UNEQUAL CHILDHOODS: CLASS, RACE, AND FAMILY LIFE
Annette Lareau (2003, 2nd edition in 2011)
I am currently reading a book about education and social classes in the US. It is an interesting study from an American scholar who adopted an extremely European way of doing sociology. It’s rare to find American researchers who base their studies on social class. It’s certainly linked to the fact that ‘social classes’ do not have the same history in the US than in Europe, where people fought countless times for less or more privileges.
In France, the link between education and social classes is often taken into account. With the work of Bourdieu, no student studying sociology can escape the famous theory of social reproduction, while many newspapers publish about how some elite schools are filled with elite students coming from… upper-middle class families. (Here is a study from INSEE explaining access inequalities to elite schools in France: Les Inégalités sociales d’accès aux grandes écoles, Valérie Albouy, Thomas Wanecq) Therefore, I was not really surprised by the main idea, saying that middle-class kids tend to have a social capital that is much more valuable on the market. What was more interesting was to see in a detailed way what they are taught and how. Why are children living in poverty less likely to go to an Ivy League university? Why can middle-class boys ask questions to their doctors while lower-class boys tend to avoid talking when going to the hospital? How different are their schedule? How do they interact with their families and other institutions?
I really enjoy reading this study and I would love to have more of my American housemates reading it. Education is not only a matter of schools; families are extremely important in the process of socializing and preparing the children to face the outside world, shaping their view points. I sometimes recognize myself and my family in those lines. Sometimes, I recognize friends or acquaintances. Even though there are clear differences in education patterns (for example linked to different sets of institutions or values), some patterns are there, reproducing themselves in families all around the world. I am fascinated by this study. I am now reading what the kids became more than 10 years after, when they became adults. Their paths are different, but generally defined by their social class. Their occupation, their familial situation, their social life… everything seems heavily influenced by their social background. Sad assessment.
That is why life is so unfair. Sometimes, I have the feeling that I am going to an elite school in France because my parents had the right cultural, social, economic and political capital. I am actually going to the same kind of school as my own father, walking on the same path 30 years later. I would not say that I didn’t study. As Annette Lareau says in her book, I went through an intensive concerted cultivation, asking and being asked questions, having a heavy schedule. I remember being in junior high, looking anxiously at the TV while they announced that Jean-Marie Le Pen, an extreme right wing bastard, was going to the second round of presidential elections in 2002. We talked about the implication of having Le Front National (his party) being so powerful in France. I asked who would vote for them and why; my parents talked about political strategies and people’s disbelief in politics. Studying in school was much easier for me than for people coming from a less privileged background, simply because we would talk about what I had to learn in our everyday life conversations. That is why elite schools are filled with elite kids who went to elite high schools. Because we have enough capital to push away other kids. So is it fair that I am going to an elite school? I am not saying that I am simply lucky. I just say that I had all the cards in my hands from the moment I was born.
That is why schools have to rethink the way they teach. The second edition of this book is even more interesting because it takes into account a summary of how the kids became adults, what they became and how schools could change the way they interact with kids, especially kids from lower social classes. If school (for example in France) is an instrument of social reproduction, it can also be a tool for social ascent. The program PEI of my home school is a good example of how you can try to help kids studying in difficult conditions passing the exams for elite schools. We should not lose faith in the possibility of a better system, even though social realities are tough.
Listening to: Vanilla Acoustic – 고백 (From. 김지수) (Confession)