Saturday, August 05, 2006


"Among the senior executives of the University … [lives] the pedagogocratic ambition of subjecting all acts of civil and political life to the moral magisterium of the University."

Pierre Bourdieu, and Jean-Claude Passeron
Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture

What a wonderful word: pedagogocratic, which must mean something like "rule by teachers." Bourdieu coined this word right in this passage. It has not been taken up by the world at large yet (fancy that).

But our time will come …

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Husbands Who Have to Go Be Gay Still Can't Bear to Think About the Kids

Judith Wallerstein, the famous researcher on the effects of divorce on children, marveled that in the whole "no-fault" divorce debate in the '70s, the only issue was whether it would make the exes happier – no thought was given to the kids. The effect on the kids, in case this is still a mystery, is gut-wrenching, scarring, and long-lasting.

Now the fashion has turned to married fathers who decide that they are really gay, and therefore have to leave their wives. The New York Times article, "When the Beard is Too Painful to Remove," cites the estimate of UCLA's Gary Gates that between 1 and 2 percent of married men, or formerly married men, are gay or bisexual. The article portrayed some men as trying to have a gay life while remaining married, but most of the subjects seemed to be heading toward divorce. To be gay and still married was thought to be living in denial.

A number of the men in the article were fathers. Yet not a word, by the men, their wives, the researchers, or the reporters, was spent on the effect on the kids of dad going off to be gay. To the kids, though, their father's deepest identity is as "dad."

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

More Men Not Married; More Men Not Working

The New York Times has a fascinating story on the rising percentage of men in their prime working years (30 – 54) who are not working. Nationally, about 14% of men that age are not working; my state of Kentucky is the second worst at 20.9%, beaten, if that is the right word, only by West Virginia, where a quarter of the men aren't employed.

When we compare the marital status of the working and not working men, what we find will be no surprise to readers of this blog. Of the working men, 70% are married; of the non-working men, only 41% are. The divorced comparisons are particularly scary: 17% of the working men, compared to a whopping 37% of the non-workers – nearly as many as the married.

Wives are more likely to push men to work; husbands are more likely to want to work to support their wives. The Times article tells us nothing about whether they have children or not, but men normally have responsibility for children when they have wives.

The article suggests that it is welfare, especially disability payments, which make this rising rate of non-working possible. I think, though, that welfare is not likely to be a major cause, though it might be an important support force in prolonging unemployment. The major cure for male indolence is marriage and fatherhood. As the latter declines, the former rises.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Does Swarthmore Reproduce My Family, or Does My Family Reproduce Swarthmore?

One of the most fascinating, but head-cracking, aspects of Pierre Bourdieu's work is that he insists that we look at the complex ways in which one whole system of institutions produces and reproduces another whole system of institutions. In Reproduction, Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron look at the way in which the system of classes and the system of schools mutually reproduce one another.

The focus of our research is not on schools, but on families. So we got to thinking – how does the system of schools produce and reproduce the family? We realized that putting it that way was not quite right – the items on either side of the scale did not quite balance. At the level of the whole of society, we would need to compare the system of schools with the system of families.

This formulation raises the mighty question of whether there is such a thing as the system of families, whether the families in society form any sort of coherent unit – even in the loose sense that the schools of society form a coherent unit, or, for that matter, whether the social classes do.

But we could look, at the micro-level, at the relation of a school and a family. At first blush, the two sides of the scale are still unbalanced. A school endures; a family has a life-cycle. It is true that one family normally has a life-cycle, but a lineage does not. Now the longer time scales are more in balance. How do a school and a lineage mutually produce and reproduce one another?

I am a proud son of Swarthmore College, my alma mater, which was, indeed, second only to my own parents in shaping my character. Moreover, Swarthmore provided me the great boon of bringing me my wife, and shaping her character in a way congruent with how it shaped mine.

My parents are also Swarthmore graduates, having met at a freshman mixer dance just after the Second World War.

