Monday, December 13, 2010

Family and School: an underlying conflict?

I was born during WWII into a highly ethnic, religious, working class, immigrant family. That speaks for my father’s side. My mother was from a bourgeoise, -- as they saw it – temporarily dispossessed, small business family, waiting—vainly through two wars – to return to the homeland to begin again the enterprise misfortune had taken from them.

Here was the first conflict: my paternal homeland was not my maternal homeland. My father’s people were entertained with church-sponsored movies promising that their homeland would rise again. (So it has, some fifty years later.) My mother’s family was interested in having their kids become “American.” They insisted that English be used even in the home.

For my parents, individually, Cupid won out, over the strong objections of both sets of in-laws.

This personal preface is just to set up the generalizations I will suggest about the relationships of social class to schooling. I grew up in working class neighborhoods. I attended public schools run by middle and upper class women. And I rubbed elbows with the scions of the “elite” – not “elite” merely by recently acquired wealth, but by long social pedigree – as I went through higher education.

Here is the scoop: caricatures, somewhat, no doubt, but generalizations which capture certain persistent norms.
Working Class Perceptions: school, like church, is all right for girls. But real men stick to their own kind and don’t get much involved. Those who do are are unmanly (“faggots,” “fruits”) or weak and obsequious (“brown-nosers,” “apple-polishers). Even if' ey’re geniuses 'n' ya gotta respect ‘em ‘cuz 'ey know all'e sports stats, they’re still nerds. Maybe they’ll “grow a pair” later. You grow up into the family business or trade – legal or not – or you make your bones in the military, if not elsewhere.

Middle Class Perceptions: School is a wonderful opportunity for everyone. Educators, like church people and parents, only want what’s best for the child. You have to avoid hanging out with the wrong kind of kids. You learn to do as you’re told. You learn to work with all kinds of people, even women. You study and your success, financial or professional, is (all but) guaranteed if you get good grades. (It does help to know the “right people.” School – especially college -- is where you meet them.)

Upper Class Perceptions: You get along and ahead (if you are that close to poverty to worry about achievements) by knowing the right people. School is a place your parents put you to get you away from overly interesting individuals and into the company of those who are “right-thinking,” that is, not inclined to worry about so-called broader problems. (There is enough in the family garden to be cultivated.) So called “higher education” is for fun and having sex with people you wouldn’t dream of marrying. Don’t get seduced into involvement with academics. (You were born on third base. No harm in telling people you hit a triple even if you don’t give a damn about making a home run.)
Perhaps such family ties have become outmoded. Perhaps schools have so, too.

To examine these issues further, see School and Family: A Partnership for Educational Success?

--- EGR

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