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Philosophy’s Jennifer Morton challenges upward mobility template

Jennifer Morton
Jennifer Morton

When it comes to upward mobility and its drivers, Jennifer M. Morton, assistant professor of philosophy at The City College of New York, has a different take.  And it goes beyond the traditional concept of a college education opening the doors of opportunity.

“Work hard and you’ll do well in school. Go to college and the doors of opportunity will open,” echoes Morton. “This narrative has been an article of faith for several generations of Americans. For families from disadvantaged backgrounds, in particular, this is the trajectory that they hope their children will follow into the middle class.”

Morton, however, points out that there is another aspect of what she describes as the “myth” of upward mobility that is rarely discussed—the ethical cost students who do succeed must bear if they are to dramatically transform their life circumstances.

Morton suggests that “For those few students who do make it, moving up can mean having to make difficult sacrifices in many important areas of their lives—their relationships with family and friends, their sense of cultural identity, and their place in their community—in order to gain educational and career opportunities that will propel them into the middle class.” These are the ethical costs that Morton believes philosophers can play a role in illuminating.

"We need to revise the optimistic narrative of upward mobility with a new narrative that makes these ethical costs clearer to students,” concludes Morton.

That is the theme of her forthcoming book and the topic of her “Presidential Conversations: Activism, Scholarship, and Engagement,” talk on Thursday, Nov. 10. Entitled “Upward Mobility: Moving Up Without Losing One’s Way,” it starts at 4 p.m. in the Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture’s Sciame Auditorium.

About The City College of New York
Since 1847, The City College of New York has provided low-cost, high-quality education for New Yorkers in a wide variety of disciplines. More than 15,000 students pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in the College of Liberal Arts and Science; Bernard and Anne Spitzer School of Architecture; School of Education; Grove School of Engineering; Sophie Davis Biomedical Education/CUNY School of Medicine; and the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership. U.S. News, Princeton Review and Forbes all rank City College among the best colleges and universities in the United States.


Jay Mwamba
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