19 November 2014
In “Confronting Class in the Classroom”, written by bell hooks, hooks discusses the issues of class differences within educational settings. She states that class influences our values, attitudes, and social relations, and the assumptions of how knowledge is presented and digested (65). She believes the voices and ideas of the working-class population are silenced in a classroom setting that mostly consists of middle and upper class students. As a person that identifies with the working class, I agree with her stance on the subject. Throughout high school and even here at UCSB, I have experienced isolation and exclusion. The students who do not identify with middle or upper-class backgrounds are deemed as outsiders, and are forced to either conform to privileged ideology, or continue to remain isolated. Instead of ignoring class as if it has no effect on the way in which topics are discussed, professors should encourage dialogue amongst students in order to allow everyone’s opinions to be considered, which would in return eliminate the feelings of isolation that are bestowed upon the students who come from working-class backgrounds. Professors should not reinforce an educational hierarchy that censors the opinions, ideas, and views of the working-class by ignoring the apparent class differences and not accommodating them. The opinions, views, and ideas of working-class students are censored in mainly because those students are too intimidated to speak what is on their minds. Throughout high school, I was enrolled in IB/honor classes which were a majority white. I was one of two black students, and even the other black student was upper class. I was extremely intimidated by the other students, because most of these students had degree holding parents, and education was obviously important in their families. I was afraid to say the wrong thing, or raise my hand to give the wrong answer, so for two years I sat in those classes with my mouth shut, never to speak unless spoken to. In the words of hooks, “Most students are not comfortable exercising this right [of free speech]—especially if it means they must give voice to thoughts, ideas, feelings that go against the grain, that are unpopular”(66). In this quote, hooks states that students do not feel comfortable voicing their opinions because they go against the majority’s views. These students are hesitant to speak up because they know that their views are not widely supported. Students are even more so hesitant to voice an opinion that differs from the professor, because the education system has been designed to make instructors the authority figure. To go against or question the respected opinions of a degree-holding professor goes against everything we have been taught since primary school. To do so would conflict with the order of power within the classroom. Students allow these components to intimidate them, which then cause their apprehensiveness and isolation.
Isolation is reinforced in the ways that students who come from working class backgrounds are expected to abandon their class markers, such as their “vernacular culture”, in order to conform to the lifestyle of the privileged that is present in university settings. Here at UCSB, demographically, the black population only makes up 3.5 percent of the undergraduate population. I am part of that small 3.5 percent. I am not saying that all 3.5 percent of the African American students come from a working-class or poor background, but I do fall under that category. I often find myself stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to demeanor. The “acceptable” behavior and dialogue required to succeed here at UCSB are too different than the dialogue and behavior that I am comfortable with portraying around family or friends. The struggles to mask class markers, such as “black language”, attitude, or views, constantly make me question my presence here at