Sutherland and Woodward, authors of a recent textbook, revive the dream of becoming President, and, in addition, allow the expectation of rising to prove the existence of the same. They state: 18
Social classes in the United States -- In a country like the United States, where the social classes have never been thoroughly stratified, there is movement from one level to another. The farmer boy may still dream of becoming President, even though statistics based on Who's who give the sons of the prominent the best chances of succeeding their fathers. The expectation of advancement from low to high status has resulted in a kind of vertical nobility, rather than in the development of horizontal classes, but this condition may not always prevail.
Willkie, recently a candidate for the Presidency, writes on "The Faith That Is America." He points to Europe as a continent of closed classes, as compared with the freedom of movement in America. He says: 19
They [his ancestors] were led to these shores, as were millions before and after them, by a special reputation that the United States has had among nations. This reputation is founded upon one simple fact: in the United States the plain man has always had a chance.
And with schooling finished, there were no doors closed to their [his parents'] children just because they came from a plain family in a small town. No class distinction, no law interfered with their effort to earn a living in the occupation of their choice . . . .
. . . Because we set no limit to a man's achievement; in mine, factory, field, or service in business or the arts, an able man, regardless of his class or creed, can realize his ambition.
Perhaps the most important of all recent utterances about the American Dream was made by the President of Harvard University in a recent speech entitled: "A Free Classless Society, Ideal or Illusion?" In it he said, among other things, that the social changes during the last fifty years had moved the society toward a social system composed of hereditary classes. "Have we reached a point where the ideal of a peculiar American society, classless and free, must be regarded as of only historical significance? Has the ideal lost both validity and vitality?" 20 The report of the end of the address, as given in the New York Post, reads as follows: 21
Class mobility, Dr. Conant said, was the basis of the American ideal of a classless society -- one in which the "shirt sleeves to shirt sleeves in three generations" notion prevails rather than the aristocratic adage that it takes three generations to make a gentleman. "If a classless society is to be preserved," he said, "the American people must not shrink from drastic action."
Here one sees the implied exhortation to prevent the existence of social classes, in the true and hereditary sense, and to break up family lines of social class continuity on the middle and higher levels according to the theory that every third generation should be proletarian. Gentlemen, even though three generations have striven to produce them," are personae non gratae.
But would social classes cease to form even though every competent young man were given a scholarship enabling him to take an engineering course, a law course, or a course in the principles and methods of high school teaching? Or would those with advantages merely increase the pressure of personal contacts in order to circumvent the social class mobility anticipated? There are colleges open to the lower classes that find their graduates a drug on the market. The same might be true of the graduates of Harvard if scholarships were increased to enable all high school students with averages of eighty per cent to enroll. (The problem of social classes and theories of education will be taken up in detail in a later chapter.)
The American Dream recently created a storm in the educational atmosphere of a wealthy New York suburb. Rugg, a well-known textbook writer, had written an elementary history that aroused several of the members of the Board of Education of Englewood to condemn it as subversive and un-American. According to the newspaper account of the incident, "what particularly annoyed some members of the board was that in one third of his textbooks Dr. Rugg said America was not the land of opportunity for all people." 22 Rugg's reply was that he was trying to bring realities into the classroom instead of keeping them out.
18. Robert L. Sutherland and Julian L. Woodward, Introductory Sociology (Chicago, 1937) pp. 362 - 363.
19. Wendell L. Willkie, "The Faith That Is America," Readers Digest (December, 1939) p. 1. There are neutral observers who believe that Mr. Willkie is still nursing his ambition, but the history of presidential campaigns does not bear out the generalization that every candidate reaches his goal, e.g., one recalls William Jennings Bryan.
20. New York Post, October 24, 1939.
21. Loc. cit.
22. New York Herald Tribute (December 14, 1939).