Op-Eds Opinion

American Classism- Part One of Two

Jake Nelson
Staff Writer



I highly doubt it was the first time I had heard the word, but I can acutely recall the first time I understood what it meant. Obsolete. I sat in the first row of Mr. Mac’s 9th grade English class; it must have been early in the year because I remember the back of my shirt sticking to the small of my back amid the final punches of summer’s dreary haze. The plain white sheet, with descending black text, listed a number of sentences with several options for a ‘fill in the blank’ in order to complete the sentences. There was one sentence about an airplane and the correct word was obsolete. The airplane was obsolete. It was now out of date, unfit for use, and no longer useful.

“I refuse to follow the rules that society has set up and the way that they control people with low self-esteem, with improper information, with branding, with marketing.I refuse to follow those rules. It’s about truth. It’s about information. It’s about awesomeness,” stated Kanye West on the Jimmy Kimmel show on Oct. 10, 2013.

The interview cited above took place about a week after West took to Twitter and slandered Kimmel in response to a segment that had been run on his show. The segment in question featured two young boys, and was supposed to poke fun at an interview West had done on the BBC Network in which he talked about his practice in the fashion industry and desire to eventually start his own clothing line. West took the segment out of context and did not reserve any judgment when tweeting about Kimmel, using profanity on multiple occasions, questioning his prowess with women, and wondering why Kimmel tried to drive a hole in their friendship.

When West went on Kimmel’s show he was clearly still upset and Kimmel was more than remorseful. The ensuing interview, as always with West, was fantastically informative and very honest. West’s main point in the Kimmel interview, among many, was how he feels about current American media agendas and how it relates to the overlying conscience of our society. He emphatically stated that racism, as he sees it, is dead in this country (up for debate but unrelated to this column) and has been replaced by classism.

It must be taken into account that West has accumulated somewhat of a massive fortune, and if he chose to do so could refute work for the rest of his life while still possessing mountains of paper left to bathe in, stuff his pillows with, and use to dry his shoes when coming inside from a rainy day. He does, however, make a rather interesting and pertinent point when introducing the concept of classism. Classism as he presented it has to do with titles that are placed on people. With colorful emotion and Sicilian hands, he recalled when he first went to fashion week in Paris and was scoffed at because he was a rapper, clearly meaning that he could never transition into the world of fashion. He is disgusted by the snobbery of old money and the idea that he, or anyone for that matter, can’t be creative enough to do something else because they are already established in another realm. He aptly calls himself a creative genius, and albeit arrogant, he is the kid who dropped out of college in Chicago to pursue a rap career, and has made it pretty far. Maybe, just maybe, he’s onto something. Classism isn’t new to the American society. West may just be the first celebrity to consciously note the issue to the general public. I for one wholeheartedly believe he should be revered for such action, as opposed to being degraded and scorned for his choice in marriage and ability to speak his mind.

Classism begins today at the adolescent and high school levels. I vividly remember going over college applications and being so sure of what I would be after graduation.

I recall painful dinner table conversations that were more focused on where I would be 10 years from the day as opposed to what I wanted then. I remember sitting in Babson Library in the first week of my sophomore year and picking my way through a syllabus, deciding that I didn’t want to be a physical educator nearly enough to adhere to the guidelines that the professor presented, and subsequently changed my major. It was the first decision that I ever made for myself in college and it came over a year into my education. To this day it was the smartest thing I’ve done in college, and probably my life. The higher education system in our nation has been steadily inflating over the past three decades and one honestly must be sleeping to be surprised at the current student loan issues facing the multitudes of millennial grads.

In his essays on politics, Aristotle writes, “Is it not obvious that a state may at length attain such a degree of unity as to be no longer a state? Since the nature of a state is to be a plurality, and in tending to greater unity, from being a state, it becomes a family, and from being a family, an individual; for the family may be said to be more than the state, and the individual than the family. So that we ought not to attain this greatest unity even if we could, for it would be the destruction of the state.”

Although an extreme example, he makes a wildly transcendent and still pertinent point. When such a vast majority of individuals in our current society have grown up with the natural progression of going to school, doing well, getting into college, going to grad school, eventually getting a job, and on and on, is it not true that a society of one has been created in contrast to the society of plurality that is supposed to be strived for? Steve Jobs, possibly the greatest technological innovator to date (for better or worse), was a college dropout that publicly credited tripping on LSD to opening his creative mind further than it previously had been. Men like Steve Jobs don’t grow on trees. It’s a very, very extreme example, but it does harp on the point that the status quo doesn’t need to be adhered to just because it represents normalcy.

The Higher Education Act of 1965 was the first time our nation addressed the issue of helping students with monetary needs finance their educations. It was a simple concept geared toward students of middle income families in which the government paid accrued interest during the students’ collegiate career and would then pay the difference between a set low rate and market rates after graduation. This model worked well when it first began because it increased the size of the workforce in more specialized fields and thus stimulated the economy on a grand scale. The model was re-designed in 1972 and again in 1980 when the Pell Grant emerged from the Basic Economic Opportunity Grants. A larger program than its precursors that encouraged students from lower income situations to try and attend college, eligibility is based upon family’s net income and assets.

The governing body of the student incentive program eventually offered matching funds for states as a way to encourage use of the need-based program and soon after all 50 states were actively participating. An issue this complicated obviously presents a plethora of factors contributing to the overall issue, but the basic pattern is easy to see. As more students attended college with the help of state funding, more universities had the opportunity to expand programs, raise tuition, and open their doors. As more and more people attend college, the overall product becomes diluted and the market becomes highly saturated; it’s basic economics. When a market becomes saturated the overall product is more similar than not, the value drops and growth stagnates. Under this scenario the product has relatively speaking become obsolete. Higher education or “post-secondary education” is not obsolete; the idea, however, that the title of a major is a binding contractual agreement (in most cases) is sadly out of date.

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