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Social Class and School Knowledge

"Social Class and School Knowledge" was written by Professor Jean Anyon in 1981 after undertaking a study about the curriculum taught in five elementary schools in America. It was differentiated by social class and involved pupil evaluation processes. The study also involved both formal and informal interviews with teachers, pupils, principals, and local district education administrative staff. It also included observation of classroom behavior of both teachers and the pupils during the learning process, and the learning aids used during classroom interaction.

Primarily, data used in the study came from second and fifth graders of each of the five schools under investigation. Four social classes according to which schools were categorized were the “working class schools, middle class schools, affluent professional schools, and executive elite schools”. Pupils in the working class schools came from families of unskilled or semi-skilled workers with incomes of $12000 or less while those from middle class schools were from families of the traditional middle class workers with incomes ranging from $13000 to $25,000. Affluent professional schools drew their pupils largely from families of highly paid professionals with income levels ranging from $40000 to $80000, while those in executive elite schools were from families of more advanced corporate heads and executives with income levels above $100000.

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The study proved the fact that while there are numerous difference in the physical environment of the four school categories under study, there also exists a more serious difference in the approach employed during teaching. This greatly influences the quality of knowledge delivered to the pupils in the end, depending on the school category.

Sometimes, pupils in the middle class and executive elite schools were encouraged to come up with individual answers to different critical questions, while pupils in the working class schools relied heavily on the material provided by curriculum books without an option of independent thinking. The latter group did not get involved in discussion of topics outside the set curriculum, yet their peers in the former category were often free to do so. Some of the critical issues at free sessions in the executive elite schools, like workers strikes, were discussed well, while the pupils in the working class schools whose parents were workers never got a chance to discuss them.

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The dilapidated environment in which working class pupils were studying, lack of social motivation and their poor background seemed to have made them resign to fate. That is why most of them showed disinterest as well as both active and passive resistance in class. Conversely, middle class and affluent professional school pupils felt that they could achieve their dreams if they worked towards achieving them in school.

The essence of this differential approach in disseminating knowledge to young minds creates a skewed society, where the privileged and upper class schools are getting equipped with better knowledge which prepares their students for better careers later in life. This is not the same for students in the low class schools, who get equipped with less knowledge and lack of motivation. Such young people end up resigning to fate and following their parents’ footsteps of becoming unskilled and semi-skilled workers, which in its turn makes it very difficult for them to go up in the social ladder.

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