Friday, June 08, 2012

"Sheltered, privileged, spoiled"

YPISfest of the day at Jezebel is about Stuyvesant. Someone thinks that because the median household income at Stuyvesant is higher than that of other city schools, and because some of the students had enough spare, not-down-in-the-coal-mines time to protest their new, sexist-in-wording-and-enforcement dress code, OMG THEIR PRIVILEGE. When:

-One of the big failings of YPIS is the insistence on conflating a life stage at which it's normal not to have major adult responsibilities and "privilege." Kids in high school or college who are partly or entirely financially dependent on their parents are not "brats," but kids. Privileged not to be stitching together H&M clothes in Bangladesh, but that's not what's meant when this variant of YPIS is hurled. This comes up especially with grad students, who are virtually required to consider undergrads "privileged," and to dwell on how their Mommy and Daddy pay for everything. When it's like, probably about as much parent-money goes to these undergrads as did to today's grad students when they/we were undergrads. If we're nobly paying our own way now, it's because we're old, not because we're scrappier than Kids These Days. (If the only grad students with this complaint were those who paid their own way through public colleges, and who are now T.A.s at private universities, that might change things, but that's not how it goes.)

-That a kid is protesting this dress code isn't evidence that this is the kid's "biggest problem in the world," let alone that he's "sheltered, privileged, [and] spoiled." I'm not sure where the idea was born that anyone who complains about something relatively-no-big-deal doesn't also have big-deal issues to worry about, but it's nonsense. If anything, YPIS if you think that only the wealthy, only people without tragedy in their lives, have the luxury of caring about small-potatoes issues, and that the great They are only ever thinking about Serious Socioeconomic Concerns. I mean, are we to believe that only the children of white professionals are upset when their crush rejects them before prom?

-Now the petty/repetitive: Yes, on average, Stuyvesant kids are wealthier than at other public schools. Also so much less wealthy than kids at private schools, of which there are so many in New York. The money some parents spent on pre-exam tutors is peanuts in comparison with what private schools cost. (Last I checked, $750 vs. $40,000 x 4.) It is privilege to go to Stuyvesant, but there are privileged kids in New York, and they're typically not going to a public school at all, however "prestigious." This bothers me not because I wish to prove my own scrappiness - prior to Stuyvesant, I went to one of those private schools, and I was precisely one of those kids whose presence at the school contributed to its not-a-real-NYC-public-school-ness, thus not scrappy - but because accounts of the place, esp. when it comes to the dress-code controversy, are getting the place, and the dynamics, all wrong. That a student body generally focused on obeying authority - and not on pushing boundaries, not on thinking themselves above the law - is fighting back on this is actually quite impressive. These are not, in other words, a bunch of entitled kids, which is what every reference to "elite" or "privileged" implies, inadvertently or, in this case, intentionally.


Diana said...

I completely, completely agree. I was actually pleasantly surprised when reading the replies of Stuyvesant students to Jezebel readers' critiques; these teenagers are incredibly articulate and clearly feel quite strongly about this issue.

The fact is that the dress code protest is rooted in unfair and inappropriate enforcement of the dress code (as rules are held stricter for curvier students and as chastisement is apparently often accompanied by offensive misogynistic commentary). I think that we should be praising these students for being so incredibly motivated, organized, and persistent, rather than chastising them for their supposed "privilege."

So, thank you for writing on this. I just stumbled upon your blog, but we seem to share similar interests. I will definitely be returning!

Phoebe Maltz Bovy said...

Thanks, and I'll have to check out your blog as well!