Why do Working Class Children Do Less in Education than Middle Class Children

Social class is an essential sociological concept. In fact, most people identify themselves with a certain class, based on economical or educational factors. That is why families and schools, among other externally relevant institutions, are important mediators of class (Weis, 2012, p. 9). In modern global economy, access to education is extremely beneficial for all countries. People from different classes need to be able to gain education. Thus, it is important to define factors which influence education of working, as well as middle class children.

To start with, social class creates certain division of privileges. For example, along all stages within the educational journey, young working-class people experience poorer conditions, receive fewer resources, study for less prestigious qualifications and follow lower-status trajectories as compared to the middle-class counterparts (Archer, 2003, p. 5). Therefore, class inequalities limit educational opportunities for working-class children. Unlike children from middle class, working class children are not able to attend schools in a prestigious district or some other private institutions. In addition, they have a different perception of education. This perception is usually shaped by their parents.

Parent’s social class backgrounds have profound implications for their children’s educational achievement (Espinoza, 2012, p. 37). Parents have different skills, which they acquire at work. That is why they apply these skills in their family. In fact, middle-class parents’ actions result in a school experience for their child that is qualitatively different from the school experience of working-class children (Lareau, 2000, p. 8). For example, if parents are engaged in a complex business activity they can be quite demanding and adhere to strict rules inside the family.

In addition, middle-class parents understand importance of education. Lareau conducted a number of interviews, and his results show how parents in an affluent suburb monitor their children’s homework, keep an eye on their teachers, and intervene when they sense disaster, such as the threat of a child being held back or failing to learn to read (Lareau, 2000, p.  8). Therefore, parent’s occupation has an immense influence on upbringing of children. Nevertheless, there are scholars, which assume that parents’ education is more important than occupation.

Bourdieu argues that children’s academic performance is rather related to parent’s educational history than their occupational status (Espinoza, 2012 p. 33). Indeed, some children try to follow their parent’s example. However, educated parents also possess more skills to prepare children for school. In addition, Espinoza argued that children of educated parents are much more likely to exhibit “educational readiness” skills such as knowing their letter, identifying colour (Espinoza, 2012, p. 37). From this point of view, parents’ education is quite a powerful source of inspiration as well as discipline for children. However, there are always some exceptions.

Sometimes, parent’s educational history can negatively influence a child’s desire to perform well in school. For instance, there are working class families with educated parents, who are not able to find a good job. Thus, child will not be motivated to study because looking at his parents he will think that education does not guarantee good social conditions. In addition, child’s performance at school depends on ethical rather than educational level of their parents.

Middle class families with high ethical level set out to help their own children, being aware that their future success depends on how well they do in school (Lareau, 2000, p. 8). However, working-class educated parents are not always involved in the educational process of their children. One of the reasons is that they believe that education does not always bring positive results. In addition, working class parents tend to “lack” the dominant forms of material and cultural capital that can facilitate smooth and effective interactions with teachers and schools (Archer, 2007, p. 70). That is why working class children sometimes do not possess general knowledge, which is required to be accepted to a school. Therefore, family and school are closely related in socialization.

Schools always require special cultural resources, such as language. Language is always one of the main important indicators of person’s education and knowledge. Bernstein believed the British working class habitually uses implicit language, whereas the middle class uses explicit language habitually for reasons, which originate in their cultures (Finn, 2009, p.:82). The main reason is that working class people have insufficient experience in negotiation. According to Finn, if you are poor or working class, you are likely to feel powerless and accustomed to a society of intimates where conformity is expected (Finn, 2009, p. 88).

For example, many working class people are employed by other people, and they expect their boss to exercise authority. That is why working-class and middle-class students have a different approach to education. Many working-class children come to school being unequipped to acquire the verbal skills and behavioural traits, which are required for success in the classroom (Ornstein, 2008, p. 16). Thus, they are usually in disadvantage. These working class children find it difficult to socialize in those schools where the language is always explicit.

