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.

6 thoughts on “Middle Class Children as Role Models

  1. Michael Dunn October 21, 2010 / 6:43 am

    Another great post! In my mostly middle class middle school, it was a common insult to tell other kids, “Oh, where’d you get those shoes? Salvation Army?”

    As a high school teacher, I still see bullying of kids over social class. There are also subtler effects. The popular kids, the ones that lead clubs and student government, are often the more economically privileged students, while the poorer kids, especially the homeless, are so marginalized that they sometimes become invisible even to their teachers.

  2. Michael Dunn October 21, 2010 / 6:48 am

    Here’s another take on class and education that the naysayers often overlook. Schools are designed by and for the middle class. The norms and expectations are middle class. Middle class students come to school with the cultural capital of their social class and thus already understand the “rules” for success, the language, the behavior, how to advocate for themselves. This gives them a huge advantage at school.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s