Stanford, California — April 12

I finally get to the class I’ve been missing lately, only to find I haven’t been missing much. We’re learning about stem-and-leaves plots, which I learned about in the 7th grade, and it wasn’t interesting then.

But perhaps it’s not the professor’s fault — maybe it’s the sports jersey he’s wearing. In addition to not being particularly educational, he jogs around the room lifts chalkboards up and down and up and down, and grabs swigs from a sports waterbottle while on the go.

April 13

I have taken two IHUM (Introduction to the HUManities) courses. The first was a right-wing course in which the TF told us ‘You might think you found an error in Locke’s logic, but you should check again, because Locke was a pretty smart guy.’, got mad with me for talking about Vietnam, and suggested I drop out of school. The message of the course, I concluded, was ‘the world is just fine, so we shouldn’t do anything, and even if we did, it would just make things worse.’

The new IHUM is a left-wing course in which the TF asks us ‘Do you agree with Marx? Where was he wrong?’ and got mad at me for abusing my white male blogger knowledge power to silence the rest of the class, and suggested I go to a progressive/radical school. The message of the course, I conclude, is ‘the world is a terrible mess, but is so rotten that we can’t do anything, except maybe by purchasing more “socially-responsible” items’. (Madison Avenue is apparently the new Marx — overthrow capitalism through…more capitalism! (This theme is thoroughly documented in Thomas Frank’s early work.))

April 14

My grandfather was a capitalist. My father was a capitalist. I went to elementary school and junior high in the sixth-richest city in America. I went to high school in the third-richest. Yet somehow I failed to notice all this. (Perhaps because I lived way down in the 47th-richest city.) [^fn1]

But between IHUM and social stratification, I’ve had much occasion to think about class lately. In social stratification, for example, we read a study of how different classes raise their children differently. The middle class engages in a process of “concerted cultivation” — lots of questions from parents, constant planned activities with same-aged peers, encouraging them to ask questions of authority figures — which instill a sense of entitlement, an inability to manage one’s own leisure time, an ability to easily make friends with same-age peers, and a taste for competition.

Working class parents, by contrast, engage in what’s termed “natural development” — letting kids play on their own, not asking them many questions, encouraging them to hide from and lie to authority figures — which instills a sense of constraint in the face of power, teaches them to manage their own free time, and has them hang out mostly with family members.

From this I can only conclude that my parents screwed up or something, because I have the opposite of all the middle class features: I’m afraid of asking for things from people, even the tech support guy on the phone; I’m excellent at managing m own free time, and thus distasteful of structured activities; I have trouble making friends with people my own age; and I hate competition.

As I exit the class, I come up with an obscure Marxist joke about this — perhaps my parents’ contradictory class location caused a contradictory class cultivation — before a boy on a bicycle stops me. ‘Are you Aaron Swartz?’ he asks. ‘Yeah,’ I say. ‘Oh, hi!’ he says. “Mark Granovetter speaks very highly of you.” Mark Granovetter? I think. I thought I was the one speaking highly of him! After hanging around people who wrote odes to the Granovetter diagram and playing with computer languages which centered around the Granovetter operator, I was amazed to find the man actually exists and furthermore, heads the department in which I’m studying. But that he knows that I exist? That’s too much to handle. The bicycle boy recommends I take Granovetter’s class. ‘It’s really fun; you’d love it.’ Maybe I will.

[^fn1]: Just from more looking at that chart: for fun we’d visit #39, my friend lived in #45, we’d go to the mall at #68 and #77, and the people we thought of as poor lived in #83. We had quite the racket going; I had no idea.

There’s something magical about a band having fun. In certain recordings of the String Cheese Incident, for example, you can almost feel the smiles of the band members through their music and can’t help but smile yourselves. The Stanford band is performing on a piece of grass outside and their enthusiasm is similarly infections. Even walking behind them, without even being able to see them (a wall is in the way), I can’t help but break out in a grin, it’s so obvious they’re having fun. Instruments are surprisingly expressive.

posted April 16, 2005 08:07 PM (Education) (3 comments) #


SFP: The Story So Far
Stanford: Frown
Get Arrested
What Journalists Don’t: Lessons from the Times
SFP: Come see us
Stanford: The Cynic Returns
Social Class in America
Stanford: Eat the Whales


Aaron, why don’t you use E-Prime?

“E-Prime, short for English Prime, is a modification of the English language that prohibits the use of the verb ‘to be’. The term was coined by Dr. David Bourland in the 1965 work A Linguistic Note: Writing in E-Prime. E-Prime arose from Alfred Korzybski’s General Semantics and his observation that English speakers most often use ‘to be’ to express dogmatic beliefs or assumptions or to avoid expressing opinions and feelings as such.”

posted by Dimitar Vesselinov at April 17, 2005 03:18 PM #

Because E-Prime can be used to express the fact that E-Prime sucks? :-)

posted by bi at April 18, 2005 01:18 PM #

Or, how about something more rigorous: I can use E-Prime to express the fact that E-Prime sucks.

Or in short…

…E-Prime sucks.

posted by bi at April 18, 2005 01:20 PM #

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