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Class Warfare

Class, Race, and College Admissions in Top-Tier Secondary Schools

Class Warfare

Class, Race, and College Admissions in Top-Tier Secondary Schools

Stories abound about the lengths to which middle- and upper-middle-class parents will go to ensure a spot for their child at a prestigious university. From the Suzuki method to calculus-based physics, from AP tests all the way back to early-learning Kumon courses, students are increasingly pushed to excel with that Harvard or Yale acceptance letter held tantalizingly in front of them. And nowhere is this drive more apparent than in our elite secondary schools. In Class Warfare, Lois Weis, Kristin Cipollone, and Heather Jenkins go inside the ivy-yearning halls of three such schools to offer a day-to-day, week-by-week look at this remarkable drive toward college admissions and one of its most salient purposes: to determine class.
Drawing on deep and sustained contact with students, parents, teachers, and administrators at three iconic secondary schools in the United States, the authors unveil a formidable process of class positioning at the heart of the college admissions process. They detail the ways students and parents exploit every opportunity and employ every bit of cultural, social, and economic capital they can in order to gain admission into a “Most Competitive” or “Highly Competitive Plus” university. Moreover, they show how admissions into these schools—with their attendant rankings—are used to lock in or improve class standing for the next generation. It’s a story of class warfare within a given class, the substrata of which—whether economically, racially, or socially determined—are fiercely negotiated through the college admissions process.
In a historic moment marked by deep economic uncertainty, anxieties over socioeconomic standing are at their highest. Class, as this book shows, must be won, and the collateral damage of this aggressive pursuit may just be education itself, flattened into a mere victory banner.  


“Covering an impressive amount of ground, Class Warfare does an excellent job of mapping the intricate ecosystem in which students are enmeshed, from school to parental gossip networks, and also offers a complex, noteworthy discussion of how race and class dynamics combine to compound marginalisation for outsider minority students. . . . This is a welcome addition to research on the US university admissions system’s role in perpetuating inequality.”

Times Higher Education

“An absorbing and detailed study of the reproduction of class privilege and the central role of access to highly selective universities as part of that process. It should be required reading for everyone interested in how social class and race work through educational processes and institutions.”

London Review of Education

Class Warfare is a richly theorized, powerfully written book. It works well across a range of macro- and microlevels, keeping wider social structures in constant play alongside the lived experiences of the young people and their families at these top-tier institutions. It ably demonstrates the usefulness of the sociological imagination in explaining complicated social phenomena, highlighting central issues in middle-class identity in a nuanced and sophisticated manner. Weis and her colleagues reinvigorate debates around class and its grounded workings in contemporary practices. They chart the complexity and nature of class work in the United States today, presenting powerful evidence of how upper-middle-class privilege is being consolidated across racial and ethnic difference.”

Diane Reay, coauthor of White Middle-Class Identities and Urban Schooling

Class Warfare makes an important, timely, and original contribution to our understanding of the role of education in the production of class during an era of neoliberal globalization that threatens the security of the middle class. Through rich ethnographic data, Weis and her colleagues demonstrate the intense efforts that go into packaging students for college admissions and how it reflects a neoliberal subjectivity that is encouraged by neoliberal discourses, practices, and policies that characterize the current political economy.”

Stacey J. Lee, author of Unraveling the “Model Minority” Stereotype

Table of Contents


1. Class, Race, and College Admissions in a Changing US Context
2. Schooling in Privileged Spaces
3. Class Practices and the College Process in a Suburban, Public High School: Creating Distinction around the Highly Selective College-Going Self
4. Micromanaging the College Admissions Process: Leaving Nothing to Chance at Matthews Academy
5. “Outsiders Within”: Relative Opportunities for Low-Income Black Students in Elite Private Secondary Schools
6. Race and Class Matters
7. Class, Race, and Postsecondary Destinations in New Global Circumstances

Epilogue: Details and Reflections on Theory and Methods


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