An Inside Higher Ed column notes the obvious.
The easiest way for colleges to improve their graduation rates is to serve fewer disadvantaged students, according to two new studies released this week.
Well, you can wring your hands about the lucky sperm club, or you can stop enabling failure by lowering standards and calling it access, you can encourage the common schools to develop middle-class values,  you can raise the costs of the high schools that send the Distressed Material your way.


William Bruce said...

When you discuss the habits and virtues of the middle class, do you have in mind a dynamic like that discussed by Thomas Sowell (the bourgeois virtues vs. aristocratic vice and underclass unruliness), or something more like that proposed by Charles Murray, where there is no virtuous middle (only pathologies of the bottom and Aristotelian virtues of the top)? I ask because either seems a reasonable interpretation, considering the old and new definitions of "the middle class."

For what it's worth, I used to subscribe to the former view, being a native Midwesterner, but I have increasingly come around to the latter...

Stephen Karlson said...

I've read Murray's Coming Apart, and ought to post a longer review of his book. I wasn't that impressed, perhaps that puts me closer to Thomas Sowell or Deirdre McCloskey. There was a wisecrack once by Emmett Tyrell linking aristocratic vice and underclass unruliness, and that might have informed Dan Quayle's Murphy Brown remarks all those years ago. Put simply, the Kardashian sisters can carry on and hire domestic help for their bastard children. The poor can emulate the carrying on but don't have the resources.

William Bruce said...

I appreciate the response.

Perhaps I should not discuss the issue in terms of specific theorists or commentators, but it seemed like an efficient way to outsource the intellectual heavy lifting. McCloskey is actually a better example, I must confess; I chose Sowell and Murray more for their contrast than their insight.

I also have to acknowledge a certain personal ignorance regarding the issue: I found Coming Apart rather eye-opening, not because of Murray's thesis (which seemed quite predictable in light of his other writings, particularly The Bell Curve), but because of the data he marshals. Perhaps I am in a state of epistemic closure, but I cannot imagine the aggregate picture being compatible with the idea of the virtuous middle. My estimation, simplified, is that the current upper class is the new "middle class," whatever their cultural dysfunctions (despite broader social costs, these are obviously no impediment to their excellent personal results).

If I may provide a modicum of criticism... Don't you suspect a celebrity to be an outlier, and probably more misrepresentative than representative of anything widespread? Please do not misunderstand me: Yours is an excellent illustration of Sowell's position, namely, that the aristocrat is insulated from, and even positively encouraged in, his vice. However, I cannot see that in the broad experience of the new upper class -- they are more bourgeois, by a variety of standards.

I ask all of this, largely, because I would be thrilled to resume my prior convictions and sensibilities, but I increasingly fear that the middle class is, and continues to become, the underclass-lite. Anecdotes are dangerous things, but I see it every day...

Stephen Karlson said...

I just posted some charts that suggest a lot of the old middle class has moved into something more like upper-middle, or upper, and it might be the case -- there's ongoing research for this weblog's future posts to be done first -- that in fact the bourgeois virtues are still alive and well in those people, as you suggest. More to come.

At the same time, Big Entertainment and Big Sports and to some extent Big Retail and Fast Food do give the impression of Underclass Lite. To what extent that's corroding the lower parts of the emerging upper class is also for future research.