Chapter 7. The Land of Opportunity

Labor is prior to, and independent of, capital. Capital is only the fruit of labor, and could never have existed if labor had not first existed. Labor is the superior of capital, and deserves much the higher consideration.

—Abraham Lincoln

I had. once believed that we were all masters of our fate—that we could mould our lives into any form we pleased. ... 1 had overcome deafness and blindness sufficiently to be happy, and I supposed that anyone could corne out victorious if he threw himself valiantly into life's struggle. But as I went more and more about the country I learned that I had spoken with assurance on a subject I knew little about. ... I learned that the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone.

—Helen Keller

Ten men in our country could buy the whole world and ten million can't buy enough to eat.

—Will Rogers, 1931

The history of a nation is, unfortunately, too easily written as the history of its dominant class.

—Kwame Nkrumah

High school students have eyes, ears, and television sets {all too many have their own TV sets), so they know a lot about relative privilege in America. They measure their family's social position against that of other families, and their community's position against other communities. Middle-class students, especially, know little about how the American class structure works, however, and nothing at all about how it has changed over time. These students do not leave high school merely ignorant of the workings of the class structure; they come out as terrible sociologists. “Why are people poor?” I have asked first-year college students. Or, if their own class position is one of relative privilege, “Why is your family well off?” The answers I've received, to characterize them chari tably, are half-formed and naive. The students blame the poor for not being successful.4 They have no understanding of the ways that opportunity is not equal in America and no notion that social structure pushes people around, influencing the ideas they hold and the lives they fashion.

High school history textbooks can take some of the credit for this state of affairs. Some textbooks cover certain high points of labor history, such as the 1894 Pullman strike near Chicago that President Cleveland broke with federal troops, or the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist fire that killed 146 women in New York City, but the most recent event mentioned in most books Is the Taft-Hartley Act of fifty years ago. No book mentions the Hormel meat-packers' strike in the mid-1980s or the air traffic controllers strike broken by President Reagan. Nor do textbooks describe any continuing issues facing labor, such as the growth of multinational corporations and their exporting ofjobs overseas. With such omissions, textbook authors can construe labor history as something that happened long ago, like slavery, and that, like slavery, was corrected long ago. It logically follows that unions appear anachronistic. The idea that they might be necessary in order for workers to have a voice in the workplace goes unstated. Textbooks' treatments of events in labor history are never anchored in any analysis of social class,5 This amounts to delivering the footnotes instead of the lecture! Six of Che dozen high school American history textbooks I examined contain no index listing at all for “social class,” “social stratification,11 ”class structure,“ ”income distribution,“ ”inequality,“ or any conceivably related topic. Not one book lists ”upper class,“ ”working class,“ or ”lower class.“ Two of the textbooks list ”middle class,“ but only to assure students that America is a middle class country, ”Except for slaves, most of the colonists were members of the 'middling ranks,'“ says Land ofPromise, and nails home the point that we are a middle-class country by asking students to ”Describe three 'middle-class' values that united free Americans of all classes.“ Several of the textbooks note the explosion of middle-class suburbs after World War II. Talking about the middle class is hardly equivalent to discussing social stratification, however; in fact, as Gregory Mantsios has pointed out, ”such references appear to be acceptable precisely because they mute class differences."

This photograph of a sweatshop in New York's Chinatown, taken in the early 1990s, illustrates that the working class still works in America, under conditions not so dif ferent from a century ago, often in the same locations.

Stressing how middle-class we all are is particularly problematic today, because the proportion of households earning between 75 percent and 125 percent of the median income has fallen steadily since 1967. The Reagan-Bush administrations accelerated this shrinkage of the middle class, and most families who left its ranks fell rather than rose,7 This is the kind of historical trend one would think history books would take as appropriate subject matter, but only four of the twelve books in my sample provide any analysis of social stratification in the United Stales. Even these fragmentary analyses are set mostly in colonial America. Land ofPromise lives up to its reassuring title by heading its discussion of social class “Social Mobility.” “One great difference between colonial and European society was that the colonists had more social mobility,” echoes TheAmerican Tradition. “In contrast with contemporary Europe, eighteenthcentury America was a shining (and of equality and opportunity-with the notorious exception of slavery,” chimes in The American Pageant. Although The Challenge of freedom identifies three social classesupper, middle, and lower among whites in colonial society, compared to Europe “there was greater social mobility”

