When I first read David Brooks’s Bobos in Paradise, I rushed the word flexidoxy up to the top of my list with this entry. It wasn’t that the word was so important, but that it was a library book that I would need to return and it didn’t seem worth it to take notes when I could just write the entry.
The most important word from the book was one whose meaning I could remember without the book in front of me. Bobo. An invented abbreviation of bohemian bourgeoisie. Brooks’s whole premise is that the new American elite is this odd combination of two forces that were polar opposites in the old America. Now, Burlington, VT, crawls with a wealthy elite dressed in jeans and t-shirts.
The book is full of wonderful observations, but one stands out for me as a teacher to the Bobos of New York. He offers the best explanation I’ve ever heard as to why the parents of my students are so obsessed with college. The new elite, Brooks writes, is laden with anxiety. While the old elite could rest assured that the family name would be enough to leave their legacy, the Bobos know they live in word were a name cannot ultimately trump ability. Their children will not inherit their status simply because they share a genetic code. Therefore, they put an enormous amount of pressure on their kids to repeat their success. The children internalize it and become one with the anxiety as well.
Brooks credits this anxiety as the reason for their success, but it comes at a cost. The students I now teach will never be able to see school as anything but a test for them to reach the next level. It is too ingrained into their upbringing.