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Class Degrees: Smart Work, Managed Choice, and the Transformation of Higher Education

Class Degrees: Smart Work, Managed Choice, and the Transformation of Higher Education

Copyright Date: 2008
Published by: Fordham University Press
Pages: 128
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  • Book Info
    Class Degrees: Smart Work, Managed Choice, and the Transformation of Higher Education
    Book Description:

    A current truism holds that the undergraduate degree today is equivalent to the high-school diploma of yesterday. But undergraduates at a research university would probably not recognize themselves in the historical mirror of high-school vocational education. Students in a vast range of institutions are encouraged to look up the educational social scale, whereas earlier vocational education was designed to cool outexpectations of social advancement by training a working class prepared for massive industrialization.In Class Degrees, Evan Watkins argues that reforms in vocational education in the 1980s and 1990s can explain a great deal about the changing directions of class formation in the United States, as well as how postsecondary educational institutions are changing. Responding to a demand for flexibility in job skills and reflecting a consequent aspiration to choice and perpetual job mobility, those reforms aimed to eliminate the separate academic status of vocational education. They transformed it from a cooling outto a heating upof class expectations. The result has been a culture of hyperindividualism. The hyperindividual lives in a world permeated with against-all-odds plots, from beat the oddsof long supermarket checkout lines by using self-checkout and buying FasTrak transponders to beat the odds of traffic jams, to the endless superheroes on film and TV who daily save various sorts of planets and things against all odds.Of course, a few people can beat the odds only if most other people do not. As choice begins to replace the selling of individual labor at the core of contemporary class formation, the result is a sort of waste labor left behind by the competitive process. Provocatively, Watkins argues that, in the twenty-first century, academic work in the humanities is assuming the management function of reclaiming this waste labor as a motor force for the future.

    eISBN: 978-0-8232-4641-0
    Subjects: Education

Table of Contents

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  1. CHAPTER 1 We’re Going to the Show
    (pp. 1-16)

    The current truism suggests that an undergraduate degree is today’s equivalent to a high-school diploma a couple of generations earlier. Undergraduates at a research university would probably not recognize themselves reflected in any historical mirror of high-school vocational education, though, which was a significant source for many of those high-school degrees in the past. Few would even recognize the term “vocational education” as having designated a specific secondary-school track, let alone recognize the derogatory “voc ed” that was used so commonly half a century ago. All kinds of existing cultural pressures teach an enormous range of students to look “up”...

  2. CHAPTER 2 New Selves / Old Selves, Class Dreams / Class Nightmares
    (pp. 17-38)

    Frederick Taylor’s story about Schmidt and the pig iron is one of the founding legends of scientific management. It is usually remembered now for the derogatory terms in which Taylor characterized the worker he was looking for and the arrogance with which he went about convincing Schmidt to up his daily quantity of moving ingots of pig iron for Bethlehem Steel—with “no back talk,” as Taylor had memorably phrased it (Braverman 1974, 105). It is worth recalling, however, that Taylor began his story with a gesture that would become increasingly familiar over the next few decades of industrial expansion....

  3. CHAPTER 3 School to Work to School to Work to . . .
    (pp. 39-59)

    Educators have found it difficult to keep up with the intensifying pressures of a winner-takes-all culture. Because very few clear pathways to “winning” exist for most people, secondary-school teachers especially are faced with few options. A teacher can perhaps encourage students’ anger at being done in by outside forces in hopes that they will try to change things, or attempt to convince them that they’re losers anyway and not to bother, or buy them lottery tickets for high-school graduation, or pass them onto college as the symbolic gateway to a successful career—and then hope for the best. In a...

  4. CHAPTER 4 How the Inequality Connection Was Timed Out
    (pp. 60-73)

    You need a good camcorder to shoot inequality in consumption. Not only do mobilities of desire keep everything in motion, but also—and equally important—the superimposition of image acceleration over taste fills the screen to the point of overflowing. I love Pierre Bourdieu’sDistinction, but, after all, its primary target is the distanced still life cherished by academics. That critique will not help much in understanding most sectors of consumption most of the time. I think a better beginning involves a slight modification of Marx’s famous formula about things seeming to take on a life of their own as...

  5. CHAPTER 5 Class Processes 101: The Purpose of Competition
    (pp. 74-91)

    A letter to the editor appearing in theSacramento Beeof May 16, 2002, from Curt Augustine, the executive vice president for the California Coalition for Construction in the Classroom, suggests that a college-degree-for-all mentality remains very much the norm, contrary to what William Blank and a great many other reformers had anticipated during the 1980s and 1990s. “I read with dismay,” Augustine writes, “but not surprise, of the closure of Sacramento City College’s welding program,” a closing announced in aBeestory dated May 3. His letter continues,

    This is one more unfortunate example of how many of today’s...

  6. CHAPTER 6 Competition, Choice, and the Management of Class Doubling
    (pp. 92-118)

    Undergraduates at colleges and universities are frequently linked in more and more complicated ways with community-college, distance-educational, and vocational-technical students. Very often the same person is all of the above. Transferring from one institution to another, changing programs and majors, reducing class schedules while working full-time, sitting out for a year and often more, dropping out altogether only to return some years later somewhere else in some entirely different set of circumstances, have all become commonplace. Nevertheless, such increasingly routine behaviors distinguish this large and heterogeneous group from those who never finish high school, who drop out well before they...