Never mind that the most violent class conflicts in American historyBacon's Rebellion and Shays's Rebelliontook place in and just after colonial times. Textbooks still say that colonial society was relatively classless and marked by upward mobility And things have gotten rosier since. “By 1815,” The Challenge ofFreedom assures us, two classes had withered away and “America was a country of middle class people and of middle class goals.” This book returns repeatedly, at intervals of every' fifty years or so, to the theme of how open opportunity is in America. “In the years after 1945, social mobilitymovement from one social class to anotherbecame more widespread in America,” Challenge concludes, “This meant that people had a better chance to move upward in society” The stress on upward mobility is striking. There is almost nothing in any of these textbooks about class inequalities or barriers of any kind to social mobility. “What conditions made it possible for poor white immigrants to become richer in the colonies?” Land ofPromise asks. “What conditions made/ make it difficult?” goes unasked. Textbook authors thus present an America in which, as preachers were fond of saying in the nineteenth century, men start from “humble origins” and aitain “the most elevated positions.”

Sodal class is probably the single most important variable in society. From womb to tomb, it correlates with almost all other social characteristics ofpeople that we can measure. Affluent expectant mothers are more likely to get prenatal care, receive current medical advice, and enjoy general health, fitness, and nutrition. Many poor and working-class mothers-to-be first contact the medical profession in the last month, sometimes the last hours, of their pregnancies. Rich babies come out healthier and weighing more than poor babies. The infants go home to very different situations. Poor babies are more likely to have high levels of poisonous lead in their environments and their bodies. Rich babies get more time and verbal interaction with their parents and higher quality day care when not with their parents. When they enter kindergarten, and through the twelve years that follow, rich children benefit from suburban schools that spend two to three times as much money per student as schools in inner cities or impoverished rural areas. Poor children are taught in classes that are often 50 percent larger than the classes of affluent children. Differences such as these help account for the higher school-dropout rate among poor children.

Even when poor children are fortunate enough to attend the same school as rich children, they encounter teachers who expect only children of affluent families to know the right answers. Social science research shows that teachers are often surprised and even distressed when poor children excel. Teachers and counselors believe they can predict who is “college material,” Since many working-class children give off the wrong signals, even in first grade, they end up in the “general education” track in high school “If you are the child of lowincome parents, the chances are good that you will receive limited and often careless attention from adults in your high school,” in the words of Theodore Sizer's best-selling study of American high schools, Horace's Compromise. “If you are the child of upper-middie-income parents, the chances are good that you will receive substantial and careful attention,”111 Researcher Reba Page has provided vivid accounts of how high school American history courses use rote learning to turn off lower-class students.“ Thus schools have put into practice Woodrow Wilson's recommendation: ”We want one class of persons to have a liberal education, and we want another class of persons, a very much larger class of necessity in every society, to forgo the privilege of a liberal education and fit themselves to perform specific difficult manual tasks."IJ As if this unequal home and school life were not enough, rich teenagers then enroll in the Princeton Review or other coaching sessions for the Scholastic Aptitude Test. Even without coaching, affluent children are advantaged because their background is similar to that of the testmakers, so they are comfortable with the vocabulary and subtle subcultural assumptions of the test. To no one's surprise, social class correlates strongly with SAT scores.

All these are among the reasons why social class predicts the rate of college attendance and the type of college chosen more effectively than does any other factor, including intellectual ability, however measured. After college, most affluent children get white-collar jobs, most working-class children get blue-collar jobs, and the class differences continue. As adults, rich people are more likely to have hired an attorney and to be a member of formal organizations that increase their civic power. Poor people are more likely to watch TV. Because affluent families can save some money while poor families must spend what they make, wealth differences are ten times larger than income differences. Therefore most poor and working-class families cannot accumulate the down payment required to buy a house, which in turn shuts them out from our most important tax shelter, the writeoff of home mortgage interest. Working-class parents cannot afford to live in elite subdivisions or hire high-quality day care, so the process of educational inequality replicates itself in the next generation. Finally, affluent Americans also have longer life expectancies than lowerand working-class people, the largest single cause of which is better access to health care.13 Echoing the results of Helen Keller's study of blindness, research has determined that poor health is not distributed randomly about the social structure but is concentrated in the lower class. Social Security then becomes a huge transfer system, using monies contributed by all Americans to pay benefits disproportionately to longer-lived affluent Americans.

