Cheering, Chanting, and Clapping – for Classism?
My daughter went to public schools in Milton, Mass, which is an economically diverse suburb right outside Boston. While in school, she was on a lot of sports teams, playing basketball, volleyball, and tennis. Her schools and teams have always included kids from a variety of backgrounds, though very few people in our town are actually poor.
When she was in middle school, her basketball team once played a team from the local private school (Milton Academy), and her public school team won handily. At the end of the game, the Milton Academy team all stood up, as if on cue, and chanted,
“That’s all right, That’s O.K. We’re gonna’ be your boss one day!”
Then they all cheered and clapped. We and the other Milton parents were shocked and outraged. I had never heard anything like this, at least not from kids! I have to say, we didn’t know what to do. My thought at the time was, These are really sore losers! And wondered how this felt to our team, which had, after all, just won. Then, to his credit, the coach of the Milton Academy team immediately came over and apologized to our team’s coaches (one of whom was my husband). And then he made the entire team come over and shake hands and apologize to each of our team members.
The question that remains for me, years later, is this, Who taught these kids that chant? Where did they learn it? What did it mean to them and how might it have shaped their attitudes toward other, less-privileged kids? Did losing to our little high school team make them feel like losers and challenge their entitled status?
What became of these kids and what are their class attitudes by now? And, above all, did it affect my daughter or her teammates at all, at the time or down the road? I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but it did lead to some interesting discussions in our house.
For us, it was an interesting lesson in how some folks seem to feel the need to feel on top, no matter what the situation, and to put down others who are deemed less worthy. And also a bit about how class attitudes and class domination are apparently transmitted and learned at a very early age. These kids were 10-12. I have never forgotten this incident. It was shocking in its sheer naked class arrogance. At the time, most people thought of it mostly as “bad sportsmanship,” and it certainly was. But it was also more.
Now, Milton Academy is not a bad place. Many decent and progressive people have gone there and many others taught and teach there. Our recent Governor, Deval Patrick, went there on scholarship. It is known for its racial diversity, staff and students alike, and some economic diversity as well. People often send their children there for precisely those reasons. But, I still wonder what some of the students there and at other private schools actually think of us “townies”!
Johanna Halbeisen, Northampton, MA says
I don’t think age ten is young to have classist attitudes. Kids learn all this from their parents’ attitudes, and probably pick it up a lot younger than ten. I’ve seen kindergarteners who acted entitled. How much they actually understand is another matter, but they do absorb how their parents and their parents’ friends react to other people and situations. Clare is right, class is not talked about much, if at all. And the coach that made that team apologize probably did not talk about class but about manners. I’ll bet the objection was not to their attitude (we’re gonna be your boss someday), but their behavior (yelling it after they lost).