Date of this Version
From my position as honors director at a two-year college in rural Florida, in the citrus and cow-hunter country south of I-4 and north of Okeechobee, Norm Weiner’s positing of honors education as a way to give students a chance to climb the class ladder seems persuasive. Honors education can, and does, help our students fulfill their middle-class aspirations. Yet much still remains to unpack in this middle-class-ness, especially in its connection to education. This territory is uncomfortable to Americans, for whom, as Weiner writes, “a basic . . . value is equality” and for whom the notion of social class is “anathema.”
Weiner writes that almost all Americans wish to be, and almost all present themselves as, members of the middle class in a classless society. Yet we also know that income inequalities have been increasing for some years now and that educational opportunities may be narrowing. High school dropout rates have increased, and completion rates in two-year colleges remain on average low. While many two-year college students enter with the hope of eventually earning a four-year degree, few achieve that goal. Considerable educational literature documents the struggles of first-generation college students with the world of higher education—not with their coursework, but with the culture and expectations of the academic milieu. Meanwhile, the columnist David Brooks relentlessly popularizes the notions that education is now the means by which class status is transmitted intergenerationally and that the values and life choices of college-educated people are becoming different in almost every respect from those of high-school graduates.