Monday, April 03, 2006

Nickel and Dimed

I discussed Ehrenreich’s book Nickel and Dimed with my students today, and I’m not sure what to think of their responses. They picked up right away on the fact that her experience was very different from that of the low-wage workers she describes: that she knew she had money to fall back on if necessary, that she knew this was temporary, and that those facts would change the nature of what she went through. I think they are right there, although they weren’t acknowledging that Ehrenreich knew those things too.

What disturbed me a bit is that they were awfully quick to question whether Ehrenreich was telling the truth about her experiences and that they quickly began to question her motives. One student thought it was unfair to “use” the people she worked with in her book to make money. I have mixed feelings about that. As I wrote in my previous post, I have some misgivings about her attitude toward the people she describes. She seems to expect her class differences to stand out. But I also suspect that some of my students were looking for a way to discount the political message Ehrenreich is getting across. The students were much more eager to talk about Ehrenreich’s own position as worker and writer than about poverty. I’m happy to talk about Ehrenreich’s rhetorical stance in the book – it is an English class after all – but that conversation became a way to avoid the point she was trying to make. After all, Ehrenreich is trying to open up the often-hidden world of low-wage workers, and I don’t want them to get ignored in my class once again. We’re continuing our discussion of this book for a while; we’ll see how the rest of the time goes.