The Burdens of Aspiration: Schools, Youth, and Success in the Divided Social Worlds of Silicon Valley

The Burdens of Aspiration: Schools, Youth, and Success in the Divided Social Worlds of Silicon Valley

The Burdens of Aspiration: Schools, Youth, and Success in the Divided Social Worlds of Silicon Valley

The Burdens of Aspiration: Schools, Youth, and Success in the Divided Social Worlds of Silicon Valley

Synopsis

During the tech boom, Silicon Valley became one of the most concentrated zones of wealth polarization and social inequality in the United States--a place with a fast-disappearing middle class, persistent pockets of poverty, and striking gaps in educational and occupational achievement along class and racial lines. Low-wage workers and their families experienced a profound sense of exclusion from the techno-entrepreneurial culture, while middle class residents, witnessing up close the seemingly overnight success of a "new entrepreneurial" class, negotiated both new and seemingly unattainable standards of personal success and the erosion of their own economic security.

"The Burdens of Aspiration" explores the imprint of the region's success-driven public culture, the realities of increasing social and economic insecurity, and models of success emphasized in contemporary public schools for the region's working and middle class youth. Focused on two disparate groups of students--low-income, "at-risk" Latino youth attending a specialized program exposing youth to high tech industry within an "under-performing" public high school, and middle-income white and Asian students attending a "high-performing" public school with informal connections to the tech elite--Elsa Davidson offers an in-depth look at the process of forming aspirations across lines of race and class. By analyzing the successes and sometimes unanticipated effects of the schools' attempts to shape the aspirations and values of their students, she provides keen insights into the role schooling plays in social reproduction, and how dynamics of race and class inform ideas about responsible citizenship that are instilled in America's youth.

Excerpt

Geography of a Myth

In a photograph accompanying a 2005 New York Times article titled, “Wheels and Deals in Silicon Valley,” a young, goateed white man clad in the green and blue bike-racing garb of the Webcor/Alto Velo Bicycle Racing Club leans over his bike. Behind him, similarly clad men and women straddle their bicycles, preparing for one of the club’s endurance-testing, long-distance rides. The caption reads, “Let the networking begin.”

That Silicon Valley’s information economy is founded on the practice of networking hardly constitutes news. But the hook here concerned a novel trend among Silicon Valley technology workers and entrepreneurs: the integration of extreme sports into the daily regimen of working and networking. Apparently yesterday’s “skinny-armed computer geeks…” are today taking up adventure sports,

Finding that a mountain road or a cresting wave can be an exhilarating
place to integrate one’s business, social, and recreational lives…Cycling
is the new golf. And so is snowboarding, for that matter, and open-sea
distance swimming, and kite-surfing [a sport that involves surfing in the
air over water while hooked up to a parachute], and even abalone diving.
(Williams 2005)

This article summons the Silicon Valley of popular imagination. In its vivid description of the work-time/playtime antics of Silicon Valley technoentrepreneurs, it reinforces dearly held, enduring myths about the region that elide the multiple dimensions of its history and present: that it is a placeless meritocracy of innovators and that it exists, first and foremost, in the . . .

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