I’m so excited to talk to you about social class and education. It is something I spent a lot of time on in graduate school. It was such a foreign place for me that I sought out people who were similar to me on the internet. This led me to the Working Class Academics organization, which was actually quite tiny. It had like 50 members when I joined. I don’t want to affix a label to you, but you would have been considered a working class academic. This is because while your parents were no doubt middle class income-wise, their education level means you were what they term “first generation.” I’m probably not telling you anything you don’t already know.
First generation students who go to college frequently experience disconnects with their family. I am not entirely first generation. My mother went to college. She was just never really able to use her education, because of having a serious mental illness and needing to go on disability. So, I was lucky to have a mother who supported my educational goals. But my younger brothers and sister have struggled to deal with my education or how I have changed with my education.
For example, two of my siblings are prone to believe conspiracy theories. I mean all of them. If Alex Jones puts one out there, they are going to bite. I try to explain that I want them to benefit from my years of education. I have laughingly told them I want them to be able to get research skills, analytic skills, and scientific reasoning for free through me without having to go to graduate school. So I try to walk them through how skeptic thinking works, and why whatever flavor of conspiracy theory of the moment is not reasonable. I might as well be talking to house plants. They blow me off and discount the value of my education in its entirety.
Another brother and his wife just think my husband and I are elitist. For example, when we are conserving with them, they give each other looks when we talk about the news (current events). I know immediately that there is a way in which we are talking about things that they see as over-intellectual and pretentious, and we don’t even hear it anymore. My brother is very smart, so I always think I can engage him in this way, but it isn’t culturally synced.
I think the thing I find most frustrating is the discounting of the education I have that runs kind of across the board for all four of my siblings. They consider me no more expert in anything — anything — than they are. So when our other brother was suicidal in 1995, I wanted to have him put into the hospital against his wishes by at least trying to persuade him to try inpatient, based on my training. They overruled me, insisting I was overreacting. Within a year, our brother was dead.
So, in sum, I would say I got pretty strong support for college itself, but less so for graduate school. Book learning was only so valuable, and they think you aren’t working while in graduate school, which wasn’t accurate. There was teaching, research, and cashiering.