Members of my Class on Social Class Respond to My Dentist

posted May 9, 2017, 12:33 PM by Daniel Laurison
Sometime this spring (actually a lot of times this spring) I went to the dentist. The last time I went, my dentist explained to me all the reasons poor people deserve to be poor & he deserves the success he's had, and inequality is a fundamental natural feature of society that we can't change unless we kidnap children (more or less - see rough transcript below).  Since the class I taught this semester was all about how social class advantages are passed down to kids/reproduced, with a side helping of how levels of inequality are products of laws and policies, not nature, I offered my students a chance to do an extra-credit assignment responding to some of those problematic claims. The assignment & my reconstruction of my conversation with The Dentist are below, I'll post my students' blog posts one by one after this.

Dentist Extra Credit – You can do up to 3, all are due by May 4th at midnight to me by email. I will not accept any after then.

Write a blog post with links to our readings and/or other relevant sources (e.g. things we’ve tweeted), countering any 1 or 2 of The Dentist’s claims, or any other problematic/inaccurate argument/claim someone has really made about class, inequality, or social mobility (start with link to that claim).  Post should be around 500 (i.e. 400 – 600 or so) words, written somewhat informally for a general audience. The central argument should be *empirical* not political.  I’ll post any I get on a blog; you can choose to have your name attached or be anonymous.  

For full credit, you must have at least 3 links in your post. You can do up to 3 posts, each one will be the equivalent of bumping one quarter of your total course grade up by a 1/3rd grade/3.3 points (e.g. converting a B- on the 2ndpaper to a B), or replacing your lowest quiz grade with a 100, whichever helps you more. 

The Dentist: what've you been up to?
me: work.
The Dentist: you know, I've heard it said work is for poor people. The rest of us have careers.
me: um. well, I do like my work a lot, that's true enough for me. 
The Dentist: well I think it's true for everyone. No matter what you do, if you're a plumber or a [something; maybe business consultant], you can put your all into it and make it meaningful and move up. 
me: ................................... um, maybe for those, but not if you're a hotel cleaner, really.
The Dentist: oh but they're mostly immigrants, so for them it IS moving up, since they come from another worse country. People make their own decisions, anyone can do whatever they want to do.
me: um ............. I'm a sociologist. I actually study this stuff. You're ignoring the inequalities in the school system [I wish I'd said - among, many, many, many other things! but I was trying to get out of there but felt like I couldn't just let that go.]
The Dentist: oh well I know this is what you've study, but I've actually thought about this a lot [I kid you not this is what he said] and I think, you know, I know a lot of people who are teachers, and the smart kids, they can pick them out, and make sure they're OK. I mean maybe if they've got behavior problems or something, but then, that's the parents' fault. And there's nothing to be done to fix that unless we're going to have a law that mandates what *I* do with my kids, and I certainly don't want that. 
The Dentist, some more: you know I worked hard, I didn't have all the advantages, I had to start working at 14, my dad made me, I had to pay my way through college, so I made it on my own.
me: so, what does your dad do?
The Dentist: he's a dentist. Here.
me: aha. Well, bye.