Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America

Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America

by Barbara Jensen


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Discussions of class make many Americans uncomfortable. This accessible book makes class visible in everyday life. Solely identifying political and economic inequalities between classes offers an incomplete picture of class dynamics in America, and may not connect with people's lived experiences. In Reading Classes, Barbara Jensen explores the anguish caused by class in our society, identifying classism—or anti–working class prejudice—as a central factor in the reproduction of inequality in America. Giving voice to the experiences and inner lives of working-class people, Jensen—a community and counseling psychologist—provides an in-depth, psychologically informed examination of how class in America is created and re-created through culture, with an emphasis on how working- and middle-class cultures differ and conflict. This book is unique in its claim that working-class cultures have positive qualities that serve to keep members within them, and that can haunt those who leave them behind.

Through both autobiographical reflections on her dual citizenship in the working class and middle class and the life stories of students, clients, and relatives, Jensen brings into focus the clash between the realities of working-class life and middle-class expectations for working-class people. Focusing on education, she finds that at every point in their personal development and educational history, working-class children are misunderstood, ignored, or disrespected by middle-class teachers and administrators. Education, while often hailed as a way to "cross classes," brings with it its own set of conflicts and internal struggles. These problems can lead to a divided self, resulting in alienation and suffering for the upwardly mobile student. Jensen suggests how to increase awareness of the value of working-class cultures to a truly inclusive American society at personal, professional, and societal levels.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780801477799
Publisher: Cornell University Press
Publication date: 06/12/2012
Pages: 264
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.80(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Barbara Jensen is a Licensed Counseling and Community Psychologist who counsels mixed-class couples and professionals from working-class backgrounds in Minneapolis. She also works in a variety of community settings including schools, psychiatric facilities, and homeless shelters.

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix

Prologue: What Part of Fridley Are You From? 1

1 Getting Class 9

2 The Invisible Ism 28

3 Belonging versus Becoming 51

4 Behaving versus Blooming 79

5 Identity and Resistance 117

6 Across the Great Divide 146

7 Pain in the Promised Land 178

8 Gathering in Glenville 207

Notes 227

References 231

Index 239

What People are Saying About This

Betsy Leondar-Wright

"Whether you're middle class or working class, you need to read this book. And if you’re an upwardly mobile 'crossover,' this book could save your sanity. Barbara Jensen has pulled off something extraordinary: she exemplifies her ideas about the strengths of working-class and middle-class cultures by writing in both voices. A crossover herself, she analyzes previous theories and creates a memorable framework, and she tells us heartfelt stories and uses colorful analogies. This powerful book walks its talk."

Jean Anyon

"Working-class culture is an important topic, but it is most often treated as something to overcome. Barbara Jensen's approach is different: she speaks of working-class life from its strengths, without eliding its pain and oppression. Moreover, she writes beautifully."

Al Lubrano

"Like Barbara Jensen, I was born in the working class but moved into the middle class. That journey is rife with perils, as a person must move away from the very people who launched him or her to go on to become something completely different. Coming from a tough Brooklyn neighborhood, I was eager to move on with my life. But Jensen, with her stories about the love and decency of her working-class forebears, showed me another way to be working class. It made me rethink some of my core assumptions and reevaluate my initial judgments about where I came from and who I am. Working-class people moving into the middle class rarely see their lives represented. Here, then, is a great example of that kind of life, that kind of experience. Jensen's personal story, combined with her training as a psychologist, make her the perfect person to write this book."

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Reading Classes: On Culture and Classism in America 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
ReginaR on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is an interesting combination of a personal memoir and an analysis of theoretical and sociological studies addressing class issues in the US. The author is a psychologist who grew up in a working class family and due to her education and job has ¿crossed over¿ (her terminology) to the middle class. Her experience seems to be primarily rooted in the Midwest. She writes about class bias in the US, mainly as it effects school children and patients in counseling but as to others as well. The author¿s theory is, ¿the most common form of classism is solipsism, or my-world-is-the whole-world, what I call class-blinder. The inability to see beyond one¿s own world. The unspoken assumption is that everyone could know these things but that some are too primitive or unevolved to want to know.. Solipsism is often accompanied by judgments of taste: another form of classism. `Oh my God, she had plastic flowers and the couch was orange plaid! So tacky ¿.¿ ¿ One of the characteristics of people in the middle class, posits the author, v. working class, is that work and careers are the center of the middle class adult¿s life, rather than working to live ¿ a career defines a life. ¿For middle class people like me, too often, work is our life. Not only is this lonelier, it leads to problems like workaholism and emotional devastation if one loses one¿s jobs.¿ I for one can completely identify with this. My career and its demands swallows everything up; it seems like my family revolves around my job demands. But when I visit with family and friends where I grew up, this concept just seems so foreign to them. I can¿t help wondering who has it better? Class is something I think about a lot. I work in a career that has me surrounded by upper middle class and upper class individuals. Most of my colleagues and clients came from this kind of background and married someone from a similar background. I live in an economically diverse community, to a certain extent but again the majority of people I know and who I socialize with are upper middle class and came from that type of background. I grew up in a small rural factory town and while my parents are professionals, there is no real segregation in such a small community. Everyone knows and socializes with everyone else. I thought that was normal growing up ¿ but I learned quickly in college and in my professional career that what I thought was routine is not normal for other people. Most of the people I know, their only exposure to working class America is through movies or when they hire someone to do work for them. And unlike most of the people I know from college, grad school or law school, I married a working class man ¿ our family straddles multiple lines and categories. Thus, going in to the book I felt very sympathetic to this author¿s position and role. I started this book with high hopes and looked forward to new revelations. I am not sure it brought me new revelations, but it definitively helped me identify my own class judgments and prejudices. The analysis of theory and sociological studies is very well done. Ms Jensen posits some interesting ideas concerning how middle class and working class families socialize their children in very different ways and that American schools are set up to be institutionally biased in favor of middle class children. She writes that working class parents socialize their children to survive in a group and work with other people as a group; whereas, middle class parents socialize their children to be focused on themselves and be an individual. For example, ¿middle class children were trained by their parents to name, hold and retrieve content from books and other print materials. They were further taught (1) to ask questions frequently; (2) to expect answers they can understand; (3) to answer questions themselves; and (4) to elaborate.¿Her observations and summaries are interesting stuff. They made me think and continue to