Middle Class Children as Role Models

I’ve had much too little time to write here lately.   Yet I’ve continued to get many comments defending Ruby Payne’s analysis of the multiple ways that poor children fall short of middle class peers’ behaviors and .  Many of these commentators offer examples of deeply flawed, low-income parents too naive or ill-willed to raise their children like middle-class parents do, as Payne asserts that middle-class parents nurture  their children within the values and ethics required for success.

But I’m seeing few of these commenters actually looking closely at middle class child rearing.

So, I’d like to ask those who insist that low-income children would succeed if only they were more like their middle class peers  to also comment on this recent NYT article outlining horrific abuse of poor and working class young girls by their more privileged peers.  A sample of the middle-class behavior from this article:

Her Payless and Gap shoes weren’t good enough. She wasn’t “allowed” to play with certain girls. Lila was forming a band, and Scarlett couldn’t be a part. One girl threatened to physically hurt her. During recess, Lila would loom over Scarlett, arms crossed, and say, “I’m watching you.”

This seems to have happened in kindergarten.

And while Payne finds the child-rearing of poor parents pathologically flawed, we find this from middle class parents:

In certain cases, the parents themselves seem to be pleased. When her daughter Julia was in first grade last year, said Lea Pfau, a mother of two in Sherman Oaks, Calif., one girl threatened that, unless Julia did as she ordered, “I’m going to tell my mommy, and she’ll set up a meeting with your mommy, and you’ll get in trouble.” The girl then orchestrated a series of exclusive clubs in which girls could be kicked out for various infractions. “I was surprised by the fierceness,” Ms. Pfau said. “But I was more surprised at the other parents. Rather than nip it in the bud, they encouraged it.”

For the many supporters of Ms. Payne who have commented here recently, who may wish to argue that such reporting is only anecdotal and in no way represents most middle-class children, I ask only this:

Offer any evidence that you have, beyond your own personal anecdotes, that Ms. Payne is describing children representative of all children raised in homes where there is too little money to pay the bills.

For that matter, I’d welcome any evidence beyond anecdote that she has anything to say about the relative merits of contemporary middle class families.

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6 thoughts on “Middle Class Children as Role Models

  1. momsomniac November 3, 2010 / 2:18 pm

    I love this post.

    I believe (and have evidence to support) that my working-class upbringing was more loving, attentive, and supportive than the childhoods of the majority of my (now) peers, who grew up in upper-middle class homes.

  2. liz November 22, 2010 / 12:15 pm

    I believe that those students from poverty are lost in the shuffle. While I feel that I have a better understanding, as a teacher, I can help and help and help, but the real winners are those students who do everything in their power to help themselves, regardless of their socioeconomic status.

  3. Michael Dunn November 24, 2010 / 7:37 am

    You are correct, of course. However, how do children learn how to help themselves? Where do they gain the self-confidence and coping skills, the perseverance, the communication skills?

    School is a middle class institution, run by people who have been trained to communicate and operate using middle class norms and values. Children who grow up middle class come to school with the cultural capital of this system and thus have a leg up on other kids. They are more likely to have a sense of entitlement and privilege that makes it ok to ask (or demand) for help or extra time.

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