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Social Class in the Context of Education

Although scholars and politicians still debate whether social class exists, this concept heavily impacts the life outcomes of every person. Social class as a notion refers to a set of characteristics which determine persons’ social status in light of their association with other people sharing the same worldview and status, involving such attributes as power, prestige, and wealth. As a result, this phenomenon defines individual position in the social hierarchy, namely, stratification with regard to the general population. It follows that social class is not a made-up theoretical concept that has appeared due to scientists’ imagination. It is a sort of innate guideline which greatly affects the person’s life since one’s birth. Of course, it is irrelevant to assert that social class is a curse of the person making one doomed for the consequences related to a particular middle, low-income, or upper stratum. However, one should not underestimate the role of the class in human life. As I am currently a student, I find it vital to trace back how social class implications have influenced education on the grounds of personal life observations and academic research. Therefore, the paper argues that the indicated concept has specified consequences on student’s perception of education that is clearly traceable on the verge of social structures and interactions of individuals.

To start with, consequences of social class are most evident in early childhood and elementary school and family background is of critical significance in this respect. Henslin, Possamai, and Possamai-Inesedy (2014) have noted that a family as a primary group in a social structure plays a key role in child’s initial self-identity within the social stratification system. Undoubtedly, the social-class ideology shapes early children’s worldviews regarding the importance or, conversely, insignificance of education in human life. Moreover, the issue of ethnic origins along with social class attribution contributes to this social perception. For instance, “African American and Hispanic minorities tend to live in more impoverished conditions than European and Asian Americans” (Grossman, & Huynh, 2013, p. 113). Therefore, adult representatives of these minorities pay utmost attention to education as a main opportunity for their children to reshape their social status. On the contrary, Americans of European and Asian origin have a tendency to emphasize to their children that income is likely to improve their position in society (Grossman & Huynch, 2013).

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These adults’ perceptions of social perspectives impact students’ learning outcomes and achievements. From the personal observation, I remember that this belief frequently motivated one of my classmates in elementary school raised by a single Hispanic mother of working class. The encouraging words like “study well because education is your only way to get better life chances” inspired Maria to be one of the best students in the class. However, parents of another low-income student demotivated him. Specifically, they linked their perception of Joshua’s opportunities to study and succeed in academics to the fact that richer children are the ones to succeed in learning and life in general. In this way, he was quiet and practically invisible in the class which affected his low academic activity and performance. Thus, one of the consequences of social class in human life is shaping the child’s understanding of education and its role in social life, which is often a misinterpreted and stereotyped vision of reality.

In middle and high school, there is the further evident influence of social class and appropriate cultural perceptions linked to each stratum, though it is of a rather different nature. While parents also affect students’ understanding of education and its role, peers and teachers also become crucial factors in this case. In particular, Calarco (2011) in her research has evidenced that “middle-class children receive more help from teachers, spend less time waiting, and are better able to complete the assignments” as compared to lower-class students (p. 862). In accordance with the above example from my personal experience, Maria often asked for teacher’s assistance in terms of clarifications and more detailed explanations of the tasks. As a result, her works have always been diligent and received high grades. Furthermore, teachers and students of richer and poorer family backgrounds, who actively interacted with the girl, highly respected her. In other words, students of all backgrounds equally friendly accepted the girl. At the same time, Joshua seemed socially disoriented due to initially flawed understanding of his class-centered life chances. The attitudes of richer students were especially offensive and discouraging for him. In this regard, the findings of other research come to mind. In particular, Chowdry et al. (2010) have found that students of differing social-class backgrounds face such challenges as adjusting to contrasting worldviews and negotiating dual social roles, especially with relation to a lower socioeconomic class. Maria has managed to gain a more stable social stance and somehow dual social role due to her stronger aspirations in light of social-class positioning. On the contrary, Joshua’s situation linked to the lower-class origin appeared to be less aspiring. Therefore, these circumstances comprise another consequence of social class attributes.

Additionally, upper-class roots show the most evident consequences on students’ education perceptions as compared to that of other classes. According to Piff, Stancato, Côté, Mendoza-Denton, and Keltner (2012), “greater resources, freedom, and independence from others among the upper class give rise to self-focused social-cognitive tendencies” (p. 4089). These implications were clearly traceable in in-class behavior, attitudes, and social interactions of the students from richer backgrounds. The issue was especially evident with respect to lower-class students, such as Joshua, whom other students not only neglected but even bullied. In other words, the social rewards and privileges attained by their parents seemed a sufficient justification for them in terms of demonstrating their social-class supremacy and unethical attitudes to individuals of the lower class. Oftentimes, such attitude also concerned teachers. For instance, Tim, whose parents of European origin owned several restaurants, has often emphasized that he could behave the way he wanted to. This rationale seemed justified to the student because his parents told him that delinquent behavior or academic achievements do not impact future wealth, income, and social position he already had. In this way, the above illustration once again shows that social class shapes individual perception of education and its role in person’s life outcomes.

To conclude, the paper argued that social class has specified consequences on students’ perceptions of education that is clearly traceable on the verge of social structures and interactions of individuals. Both scholarly research and personal experiences showed the relevance of this statement. First, the paper clearly distinguished this connection with regard to family units as primary social structures. Second, it observed the social class impact in the context of student-teacher relations. Third, peer interactions were one more dimension of the evident social class consequences on early stratification of children in the scope of education. Finally, upper-class students’ perceptions in terms of education and its role were the most vivid illustrations of such continuing class-based impact. It follows that regardless of that social class is a debated concept, its influence on human lives is evident.

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