And now, the eldest Gruntled child is off to Swarthmore herself in a few weeks. When she was sweating trying to get admitted last fall, my sister reassured her with "if you tried to genetically engineer the perfect Swarthmore student, you would come up with" our eldest daughter. The right response to this notion, we realized, is that, in effect, we did genetically engineer the perfect Swarthmore student.

Stepping back and looking at just this tiny slice of social reproduction – one school, one lineage, one full back/forth/back cycle. Swarthmore shaped my parents in ways that surprised them. My mother, the daughter of New York schoolteachers, had some idea of what she was aspiring to and, as she said, "sweated bullets" getting in. My father, on the other hand, a high-school drop out who discovered he wanted to learn during long months at sea in the war, had no idea what "Swarthmore College" was in the status hierarchy of education. After the war he took his G.I. benefit, and walked (!) up to the college, looked around, and informed the admissions staff that "this looks pretty good – I think I'll come." I would like to have seen the look shared by the admissions folks at that moment. But come they did, and were changed by it – as any good school should do.

And the rest is history – the little history of this social reproduction narrative. When my parents sent me to their alma mater, they were, in a broad sense, reproducing themselves and their lineage's place in society. And now Mrs. Gruntled and I are sending our child to alma mater, which will, in a broad sense, reproduce us and our lineage's place in society.

Yet Swarthmore also reproduces itself and its place in society through us.

And the most important part of this whole story of reproduction is that neither family nor school is simply replicating what it already is. Both lineage and educational institution are transformed by the intimate process of schooling, mate selection, and child-rearing. At each step, the same family meets the same school. Yet neither is really the same. Swarthmore has changed notably over the last fifty years. Our family has changed in some of its important beliefs and in its precise class location.

So, did Swarthmore produce us, or did we produce Swarthmore? Does Swarthmore reproduce us, or make something new in us – and vice-versa? I think the only correct answer is "yes." Reproduction is both making the same again and making something new.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Don't Wait On The World To Change

John Mayer, the excellent songwriter whose "Daughters" won a deserved Grammy last year, has a new one that should be just as successful as a Gen X anthem. "Waiting on the World to Change" says, in part:
me and all my friends
we're all misunderstood
they say we stand for nothing and
there's no way we ever could
now we see everything that's going wrong
with the world and those who lead it
we just feel like we don't have the means
to rise above and beat it
so we keep waiting
waiting on the world to change
I live on the cusp between the Baby Boom and Generation X. Normally I side with the Xers. They set themselves smaller tasks than the Boomers, but the Xers actually accomplish those tasks. This song, though, brings out the "change the world" Boomer in me.

Some time back in church an aging Boomer was gassing on about how someone ought to do something to solve all the world's problems, without ever getting down to cases. I turned to Mrs. Gruntled and whispered "Can we just pay the Xers to take over now?" I believe in the power of Generation X to make basic things work again.

Mayer says later in the song
one day our generation
is gonna rule the population
so we keep on waiting
waiting on the world to change
That day is now. Seize the day!

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Religious Cleansing is as Shameful as Ethnic Cleansing

Georgetown, Delaware, has driven one the few Jewish families out of town. Bad Christians insisted on promoting Christianity alone in the public schools, and harassing the Jewish kids even in class. Mona Dobrich asked for a reasonable accommodation from the school on behalf of her children. She wasn't trying to drive God out of school. She was just asked for the Judeo-Christian accommodation that is normal in most American small towns. Instead she got the back of the hand from local government officials, and death threats from anonymous rednecks. The Dobriches moved to more cosmopolitan Wilmington, at great financial sacrifice.

This kind of thing brings shame on Christians. The perpetrators will likely live to see the day when they revile their own actions. But just as culpable are the good Christians who let it happen.

Corbin, KY, drove all the black people out of town just after the First World War. For decades thereafter any African-Americans passing through were harassed. Corbin became a by-word among black Kentuckians for racism and what we would now call ethnic cleansing. Even to this day, nearly a century later and despite strong efforts by more recent generations to be a welcoming community for African-Americans, the taint lingers.

The people of Georgetown, DE, might want to ask the people of Corbin, KY, whether a moment's "purity" is worth generations of shame.