The Caste System in School

As much as I complain about my students, they really surprise me, and today we took that Marxism discussion even further as we compared the characters in three textx by talking about how their class levels influence their actions.

The first story is Born Worker, by Gary Soto, where we meet young Jose and his cousin Arnie. Jose is poor and Arnie is middle class and the rich cousin talks the poor cousin into a get-rich-quick scheme that will inevitably leave Arnie on top. As the story progresses we fall in love with Jose who is a strong worker, takes pride in his work, and who does Arnie’s jobs without complaint. Arnie, on the other hand, is lazy and mopes around complaining about the work while doing nothing. In the end, one of their jobs leaves an old man hurt and bleeding and Jose saves the day, but when the cops show up Arnie takes all the credit, and Jose walks away without saying a word because he knows he’s stuck in his class level and can never move out.

It’s fitting Jose feels this way because that’s how the caste system (the kids described earlier) works, and it’s often how real life turns out. The people who make themselves look important are the people who excel in life. Those who do all the grunt work do so without complaint, and are often left in the dust.

Then we read the poem “Oranges”, also by Gary Soto, where we meet a boy and a girl, both from different backgrounds and yet they make it work. They don’t succumb to the pressures of others to fit within their classes; they just igfnore all that stuff and go for love instead.

And we finally finished with a reading of the short story “Checkouts”, by Cynthia Rylant, about a rich girl who moves to a new town and falls in love with the local bagboy at the grocery store. Again, we’re confronted with kids from different class levels, but this time love does not win out. As a matter of fact, we notice that the girl chooses her class level over love, while the boy searches furtively to move up the social ladder.

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