Assess the view that social class differences in educational achievement are the result of school processes such as labeling. (20 marks) Labelling refers to meanings or definitions we attach to someone or something to make sense of them and these could be negative or positive labels. For example, in schools teachers are likely to label middle-class pupils as bright and more able to achieve in education whereas, they would see working class pupils as less able. Teacher labels can affect a pupil’s educational achievement as it will influence how they perform educationally.
However, there are other school factors which cause underachievement and these are, the self-fulfilling prophecy, streaming and pupil subculture. There have been a number of studies of labelling carried out by interactionist sociologists. Interactionist sociologists study small-scale, face-to-face interactions between individuals, such as in the classroom or playground. Ray Rist (1970) did a study of an American kindergarten where he found that the teachers used information about the children’s home background and appearance to place them in separate groups and each group were seated on different tables.
The pupils which the teacher thought were fast learners were labelled by the teacher as the ‘tigers’ and tended to be middle-class with neat and clean appearances. This group was seated nearer to the teacher who showed them greatest encouragement as well. The other two groups were labelled as the ‘cardinals’ and the ‘clowns’ which were the working-class pupils who were also seated further away. Also, they were given lower-level books to read and were given less opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. Another study which was carried out by Howard Becker, (1971) was based on interviews with 60 Chicago high school teachers.
Becker found that teacher judged pupils according to how closely they fitted an image of the ‘ideal pupil’. The pupils’ appearance, work and conduct were key factors which influenced teachers’ judgements and they saw children from middle-class backgrounds as the closest to the ‘ideal pupil’ whereas, teachers saw the lower working-class children as furthest away from it as they regarded them as badly behaved. Sociologists argue that teacher labelling could lead to self-fulfilling prophecy which refers to a prediction that comes true simply by virtue of it having been made.
Interactionists argue that labelling can affect a pupils’ achievement by creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. For example, the teacher labels a pupil positively and on the basis of this label makes predictions about the pupil therefore, the teacher then treats this pupils accordingly to the predictions so by providing the pupil with more attention and help. Then the pupil internalises the teachers’ expectations and becomes the kind of pupil the teacher believed in the first place therefore, this helps the pupil to gain confidence and work harder to success in education.
Studies of labelling show that ‘what teachers believe, pupils achieve’. Rosenthal and Jacobson (1968) did a study of a California primary school and they told the school they had a new test specially designed to identify those pupils who would ‘spurt’ ahead. However, the test was in fact simply a standard IQ test. After all the pupils have been tested, the researchers randomly picked 20% of them and told the school, again falsely that they were the ‘spurters’. After a year, Rosenthal and Jacobson returned to the school and found that the spurters had indeed made significant progress.
Rosenthal and Jacobson argue that the teachers’ beliefs about the pupils had been influenced by the test results therefore, the pupils made progress due to the amount of attention, interaction and encouragement the teachers have them. This demonstrates self-fulfilling prophecy as teachers accepted the predictions that some of the pupils were spurters and then believed theses pupils to be a certain type therefore; they treated these pupils in a certain way to actually make him or her into that type.
However, self-fulfilling prophecy can also, create under-achievement as teachers tend to have lower expectations of pupils from lower class backgrounds. For example, teachers may give a negative label to a working class pupil and see them as badly behaved as a result, the pupil would accept that label and live up to it. Therefore, pupils given negative labels may see themselves as failures and give up trying consequently, fulfilling the original prophecy. Some sociologists would argue that streaming can affect a pupil’s educational achievement.
Streaming refers to separating children into different ability groups or classes called ‘streams’. Each group is then taught separately, according to their ability for all subjects. In Becker’s study, teachers did not see working-class children as ideal pupils and were seen as lacking ability therefore, they were placed in a lower stream. This leads to self-fulfilling prophecy as pupils except their teachers’ low expectations by under-achieving. For example, Douglas found that children placed in a lower stream at the age of 8 suffered a decline in their IQ score by the age of 11.
