Looks like I'm a little late on getting back to commenting on the article
by Carolyn P. Panofsky, "The Relations of Learning and Student Social
Class: Towards Re-"Socializing" Sociocultural Learning Theory." This is
chapter 19 in a new book _Vygotsky's Educational Theory in Cultural
Context_, which Phil Chappell kindly introduced to xmca last month as an
article he was very impressed with, and initiated a discussion I am a
little deliquent in. I really liked this article myself and wanted to
write a little more about it. The article can be found at
Three things most impressed me. One was the article's presentation of
concepts of class and social relations in sociocultural theory with a
discussion of ideas by Vygotsky, Marx, Leontiev, Ratner and Bourdieu on
class and culture. Panofsky offers a rich source of quotes and theory that
I know I will be returning to as a very useful point of departure for
understanding the role of social class in human relations, and vice versa,
in terms of sociocultural theory, and for a better understanding how to
help enrich sociocultural theory and CHAT with these essential dimensions
of research and theory.
The second was the way she took two theoretical frameworks associated with
sociocultural theory, Pierre Bourdieu's "habitus" and Carl Ratner's list of
five kinds of cultural phenomena, and used them to draw more insights out
of the empirical research. I liked this approach, and I think Panofsky
shows a good way to use it. Where it fell a little short perhaps was in
the limitations of these two frameworks. I find the notion of "habitus"
weak on some counts because it does not clearly explain social class
itself. This was probably the weakest part of the paper in my opinion. I
found Ratner's list less than fully robust because it had a somewhat
different purpose (critiquing limitations of cross-cultural psychology)
than the one Panofsky was using it for, and in the form presented, this
list seems to lack the genetic-historic dimension of how cultural phenomena
develops that I think is needed. Lacking that developmental dimension,
Ratner's well-conceived list serves as a useful checklist, but is not yet
what it could be. I believe better frameworks can be built on the
shoulders of these two efforts. Panofsky shows the strength of shedding
light on empirical research with sociocultural theory using these two
available tools and frameworks, which can only encourage us to continue to
refine and develop them, and continue along the path that Carolyn herself
is shedding light on.
The third thing that really impressed me was its presentation of evidence
for social class distinctions that are made and reinforced by choices of
teaching methods. Let me end up with brief summaries of the Panofsky's very
helpful descriptions of these studies.
Ray Rist in "Student social class and teacher expectations: The
self-fulfilling prophecy in ghetto education," (1970/2000) Harvard
Educational Review, studied class distinctions in a situation where all
students and teachers were Black. Newness and neatness of clothing and
prior reports from parents about pre-schooling, from social workers, and
from other teachers about the previous behavior of older siblings, made a
difference in how teacher's treated, tracked into distinct groups, and
attended to students. The formation of group tables according to "ability"
early in kindergarten became the basis for not just how the teacher treated
the "high", "middle" and "low" groups, but also how they treated each other.
Kathleen Wilcox in the chapter "Differential socialization in the
classroom: Implication for equal opportunity," (1988) in the book _Doing
the ethnography of schooling_ edited by G. Spindler, describes her
year-long study comparing two essentially all-white school classes, one in
a "upper-middle-class" (UMC) and the other in a "lower-middle-class" (LMC)
school. Panofsky explains that the findings between Wilcox and Rist were
very similar, with the children from less privileged backgrounds being
treated differently. Wilcox found a way to measure two kinds of control
messages and strategies, internal and external. Internal messages refer to
the internalization of responsibility: "will this behavior help you become
..." a better reader, go to college, etc., and internal strategies included
praise and voiced expectations of future success in college and the
world. External messages refer to commands "sit down, get to work" etc.
and often include no reference to future success. The UMC students
received, roughly generalizing from the data provided, four to eight times
more internal than external messages and strategies compared with the LMC
students. Wilcox also measured the internal/external treatment for
individual students within these classrooms, and showed evidence that
similar kinds of differentiation exists between the "lower" and "upper"
James Collins in his chapter "Differential instruction in reading groups"
in J. Cook-Gumperz (Ed.) _The social construction of literacy_ (1986)
describes his study of a first grade classroom where student were divided
into four reading groups - (1) low, (2) medium, (3) high and (4) extra
high. He compared (1) which was comprised of children from Black
working-class families, with (3) which was all white children from white
professional families. Panofsky points out that the findings were similar
to Rist and Wilcox. Collins found evidence of a "two-tiered structure of
differential treatment." The two different groups of readers were given
different kinds of questions to answer and were drilled with different
tasks. The high-group were much more often directed to the meaningfulness
of passages whereas the low-group was more frequently tasked with
sound-word correspondence and word recognition drills. Correction of
equivalent errors was handled differently depending on the group.
Panofsky comments: "Overall, the studies of Collins, Wilcox, and Rist all
suggest that the process of differential expectations and differential
treatment of low-income learners is both out of awareness of educational
personnel in all dimensions that the researchers observed and, at the same
time, integral to the cultural processes of schooling in U.S.
society." She quickly footnotes "Of course, there are many educators, both
teachers and administrators, who are aware of such cultural processes and
successfully resist them. The reality, however, is that they remain a
major challenge if education is ever to achieve the ideal of equal
opportunity and social justice." She continues in the text "The findings
of the three studies strongly suggest that differential treatment in the
process of schooling itself is of central importance to the development of
a learner's sense of identity and agency."
And, if I may I extend Carolyn's comment, this treatment is also important
to the development of a learner's sense of social class.
I found lots of great ideas and important research in this article.
- Steve Gabosch
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