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Tom Engelhardt 283

April 17, 2018

Tomgram: Steve Fraser, Teaching America a Lesson

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: I have a special offer for you today. TomDispatch author Steve Fraser’s newest book, Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion, has just been published. Of it, Barbara Ehrenreich writes, “a bold and brilliant account of how the subject of class was expunged from American consciousness and culture. I finished it with regret, because there were no more fascinating pages to read, but also with delight, because I had found someone new to learn from.” The Washington Post calls it “intriguing, provocative, and revealing... shot through with illuminating passages.” As for me, I just say: go read Fraser’s chapter on the Statue of Liberty and you’ll know why we call her “lady.” His book is a history of why class has mattered in this country from Jamestown to late last night (with a splendid side trip into the world of the proletarian cowboy) of a sort I haven’t seen before. And for a limited period, TomDispatch is offering a signed, personalized copy of the book to any reader who will give this website a $100 donation ($125 if you live outside the USA). Check out our offer at our donation page and, whether you give to TomDispatch or not, don’t miss Fraser’s book. Tom]

At almost 74, of all the people in my life, it may be the teachers I remember most vividly. Mrs. Kelly, my first grade teacher (who began it all); my fourth grade teacher Miss Thomas (who, when I approached her that initial day in class and said “Hey, you,” assured me in the kindest possible way that I would never call her anything but “Miss Thomas” again); Mrs. Casey, my sixth grade teacher, who inspired such an urge to read, to learn, to explore that I’ve never forgotten her (nor the way I madly waved my hand in class in my excitement to have her call on me); and finally, Mr. Shank, who, in high school, turned me on (a phrase of which he wouldn’t, I suspect, have approved) to literature, to journeys into worlds I would never otherwise have known and might never have stumbled upon. What would my life have been like without them? I can’t begin to imagine or to express my gratitude all these decades later.

To a child, each of them seemed so important, so self-possessed, so almost regal, how could I ever have imagined that they, like the teachers walking out of classrooms or going on strike in protest today across red-state America, were actually workers, proletarians, members of a class that made, at best, modest salaries and stood not at the peak of our world but somewhere toward its bottom. In recent weeks, both students and teachers from America’s embattled schools have stunned the nation by taking to our schoolyards, streets, plazas, and squares, to the press, TV, and social media to protest an ever more weaponized version of America and a new gilded age country in which the 1% are always the winners and, tax cut after tax cut, there is invariably ever less funding for peripheral matters like schools or infrastructure. It’s been inspiring to watch the way those students and teachers grasp just how they’ve been confined in our society and how they are refusing to accept their places in the present scheme of things or the world that goes with them.

Today, Steve Fraser, author of the just-published book Class Matters: The Strange Career of an American Delusion, takes a look at how confused so many of us have been when it comes to the realities of class, in and out of the classroom, in an American world that seems to be growing more unequal by the moment. It’s time for all of us to go back to school and learn again from this country’s teachers (and students) about how that world actually works. Tom
Class Dismissed 
Class Conflict in Red State America 
By Steve Fraser
Teachers in red-state America are hard at work teaching us all a lesson. The American mythos has always rested on a belief that this country was born out of a kind of immaculate conception, that the New World came into being and has forever after been preserved as a land without the class hierarchies and conflicts that so disfigured Europe.
The strikes, rallies, and walkouts of public school teachers in West Virginia, Oklahoma, Kentucky, soon perhaps Arizona, and elsewhere are a stunning reminder that class has always mattered far more in our public and private lives than our origin story would allow. Insurgent teachers are instructing us all about a tale of denial for which we’ve paid a heavy price.
Click here to read more of this dispatch.


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