A story about how class affects how willing students are able to ask for help ran Wednesday in the Chicago Tribune:
Just as every school principal knows the adults most willing to pipe up about everything from the kids’ class assignments to cafeteria food — by and large, well-educated working professionals — a study published last month in the American Sociological Review found their children showed the same propensity to advocate for themselves in the classroom as early as third grade. The children of working-class parents profiled in the two-year study seemed more reticent in asking teachers to review directions, provide more instruction or even check their work…
“We tend to assume that once you put kids in school, what they get there will help them overcome any differences they bring with them. But what this shows is … children have a meaningful impact on the way schooling is happening and what they are able to get out of it,” said University of Pennsylvania sociologist Jessica McCrory Calarco…
The picture that emerged was striking: Middle-class students walked in the door knowing how to get their questions answered and, in turn, spent less time waiting for help and typically completed assignments on time. Many working-class children, meanwhile, had to learn those key skills in class from their teachers and peers.
What’s more, Calarco found many middle-class parents coached their students to speak up — politely but persistently — if they did not understand. They viewed seeking help as a critical skill in a class where more than two dozen students turn to a single teacher.
The article doesn’t mention this but this is the concept of “concerted cultivation” (from Annette Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods) in action. While some might just chalk these differences to personality (some kids are more shy or outgoing), Lareau argues that this is really the result of social class. Within the same classroom, students of different class backgrounds have been raised in different ways: the middle- to upper-class students have been socialized to be more assertive with authority figures while lower-class students are less assertive and let authority figures dictate what is happening. With years of being more assertive, middle- to upper-class students are able to reap the benefits of advocating for themselves as well as practicing interacting with and connecting with adults.
While the article mentions that Illinois “the first state in the nation to require that all school districts teach social and emotional skills as part of their curriculum and day-to-day routine,” it doesn’t see if this curriculum helps with this particular topic. While individual teachers might be addressing this, is there a systematic effort to try to help lower-class students find a voice in the classroom and speak up?
It would be fascinating to track these kids further and see how this affects educational achievement differences by high school. Similarly, are there studies about the effectiveness of trying to help lower-class students be more assertive?
This is not a bad run of publicity for the December American Sociological Review: another story from that issue about the gender inequality in multitasking among working parents has also been getting a lot of attention.