I am not a member of any "class", other than my own, and find many of the people who attempt to create one from whole cloth to be a bit boring. That's one of the reasons I left MENSA: Joining to support one of the special interest groups, I was amazed at how everyone was desperately trying to PROVE how smart/educated they were all the time.

Now for the really unpopular viewpoint: If someone doesn't like how I speak or think, they are perfectly free to wander off to find a group or person who speaks to them at whatever level they choose. To clarify that includes people who think I'M stupid, or less educated, or ignorant of certain facts... whatever. I am NOT going to automatically reduce my vocabulary or pretend to be less learned to support someone elses insecurity, nor to defuse some sort of intellectual stereotype (much in the way a "black" person might avoid being seen eating fried chicken or playing basketball). If someone were to demand such a thing I would try to reason with them, and if they were rude enough to persist on applying their standards of acceptability on me, I would tear them to shreds, literally using words to eviscerate there delicate little psyche.

I do not exist to make people automatically comfortable. I sometimes wonder WHY I exist -- but that's one of those deep, over educated issues outside this discussion's scope -- and I resent to implication that I'm responsible for that comfort, or lack thereof.
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