That is why it is important to separate children according to their level of knowledge and teach working-class children some basic phonics. Nevertheless, it is extremely difficult for teachers to teach in classes with a high percentage of low achievers. For example, a teacher in a working-class school who has ten or twelve low-achieving students in a class of twenty-five has pursues an extremely difficult task of providing effective instruction (Ornstein, 2008, p. 358). As a result, he will try to simplify the learning material, in order to fit it with educational level of majority of students. However, working class children, who have necessary skills, knowledge and ability to learn faster will regress rather than progress in this case.

There are also some psychological pressures for working class children. Children who possess cultural capital due to their exposure to it from their birth in the middle- and upper-class family set-ups enjoy an advantage of feeling comfortable in school, as well as communicating easily with peers and teachers; therefore, they are likely to progress in school (Espinoza, 2012, p. 37). Nevertheless, working class children can sometimes experience discomfort. The main reason is that they have different cultural capital as well as general knowledge. That is why they feel quite insecure when they face competition with other students. At the same time, they can be intimidated by teaches. Sometimes teachers have more authority for working class children because unlike their parents they possess knowledge and professionalism.

In fact, these psychological pressures are unavoidable and hard to eliminate. Espinoza mentioned that even low-class students who manage to acquire cultural capital in the course of studies at school and succeed through the school system, can be easily distinguished from their middle and upper class peers since their cultural capital appears more “academic” (Espinoza, 2012, p. 69). One of the reasons is that every day after school they come back to their working class communities, communicate with uneducated parents and thus, they continue to perceive themselves as lower class. In addition, some minority ethnic students, particularly those from working-calls backgrounds, risk “alienation” and isolation (Ball, 2006, p. 27). That is why they always feel themselves discriminated and at risk of dropping out.

It is noteworthy that working class children can also have less motivation to study than their middle and upper class peers. For example, middle class families are always surrounded by members of their social class – the doctors, the lawyers, the prosperous merchants and directors (Barcen, 2012, p. 35). That is why these children have a different view of society: working class people are locked in their communities and assume that they are not able to succeed in education.

However, there are always exceptions, when poor life conditions become the most motivational force for many children. Nowadays, education became an important source of social mobility. The changing economic structure and the concomitant growth of the white-colour class made prolonged schooling important socially and economically (Barcen, 2012, p. 79). For example, many working class youngsters are trying to learn a new language in order to work abroad. That is why globalization of labour and economics is also a powerful motivational source.

In addition, parents also take a massive part in motivating their children to study. For example, working-class parents tend to go along with their children’s preferences, which are conditioned by locality and friendship, whereas middle-class parents are more strategic and craft carefully chosen options for their child (Crompton, 2008, p. 130). Middle class parents are usually aware of schools with high reputation. However, working class parents do not always try to motivate their children to enrol in prestigious institutions. The main reason is that they have a fear of humiliation or afraid that they will not be able to finance education in such institutions. 

In fact, financing education is also an essential part. Working class parents, who are willing to invest in their children’s’ education are trying to determine all advantages and disadvantages of this decision. Class-rated choices are usually determined by the costs and benefits of different courses of action, and disadvantaged families require greater assurance of benefits for more costly courses of action (Crompton, 2008, p. 128). Thus, they are usually trying to make a rational choice.

Nevertheless, they are still concerned about certain moral comfort of their children. Some parents are concerned not only about the school, but the families of other children likely to be going there and they are looking for other “parents with similar ambitions” (Crompton, 2008, p. 130). That is why they may not let their children attend prestigious school, because of the social discomfort they may experience. Nonetheless, middle class parents are trying to choose the best school for their children. Sometimes they want to follow family traditions and want their children to enrol in the school they attended.

To sum everything up, class inequalities limit educational opportunities for working class children. Working class children do less in education than middle class children because of several important reasons. For example, their perception of education is usually shaped by their parents. Middle-class parents understand importance of education. In addition, educated parents also possess more skills to prepare children for school as compared to working class families. Nevertheless, working class parents realize that education does not always bring positive results and may not participate in the educational process of their children.

Schools also require special cultural resources. Thus, working class people usually have less experience in negotiation and possess implicit language. That is why working class children can experience some psychological pressures. Working class children can also have less motivation to study than their middle class peers. Moreover, working class parents may not let their children attend prestigious school, because of social discomfort that they may experience. All in all, there are diverse educational barriers for working class children, but they can always be overcome.