Ultimately, social class determines how people think about social class. When asked if poverty in America is the fault of the poor or the fault of the system, 57 percent of business leaders blamed the poor; just 9 percent blamed the system. Labor leaders showed sharply reversed choices: only 15 percent said the poor were at fault while 56 percent blamed the system. (Some replied “don't know” or chose a middle position.) The largest single difference between our two main political parties lies in how their members think about social class: 55 percent of Republicans blamed the poor for their poverty, while only 13 percent blamed the system for it; 68 percent of Democrats, on the other hand, blamed the system, while only 5 percent blamed the poor.

Few of these statements are news, I know, which is why I have not documented most of them, but the majority of high school students do not know or understand these ideas. Moreover, the processes have changed over time, for [he class structure in America today is not the same as it was in 1890, let alone in colonial America. Yet in Land of Promise, for example, social class goes unmentioned after 1670.

Many teachers compound the problem by avoiding talking about social class. Recent interviews with teachers “revealed that they had a much broader knowledge of the economy, both academically and experientially than they admitted in class.” Teachers "expressed fear that students might find out about the injustices and inadequacies oftheir economic and political institutions,“15 By never blaming the system, American history courses thus present ”Republican history." Historically, social class is intertwined with all kinds of events and processes in our past. Our governing system was established by rich men, following theories that emphasized government as a bulwark of the propertied class. Although rich himself, James Madison worried about social inequality and wrote The Federalist #10 to explain how the proposed government would not succumb to the influence of the affluent. Madison did not fully succeed, according to Edward Pessen, who examined the social-class backgrounds of all American presidents through Reagan. Pessen found that more than 40 percent hailed from the upper class, mostly from the upper fringes of that elite group, and another 15 percent originated in families located between the upper and upper-middle classes. More than 25 percent came from a solid upper-middle-class background, leaving just six presidents, or 15 percent, to come from the middle and lowermiddle classes and just one, Andrew Johnson, representing any part of the lower class. For good reason, Pessen titled his book The Log, Cabin Myth111 While it was sad when the great ship Titanic went down, as the old song refrain goes, it was saddest for the lower classes: among women, only 4 of 143 first-class passengers were lost, while 15 of 93 second-class passengers drowned, along with 81 of 179 third-class women and girls. The crew ordered third-class passengers to remain below deck, holding some of them there at gunpoint.17 More recently, social class played a major role in determining who fought in the Vietnam War: sons of the affluent won educational and medical deferments through most of the conflict.13 Textbooks and teachers ignore all this.

Beer is one of the few products (pickup trucks, some patent medicines, and false-teeth cleansers are others) that advertisers try to sell with working-class images. Advertisers use upper-mid dieclass imagery to sell most items, from wine to nylons to toilet-bowl cleansers. Signs of social class cover these two models, from footwear to headgear. Note who has the newspaper, briefcase, lunchOox, and, in a final statement, the cans and the bottles.

Teachers may avoid social class out of a laudable desire not to embarrass their charges. If so, rheir concern is misguided. When my students from nonaffluent backgrounds learn about the class system, they find the experience liberating. Once they see the social processes that have helped keep their families poor, they can let go of their negative self-image about being poor. If to understand is to pardon, for working-class children to understand how stratification works is to pardon themselves and their families. Knowledge of the social-class system also reduces the tendency of Americans from other social classes to blame the victim for being poor. Pedagogicslly, stratification provides a gripping learning experience. Students are fascinated to discover how the upper class wields disproportionate power relating to everything from energy bills in Congress to zoning decisions in small towns.

Consider a white ninth-grade student taking American history in a predominantly middle-class town in Vermont. Her father tapes Sheetrock, earning an income that in slow construction seasons leaves the family quite poor. Her mother helps out by driving a school bus part-time, in addition to taking care of her two younger siblings. The girl lives with her family in a small house, a winterized former summer cabin, while most of her classmates live in large suburban homes. How is this girl to understand her poverty? Since history textbooks present the American past as 390 years of progress and portray our society as a land of opportunity in which folks get what they deserve and deserve what they get, the failures of working-class Americans to transcend their class origin inevitably get laid at their own doorsteps,