In addition, sociologists would argue that pupil subcultures affect the pupils’ educational achievement. For example, the pro-school subculture contains pupils who have been placed in higher streams and are committed to school values. Theses pupils are more likely to be middle-class therefore they tend to achieve in education. However, the anti-school subculture contains pupils who are more likely to come from a working class background and they reject the school values. Also, they are placed in lower streams as they suffer from the loss of self-esteem and this label of failure encourages them to gain status alternatively.
This is by gaining status among their peers, for example by, truanting, smoking, drinking and behaving badly towards teachers. These factors create social class differences because schools have middle-class values which are a disadvantage for the working-class pupils. Therefore, middle-class pupils are more likely to be labelled as intelligent, smart and more able which leads to a self-fulfilling prophecy where they accept the label thus, helping them achieve in education. However, it is the opposite for working-class pupils because they are more likely to be labelled according to their social background and not their actual ability.
Furthermore, pupils accept the negative label as a result, working class pupils are likely to fail than middle-class pupils. On the other hand, some sociologists would argue that the social class differences in educational achievement are a result of external factors so outside the school such as, cultural and material deprivation. Cultural deprivation refers to how working-class families fail to socialise their children adequately therefore, they lack basic ‘cultural equipment’ such as, language, self-discipline and reasoning skills.
This leads to working-class children under-achieving in education also, cultural deprivation theorists identify three factors that are responsible for working class underachievement and they are, the restricted speech code, a lack of intellectual stimulation and working class-subculture. Bernstein (1975) distinguishes between the elaborated and restricted speech codes. The restricted code is used by the working class which has less vocabulary and is formed of simple sentences or even just gestures.
Whereas, the elaborated code which is used by the middle-class, it is more analytic, with a wide range of vocabulary and complex sentences. The elaborated code is the one used in education, by teachers, textbooks, exams and so on therefore, this gives middle-class children an educational advantage. Also, working-class lack intellectual stimulation because, working-class parents are less likely to give their children, educational toys and activities which would, stimulate their thinking and reasoning skills.
This would affect their intellectual development, resulting in working-class children being at a disadvantage compared with middle-class children, when they start school. Cultural deprivation theorists identify three aspects of working-class subculture that contribute to under-achievement. Working-class children have fatalistic beliefs that ‘whatever will be, will be’ so they believe that they cannot improve their position through their own individual efforts.
Unlike the middle class which practise the deferred gratification, the working-class believe in immediate gratification which refers to wanting rewards now rather than making sacrifices and working for future rewards. Also, Hyman argues that the working class do not value education as they believe that it will not benefit them. Douglas also argues that working-class parents show less support and interest in their child’s education for example, they are less likely than middle class parents to attend parent’s evening.
Also, working-class children are more likely to suffer from material deprivation which would influence their under-achievement in education. Material deprivation refers to the lack basic necessities that are needed to survive for example, poor housing, poor diet and low income. Working-class parents are less likely to be able to afford educational resources which are needed to help their child to achieve also; they cannot afford to go on educational trips. Furthermore, working-class children are likely to live in overcrowded homes therefore, it means that there will be no quiet rooms for pupils to study or do homework.
These factors affect a child’s educational achievement so working-class children are more disadvantages as they are more likely than middle class children to suffer from material deprivation. Marxists sociologist such as Bourdieu (1984) argues that middle class children are more successful than working-class children in education because their parents own more capital or assets. Middle class parents are economically and culturally capital therefore they use their wealth and greater capital culture to give their children an advantage by using it to achieve ducational capital. This allows children to get middle class jobs and more economic capital therefore, reproducing the advantages of the middle class from generation to generation. To conclude, sociologists would agree that social class differences in educational achievement are the result of school processes such as labelling but there are also other internal factors which result in the difference between social classes and they are the self-fulfilling prophecy, streaming and pupil subculture.
However, there are external factors which result in social class differences in educational achievement such as, cultural and material deprivation. On the other hand, there are criticisms of cultural deprivation theorists as they blame the working class for their failure but critics argue that working class have simply a different culture from the school and this puts them at a disadvantage.
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