Re: [xmca] Fwd: from a valued colleague

From: Vera Steiner (
Date: Sun Mar 12 2006 - 11:58:32 PST

Thanks, Phil, Vera
----- Original Message -----
From: "Phil Chappell" <>
To: <>; "eXtended Mind, Culture, Activity"
Sent: Saturday, March 11, 2006 6:38 AM
Subject: Re: [xmca] Fwd: from a valued colleague

I can't but agree with you, Mike. The reductionism in the piece does
little for an understanding of class/home socialisation. We could
look to sociologists such as Basil Bernstein for greater
understandings as well as ideas for interventions vis-a-vis the
categories of "knowledge" and "knowers" that are generated in
different social contexts. As bb says, perhaps we could access a
paper by Annette? It's a bit awkward talking about her work mediated
by a newspaper story.

A tip of the hat to you, Vera and Eugene for your well-deserved awards!



Phil Chappell
AUA Language Centre
Bangkok, Thailand
University of Wollongong
New South Wales, Australia

On 11/03/2006, at 8:30 AM, Mike Cole wrote:

>> This op ed piece was forwarded by a valued colleague who works
>> tirelessly
>> to overcome the consquences of rascism and social inequality. I
>> responded
>> (with some redaction) as follows:
> Getting onto the op ed page of the Times seems like a real good
> idea but I
> strongly disagree with the bottom line of this article. The absence
> of a
> serious class analysis is a major shortcoming of the work *I* do,
> and I do
> not think I am alone. But integrating such an analysis with the
> kinds of
> ameliorative strategies that we seek to sneak past funding agencies
> is a
> daunting task and one that appears to have only virtue as its
> potential
> reward.
> To rent the words of a one-time activitist on xmca, what do you think?
> mike
> PS-- The polls for a next topic to talk about are open even though
> the sign
> says not open. And if you don't like the choices, pick another one
> and send
> it to us all.
> Just go to xmca where there is the Erlbaum ad and vote.
> *Both Sides of Inequality*
>> For the past two decades, Annette Lareau has embedded herself in
>> American
>> families. She and her researchers have sat on living room floors
>> as families
>> went about their business, ridden in back seats as families drove
>> hither and
>> yon.
>> Lareau's work is well known among sociologists, but neglected by the
>> popular media. And that's a shame because through her close
>> observations and
>> careful writings in books like "Unequal Childhoods" Lareau has
>> been able
>> to capture the texture of inequality in America. She's described how
>> radically child-rearing techniques in upper-middle-class homes
>> differ from
>> those in working-class and poor homes, and what this means for the
>> prospects
>> of the kids inside.
>> The thing you learn from her work is that it's wrong to say good
>> parents
>> raise successful kids and bad parents raise unsuccessful ones. The
>> story is
>> more complicated than that.
>> Looking at upper-middle-class homes, Lareau describes a parenting
>> style
>> that many of us ridicule but do not renounce. This involves
>> enrolling kids
>> in large numbers of adult-supervised activities and driving them
>> from place
>> to place. Parents are deeply involved in all aspects of their
>> children's
>> lives. They make concerted efforts to provide learning experiences.
>> Home life involves a lot of talk and verbal jousting. Parents
>> tend to
>> reason with their children, not give them orders. They present
>> "choices" and
>> then subtly influence the decisions their kids make. Kids feel
>> free to pass
>> judgment on adults, express themselves and even tell their
>> siblings they
>> hate them when they're angry.
>> The pace is exhausting. Fights about homework can be titanic. But
>> children raised in this way know how to navigate the world of
>> organized
>> institutions. They know how to talk casually with adults, how to
>> use words
>> to shape how people view them, how to perform before audiences and
>> look
>> people in the eye to make a good first impression.
>> Working-class child-rearing is different, Lareau writes. In these
>> homes,
>> there tends to be a much starker boundary between the adult world
>> and the
>> children's world. Parents think that the cares of adulthood will
>> come soon
>> enough and that children should be left alone to organize their own
>> playtime. When a girl asks her mother to help her build a
>> dollhouse out of
>> boxes, the mother says no, "casually and without guilt," because
>> playtime is
>> deemed to be inconsequential a child's sphere, not an adult's.
>> Lareau says working-class children seem more relaxed and vibrant,
>> and
>> have more intimate contact with their extended families. "Whining,
>> which was
>> pervasive in middle-class homes, was rare in working-class and
>> poor ones,"
>> she writes.
>> But these children were not as well prepared for the world of
>> organizations and adulthood. There was much less talk in the
>> working-class
>> homes. Parents were more likely to issue brusque orders, not give
>> explanations. Children, like their parents, were easily
>> intimidated by and
>> pushed around by verbally dexterous teachers and doctors. Middle-
>> class kids
>> felt entitled to individual treatment when entering the wider
>> world, but
>> working-class kids felt constrained and tongue-tied.
>> The children Lareau describes in her book were playful 10-year-
>> olds. Now
>> they're in their early 20's, and their destinies are as you'd have
>> predicted. The perhaps overprogrammed middle-class kids got into good
>> colleges and are heading for careers as doctors and other
>> professionals. The
>> working-class kids are not doing well. The little girl who built
>> dollhouses
>> had a severe drug problem from ages 12 to 17. She had a child outside
>> wedlock, a baby she gave away because she was afraid she would
>> hurt the
>> child. She now cleans houses with her mother.
>> Lareau told me that when she was doing the book, the working-
>> class kids
>> seemed younger; they got more excited by things like going out for
>> pizza.
>> Now the working-class kids seem older; they've seen and suffered
>> more.
>> But the point is that the working-class parents were not bad
>> parents. In
>> a perhaps more old-fashioned manner, they were attentive. They
>> taught right
>> from wrong. In some ways they raised their kids in a healthier
>> atmosphere.
>> (When presented with the schedules of the more affluent families,
>> they
>> thought such a life would just make kids sad.)
>> But they did not prepare their kids for a world in which verbal
>> skills
>> and the ability to thrive in organizations are so important. To
>> help the
>> worse-off parents, we should raise the earned-income tax credit to
>> lessen
>> their economic stress. But the core issue is that today's rich
>> don't exploit
>> the poor; they just outcompete them.
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