Within the white working-class community the girl will probably find few resources-teachers, church parishioners, family memberswho can tell her of heroes or struggles among people of her background, for, except in pockets of continuing class conflict, the working class usually forgets its own history. More than any other group, white working-class students believe that they deserve their low status, A subculture of shame results. This negative selfimage is foremost among what Richard Sennett and Jonathan Cobb have called “the hidden injuries ofclass.” Several years ago, two students ofmine provided a demonstration: they drove around Burlington, Vermont, in a big, nearly new, shiny black American car (probably a Lexus would be more appropriate today) and then in a battered ten-year-old subcompact. In each vehicle, when they reached a stoplight and it turned green, they waited until they were honked at before driving on. Motorists averaged less than seven seconds to honk at them in the subcompact, but in the luxury car the students enjoyed 13.2 seconds before anyone honked. Besides providing a good reason to buy a luxury car, this experiment shows how Americans unconsciously grant respect to the educated and successful. Since motorists of all social stations honked at the subcompact more readily, working-class drivers were in a sense disrespecting themselves while deferring to their betters. The biting quip “If you're so smart, why aren't you rich?” conveys the injury done to the self-image of the poor when the idea that America is a meritocracy goes unchallenged in school.

Part of the problem is that American history textbooks describe American education itself as meritocratic. A huge body of research confirms that education is dominated by the class structure and operates to replicate that structure in the next generation.20 Meanwhile, history textbooks blithely tell of such federal largesse to education as the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, passed under Pres. Lyndon Johnson. Not one textbook offers any data on or analysis of inequality within educational institutions. None mentions how school districts in low-income areas labor under financial constraints so shocking that Jonathan Kozol calls them “savage inequalities.”21 No textbook ever suggests that students might research the history of their own school and the population it serves. The only two textbooks that relate education to the class system at all see it as a remedy! Schooling “was a key to upward mobility in postwar America,” in the words of The Challenge ofFreedom The tendency ofteachers and textbooks to avoid social class as ifit were a dirty little secret only reinforces the reluctance of working-class families to talk about it. Paul Cowan has told of interviewing the children of Italian immigrant workers involved in the famous 1912 Lawrence, Massachusetts, mill strike. He spoke with the daughter of one of the Lawrence workers who testified at a Washington congressional hearing investigating the strike. The worker, Camella Teoli, then thirteen years old, had been scalped by a cotton-twisting machine just before the strike and had been hospitalized for several months. Her testimony “became front-page news all over America.” But Teoli's daughter, interviewed in 1976 after her mother's death, could not help Cowan. Her mother had told her nothing of the incident, nothine of her trip to Washington, nothing about her impact on America's conscienceeven though almost every day, the daughter “had combed her mother's hair into a bun that disguised the bald spot.” A professional of working-class origin told me a similar story about being ashamed of her uncle “for being a steelworker.” A certain defensiveness is built into working-class culture; even its successful acts of working-class resislance, like the Lawrence strike, necessarily presuppose lower status and income, hence connote a certain inferiority. If" the larger community is so good, as textbooks tell us it is, then celebrating or even passing on the memory of conflict with it seems somehow disloyal.

Textbooks do present immigrant history. Around the turn of the century immigrants dominated the American urban working class, even in cities as distant from seacoasts as Des Moines and Louisville. When more than 70 percent ofthe white population was native stock, less than 10 percent of the urban working class was.JJ But when textbooks tell the immigrant story, they emphasize Joseph Pulitzer, Andrew Carnegie, and their ilkimmigrants who made supergood. Several textbooks apply the phrases rags to riches or land of opportunity to the immigrant experience. Such legendary successes were achieved, to be sure, but they were the exceptions, not the rule. Ninety-five percent of the executives and financiers in America around the turn of the century came from upper-class or upper-middle-class backgrounds. Fewer than 3 percent sratted as poor immigrants or farm children. Throughout the nineteenth century, just 2 percent of American industrialists came from working-class origins." By concentrating on the inspiring exceptions, textbooks present immigrant history as another heartening confirmation of America as the land of unparalleled opportunity.

Again and again, textbooks emphasize how America has differed from Europe in having less class stratification and more economic and social mobility. This is another aspect of the archetype of American except!onalism: our society has been uniquely fair. Jt would never occur to historians In, say, France or Australia, to claim that their society was exceptionally equalitarian. Does this treatment of the United States prepare students for reality? It certainly does not accurately describe our country today Social scientists have on many occasions compared the degree of economic equality in the United State? with that in other industrial nations. Depending on the measure used, the United States has ranked sixth of six, seventh of seven, ninth of twelve, or fourteenth of fourteen." In the United States the tichest fifth of the population earns eleven times as much income as the poorest fifth, one of the highest ratios in the industrialized world: in Great Britain the ratio is seven to one, in Japan just four to one.27 In Japan the avetage chief executive officer in an automobile-manufacturing firm makes 20 times as much as the average worker in an automobile assembly plant; in the United States he (and it is not she) makes 192 times as much.28 The Jeffersonian conceit ofa nation ofindependent farmers and merchants is also long gone: only one working American in thirteen is self-employed, compared to one in eight in Western Europe.29 Thus not only do we have far fewer independent entrepreneurs compared to two hundred years ago, we have fewer compared to Europe today.

