What the Odd History of ‘Pulling Yourself Up By Your Bootstraps’ Says About Education Equity

There’s a phrase that’s used a lot when talking about the American Dream, a phrase that captures this idea that anyone can rise up and make their own fortune: “Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps.” And it turns out, the idiom has a precise—and surprising—origin story.

It starts back in 1834, with an inventor from Nashville, Tennessee, named Nimrod Murphree.

For this episode of the EdSurge Podcast, we look back at the strange start to this phrase, and what it’s evolution says about educational equity. To do that, we get some help from Ben Zimmer, the language columnist for the Wall Street Journal; Alissa Quart, a popular author; and Michael Anthony Carnacchi, a bootmaker in Sebastopol, California.

Could the phrase be on its way out, as the pandemic and other factors change how we think about our place in the world?

This is the first episode of a six-episode podcast series—called Bootstraps—that EdSurge is co-producing with Open Campus, a journalism nonprofit. It’s called Bootstraps, and you can look for new episodes each month.

Listen to the episode on Apple Podcasts, Overcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Play Music, or wherever you listen to podcasts, or use the player below.

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