Teaching Working Class Kids

Doug, over at Borderland, writes at the end of the year with his 6th graders about class and social reproduction, about weariness, and about decompressing on his bike. He writes:

As Eduwonkette pointed out back in November, structural issues are problematic for practitioners because we can’t tell kids, “Forget it. The deck is stacked against you. Give up.” But if we simply tell them, “Work hard. Be nice,” we risk losing credibility and setting them up for disappointment when things don’t work out as well as we’d like, even if they did work hard and act nice. However, since we know it’s their best option, that’s what we tell them to do. We teach compliance with a system structured to favor some over others.

How, then, to navigate this chasm that is also called the “achievement gap?” It becomes a fascinating issue in diplomacy, psychology, politics, and strategy, and it holds promise for new areas of teacher inquiry.

Indeed it does.

2 thoughts on “Teaching Working Class Kids

  1. The Urban Scientist June 15, 2008 / 6:09 am

    I agree. Working hard and being nice is good, but not enough. At least by middle school age (definitely high school) kids begin to see the class differences – school district a vs b or kids in college track classes vs vo-tech classes. They may not be able to describe it, but they recognize it and begin to respond (rebel). The most clever kids realized it, called it what it was and was able to manuever. I think I was that kind of kid. I hate unfairness, but I accept it is real, confront it when possible, and exploit the technicalities in my favor if fairness fails.

    I always favored telling students what was real — giving them the playbook to how successful people do it. The challenge is that parents and most other adults in many working-class kids lives tell them the be nice, make good grades speech. So even if a teacher does give the youth the real deal, the message is overwhelmed by the more common, but vague messages from home.
    Many of these kids rarely get detailed explanations or descriptions of what to do or how to do things in life or what is expected of them in adulthood. I noticed the exact opposite among my better-off friends in middle and high school. Their parents gave them specific suggestions or instructions about what to expect from life & what they expected of them.

    I sometimes thinks it’s these details – or lack thereof – that lay the foundation for some kids taking off after high school & some just hanging around the neighborhood hoping for a break.

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