Since textbooks claim that colonial America was radically less stratified than Europe, they should tell clieir readers when inequality set in. It surely was not a recent development By 1910 the top 1 percent ofthe United States population received more than a third of all personal income, while the bottom fifth got less than one-eighth.50 This level of inequality was on a par with that in Germany or Great Britain. If textbooks acknowledged inequality, then they could describe the changes in our class structure over time, which would introduce their students to fascinating historical debate.

For example, some historians argue that wealth in colonial society was more equally distributed than it is today and that economic inequality increased during the presidency of Andrew Jacksona period known, ironically, as the age ofthe common man. Others believe that the flowering ofthe large corporation in the late nineteenth century made the class structure more rigid. Walter Dean Burnham has argued that the Republican presidential victory in 1896 (McKinley over Bryan) brought about a sweeping political realignment that changed “a fairly democratic regime into a rather broadly based oligarchy,” so by the 1920s business controlled public policy.35 Clearly the gap between rich and poor, like the distance between blacks and whites, was greater at the end of the Progressive Era in 1920 than at its beginning around 1890.H The story is not all one of increasing stratification, for between the depression and the end of World War II income and wealth in America gradually became more equal. Distributions of income then remained reasonably constant until President Reagan took office in 1981, when inequality began to grow.1 Still other scholars think that little change has occurred since the Revolution. Lee Sokow, for example, finds “surprising inequality of wealth and income” in America in 1798. At least for Boston, Stephan Thernstrom concludes that inequalities in life chances owing to social class show an eerie continuity.36 All this is part of American history. But it is not part of American history as taught in high school.

To social scientists, the level of inequality is a portentous thing to know about a society. When we rank countries by this variable, we find Scandinavian nations at the top, the most equal, and agricultural societies like Colombia and India near the bottom. The policies of the Reagan and Bush administrations, which openly favored the rich, abetted a secular trend already in motion, causing inequality to increase measurably between 1981 and 1992. For the United States to move perceptibly toward Colombia in social inequality is a development of no small import." Surely high school students would be interested to learn that in 1950 physicians made two and s. half times what unionized industrial workers made but now make six times as much. Surely they need to understand that top managers of clothing firms, who used to earn fifty times what their American employees made, now make 1,500 times what their Malaysian workers earn. Surely it is wrong for our history textbooks and teachers to withhold the historical information that might prompt and inform discussion of these trends.

Why might they commit such a blunder? First and foremost, publisher censorship of textbook authors. “You always run the risk, if you talk about social class, of being labeled Marxist,” the editor for social studies and history 3t one of the biggest publishing houses told me. This editor communicates the taboo, formally or subtly to every writer she works with, and she implied that most other editors do too.

Publisher pressure derives in part from textbook adoption boards and committees in states and school districts. These are subject in turn to pressure from organized groups and individuals who appear before them. Perhaps the most robust such lobby is Educational Research Analysts, led by Mel Gabler of Texas. Gabler's stable of right-wing critics regards even alleging that a textbook contains some class analysis as a devastating criticism. As one writer has put it, “Formulating issues in terms of class is unacceptable, perhaps even un-American.” Fear of not winning adoption in Texas is a prime source of publisher angst, and might help explain why Life and Liberty limits its social-class analysis to colonial times in England1. By contrast, “the colonies were places of great opportunity,” even back then. Some Texans cannot easily be placated, however. Deborah L. Brezina, a Gabler ally, complained to the Texas textbook board that Life and Liberty describes America “as an unjust society,” unfair to lower economic groups, and therefore should not be approved.w Such pressure is hardly new. Harold Rugg's Introduction to Problem ofAmerican Culture and his popular history textbook, written during the depression, included some class analysis. In the early 1940s, according to Frances FitzGerald, the National Association of Manufacturers attacked Rugg's books, partly for this feature, and “brought to an end” social and economic analysis in American history textbooks.

