Social Class in America

2 February 2017

Over the course of two hours, the documentary reveals that despite our country’s deeply-held ideals of egalitarianism and fairness, our citizens are in fact subject to sharp class distinctions and often insurmountable inequalities of opportunity. For viewers and students interested in the sociology and culture of the United States, People Like Us provides an entertaining introduction to a controversial topic.

It does not offer a Marxian analysis of one group’s exploitation of another, nor does it celebrate the virtues of the capitalist system. Rather, this popular history presents an outspoken group of Americans from diverse locales and even more diverse socioeconomic groups: privileged New York “WASPS,” upwardly mobile African Americans in North Carolina, struggling minimum-wage workers in Ohio, proud Georgia “rednecks,” blue-collar suburbanites in New Jersey, cliquey Texas highschool students, and more.

Social Class in America Essay Example

Through their portraits, People Like Us raises questions about the ways, large and small, in which Americans classify each other, how our inherited social class affects our self-perceptions and our expectations, and how race and other factors complicate an already complex arrangement of social distinctions in our society. Producers Andrew Kolker and Louis Alvarez, who have collaborated on a series of award-winning documentaries on different aspects of American culture since 1979, found People Like Us to be an extremely challenging program to make.

Crisscrossing the country to interview hundreds of Americans, they discovered that many of us take our class status for granted, while many others refuse to admit that class differences exist. In making this program, Alvarez and Kolker hope to challenge viewers to rethink their assumptions about class in America and to examine how those assumptions influence their attitudes about their fellow citizens.

People Like Us premiered on the Public Broadcasting System and is intended for a general audience. It is also extremely useful for educators who wish to introduce students to basic concepts about social class and bout class distinctions in the United States. People Like Us does not pretend to be the definitive documentary about class in America. But it does aim to be a catalyst for discussion and deeper study about the many different issues of class that affect our country economically, socially, and psychologically.

This guide is intended to facilitate that goal. Our suggestions for discussion questions, lesson plans, group projects, theme-based activities, readings, and writing assignments are designed to help viewers explore, in the context of their own experiences and communities, the many thorny issues raised by People Like Us. II. Program Outline People Like Us: Social Class in America is 124 minutes (2:04) in length. While it’s always best to screen the program in its entirety, it can also be viewed in two separate, hour-long sittings: 1) Parts I and II and 2) Parts III and IV. If class time is limited, you can also show specific short segments to the class. In that case, we recommend that you pre-screen the entire show so that you understand where each segment fits into the whole.

Is there a difference between class, status, and lifestyle? 2. Reconsider the question of whether the United States is a classless, egalitarian society. Elicit viewers’ impressions of the range of Americans they saw in the program. Who are the most memorable? Why? What characteristics mark each person as belonging to one social class or another? What were some of their opinions about the class structure of the United States? Were there any statements students strongly agreed/disagreed with? Broaden the discussion: Why do many Americans deny that class distinctions exist in their country?

Why do many consider class to be a touchy subject? Why do classes exist anyway? What are the effects of class stratification on Americans? Does growing up in a particular class affect our self-image and our expectations in life? If so, how? 3. Tabulate results of the mini-survey and discuss findings. Ask students to define their terms and explain why they picked a particular social class. (NOTE: since some people may feel uncomfortable about answering this question, participation in this discussion can be voluntary. ) Did they select a particular class because of their parents’ income?

Their own lifestyle? Education? Aspirations? Family history? Moral values or religious affiliation? Did they change their minds about their own social rank after seeing People Like Us? If so, how and why? Divide the class into groups. Ask each group to discuss the class structure of their community. Are neighborhoods mixed or segregated by class? Which classes live in which areas and go to which schools? Which groups tend to shop at which stores, worship at which religious centers, belong to which clubs? Does any one group hold the power in local government?

Are there any venues where various classes intermingle? Are there any class-based issues the community is currently confronting — for example, in housing, job development, or education? 4. Assign a review. Based on their notes, ask students to write a critique, favorable or unfavorable, of People Like Us. What are the program’s most important ideas about class in America? Writers should include specific examples of scenes or remarks that were most/least effective in presenting these ideas. Did viewers feel that any one of the classes portrayed was favored over the other?

In an introductory essay to his play, Major Barbara, George Bernard Shaw wrote: “What a man is depends on his character; but what he does, and what we think of what he does, depends on his circumstances. The characteristics that ruin a man in one class made him eminent in another. ” Ask students to write their interpretation of this quote. What does Shaw mean? Cite an example of behavior that is considered a virtue in one class and a vice in another. For example, compare the idea of an aggressive real estate developer with an aggressive sanitation worker.

Both are in business, but their qualities may be judged differently. Don’t Get Above Your Raisin’ (Washington, DC & Morgantown, Kentucky) Begins: 01:21. 02 – Running Time: 12_ minutes Getting’ above your raisin’ is a phrase you hear all the time….. The notion is that you want to change social classes… You try to change social classes, there’s this feeling that you’re forsaking the family, you’re forsaking place, you’re forgetting where you came from…and here’s this real fear that if you leave, that you’ll become ashamed of where you came from.

Dana Felty, an ambitious young woman from a working-class background in rural Kentucky, is pursuing a career as a journalist in Washington, D. C. Despite her success, Felty feels guilty about leaving her class and culture behind. As an Appalachian, she’s been taught that moving up the ladder is not as important as allegiance to the community. “I think that at the core of a lot of my family, it really felt like I was telling them that I was rejecting them and I was rejecting my home, and everything that had been just the essence of who we were,” she says tearfully.

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