Tuesday, November 25, 2014

the great outoors

While I was writing this post, I was wrestling with issues of privilege and class. I've always been wary of condescension when working around folks living in rural poverty, or folks who chose a lifestyle that mimics that rural poverty, such as survivalists. The original post that I had linked to had some of that condescension, and possibly one reason it prompted so much discussion.

I grew up in a suburban, relatively wealthy town. At the same time, most of my extended family lived in a rough part of the city. We don't like to talk about class in the US, but it exists. I lived in a world where you fought for the best education and had to get into a "good school" (not public) so you get an advanced degree, preferably to be a doctor or a lawyer. They lived in a world where protecting your own was more important, and education was ok if it got you something concrete, like a good local job. Growing up, my cousins considered me a strange creature with no discernible skills and too many big words, but I was family and I was theirs. That acceptance was a big warm blanket when I was floundering at connecting with my own peers.

I went to an expensive small liberal arts school (SLAC) that drew the bulk of its students from the big cities/suburbs of the northeastern US. Not everyone was wealthy or had family resources. I knew kids who worked in the potato fields at home when they were not at school. I also knew kids whose parents didn't believe in education or didn't care to fill out the financial aid forms, and those kids worked off what they could and borrowed what they couldn't. The local strip clubs had a talent bonanza because of this. But the culture of the school was one of privilege, and the poor kids either kept quiet or left.

So I got into geology in college, and academically, it was the perfect fit. I could go outside and poke around in the dirt, and I could answer all sorts of interesting questions. Socially/emotionally, it was a bust. I wonder if part of the reason was because all the "cool kids" were all about backpacking and spending summers hiking (e.g. not toiling away in retail or some other crappy job you kept from high school) and having your own gear (all of it) and eating all organic this and that from whole paycheck whole foods. I was aware about the costs of the blithe earthy crunchy lifestyle, and extremely aware that other students didn't have the means to participate. See also this post about field course costs. This discomfort probably manifested as not having sufficient "team spirit".

In general, geologists (and other scientists/engineers in the environmental field) love to be outside. We pick up our love for the great outdoors from all sorts of places - from our family, from poking around a local woody patch, from organized activity like the Scouts. But how many geologists actually grew up out there, not using nature as a personal playground, but as the way you got your food or the wood to supplement/keep the house warm? I have a feeling the percentage is relatively low. If so, is that a problem? Well, if young geologists have been living in a social bubble, it can cause some real issues with perceived safety, community/resident communication, and effectiveness once they're out in the field.

1 comment:

John said...

During my first run at graduate school, I was on "conditional" status while most of my classmates were either on TAs or family-financed. Some wee from foreign countries and appeared to be fully supported one way or another. I had a part time job with Manpower moving office furniture and driving a truck as a temp for a local factory.

We grad students had our own desks in a large room in the basement of the building holding the Earth Sciences department. Leaving after classes to go to my crappy jobs. I became known in the basement office as "the guy who's never here." People started using my desk. Things got much worse before the got better.