More often the influence of the upper class is less direct. The most potent rationale for class privilege in American history has been Social Darwinism, an archetype that still has great power in American culture. The notion that people rise and fall in a survival of the fittest may not conform to the data on intergenerational mobility in the United States, but that has hardly caused the archetype to fade away from American education, particularly from American history classes. Facts that do not fit with the archetype, such as the entire literature of social stratification, simply get left out.

Textbook authors may not even need pressure from publishers, the right wing, the upper class, or cultural archetypes to avoid social stratification. As part of the process of heroification, textbook authors treat America itself as a hero, indeed as the hero of their books, so they remove its warts. Even to report the facts of income and wealth distribution might seem critical of America the hero, for it is difficult to come up with a theory of social justice that can explain why 1 percent of the population controls almost 40 percent of the wealth. Could the other 99 percent of us be that lazy or otherwise undeserving? To go on to include some of the mechanismsunequal schooling and the likeby which the upper class stays upper would clearly involve criticism of our beloved nation.

For any or all of these reasons, textbooks minimize social stratification. They then do something less comprehensible: they fail to explain the benefits of free enterprise. Writing about an earlier generation of textbooks, Frances FitzGerald pointed out that the books ignored “the virtues as well as the vices of their own economic system.”42 Teachers might mention free enterprise with respect, but seldom do the words become more than a slogan,45 This omission is strange, for capitalism has its advantages, after all. Basketball star Michael Jordan, Chrysler executive Lee lacocca, and ice-cream makers Ben and Jerry all got rich by supplying goods and services that people desired. To be sure, much social stratification cannot be justified so neatly, because it results from the abuse ofwealth and power by those who have these advantages to shut out those who do not. As a social and economic order, the capitalist system offers much to criticize but also much to praise. America is a land of opportunity for many people. And for all the distortions capitalism imposes upon it, democracy also benefits from the separation of power between public and private spheres. Our history textbooks never touch on these benefits.

Publishers or those who influence them have evidently concluded that what American society needs to stay strong is citizens who assent to its social structure and economic system without thought. As a consequence, today's textbooks defend our economic system mindlessly, with insupportable pieties about its unique lack of stratification; thus they produce alumni of American history courses unable to criticize or defend our system of social stratification knowledgeably.

But isn't it nice simply to believe that America is equal? Maybe the “land of opportunity” archetype is an empowering mythmaybe believing in it might even help make it come true. For ifstudents think the sky is the limit, they may reach for the sky, while if they don't, they won't.

The analogy of gender points to the problem with this line of thought. How could high school girls understand their place in American history iftheir textbooks told them that, from colonial America to the present, women have had equal opportunity for upward mobility and political participation? How could they then explain why no woman has been president? Girls would have to infer, perhaps unconsciously, that it has been their own gender's fault, a conclusion that is hardly empowering.

Textbooks do tell how women were denied the right to vote in many states until 1920 and faced other barriers to upward mobility. Textbooks also tell of barriers confronting racial minorities. The final question Land of Promise asks students following its “Social Mobility” section is “What social barriers prevented blacks, Indians, and women from competing on an equal basis with white male colonists?” After its passage extolling upward mobility. The Challenge of Freedom notes, “Not all people, however, enjoyed equal rights or an equal chance to improve their way oflifc,” and goes on to address the issues ofsexism and racism. But neither here nor anywhere else do Promise or Challenge (or most other textbooks) hint that opportunity might not be equal today for white Americans of the lower and working classes,44 Perhaps as a result, even business leaders and Republicans, the respondents statistically most likely to engage in what sociologists call “blaming the victim,” blame the social system rather than African Americans for black poverty and blame the system rather than women for the latter's unequal achievement in the workplace. In sum, affluent Americans, like their textbooks, are willing to credit racial discrimination as the cause of poverty among blacks and Indians and sex discrimination as the cause ofwomen's inequality but don't see class discrimination as the cause ofpoverty in general.

More than math or science, more even than American literature, courses in American history hold the promise oftelling high school students how they and their parents, their communities, and their society came to be as they are. One way things are is unequal by social class. Although poor and working-class children usually cannot identify the cause of their alienation, history often turns them off because it justifies rather than explains the present. When these students react by dropping out, intellectually if not physically, their poor school performance helps convince them as well as their peers in the faster tracks that the system is meritocratic and that they themselves lack merit. Zn the end, the absence of social-class analysis in American history courses amounts to one more way that education in America is rigged against the working class.

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