= On Tues, 30 Mar 1993, Tom Hall <THALL%WABASH.BITNET@vaxf.Colorado.EDU>said:

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especially if you teach a school that is a hotbed of upper middle class whites. [...] Namely, most of the findings of sociological research, in one way or another, demonstrate quite clearly that "rich people" are rich at the expense of the poor, for kids coming to college with over-inflated sense of self-worth and merit this can be devastating. Our subject matter often challenges students in ways almost no other discipline does. Who else teaches courses that imply or say outright to students "you're being here is why young innercity youths of color are killing each other." [...]

I am curious what others may think about this. Tom Hall DePauw U. ==================================================================


Frankly, I think "culprit" theories of oppression are stupid, and no one is going to be an appreciative audience of someone telling them that they are nasty oppressor-people who are getting away with explotative social relations at the expense of others.

a. If it is true, then why should they care? You're telling them that they benefit from this situation. Do you mean ultimately, as in, they get a better quality of life than they would have in a world not structured around inequalities? If so, sounds like they got a pretty good deal. They'll leave the classroom thinking, "Hmm, good thing we're us and not them, huh?". So perhaps you also tell them that in order to really enjoy the spoils of their position, they find it necessary to internalize an ideology that says that the world is actually fair so that they need not feel guilt. So they leave the classroom saying, "Hmm, in that case, I'd better get outta here so I can retain my blissful ignorance and go back to benefitting from being an oppressor guiltlessly. Hey...who needs this sociology stuff anyway? Like, it's a downer, man...

b. If, in constrast, it is not true in the small sense that the average eighteen-to-twenty-two-year-old child of the local multi- billionaire in uppermost crustiest society is oppressed on the basis of age status (which disproportionately affects the rich, for whom eventual acquisition of power depends on suffering the age hierarchy for decades), and the rest of your undergraduates are even more oppressed with even more layers and structures of people possessing power over them (let's not forget you; you give them grades and you should never forget that that puts you in a position of power over them)...<<uh, where was I :-) >>... If, in these small senses of the word it is NOT true that they are the oppressors in a binary power relationship describing the world, why not make them more cognizant FIRST of the ways in which they are oppressed in the name of a difficult-to-defend power structure, AND THEN lead them to understand how their partici- pation in putting down and keeping down those who are structured as their inferiors helps to keep the whole system running? You would get far more attentive students who might still learn what you want them to learn.

c. If, for that matter, this notion of your students as the oppressor class is untrue in the LARGER sense that NO ONE BENEFITS FROM OP- PRESSION because having power over other people is a cumbersome way of getting one's way in a social context which is NOT an im- provement in terms of felicity, jouissance, the sheer quality of life, over the life lived outside of structures of power...which is the central insight that radical feminism supplied to supplant Marxism-derived theories of oppression and inequality...then every time you teach students that oppressors (themselves) benefit from oppression at other people's expense, you fuel the system, which in its current form ALREADY HAS THE POOR ENVYING THE RICH, THE WEAK ENVYING THE POWERFUL, THE OPPRESSED ENVYING THE OPPRESSORS. As the brilliant theorist Marilyn French pointed out half a decade ago (some time after the Who had already sung about it, tho), that type of thinking does not cause revolutions, it only causes rotations. i.e., "Meet the new boss, same as the old boss."

Anyone wishing to counterargue should keep in mind that I'm sufficiently white, male, and privileged to be able to oppress with great alacrity and conscious will if you can convince me that I benefit from it. As it stands, I think the whole mess is unfit for meaningful human inhabi- tation and I want a real change that will eliminate inequality and op- pression so that -I- (or at least similar folk who live in the future) can have a more meaningful, richer, happier life.