Negotiating opportunities: Social class and children's help-seeking in elementary school
Despite popular beliefs about social mobility in American society, research consistently shows that inequalities are reproduced across generations. And yet, while social reproduction hinges on the transmission of advantages from parents to children, scholars take for granted children’s role in this process. We do not know whether children simply accept the opportunities provided to them, or whether they also acquire skills and strategies for negotiating their own opportunities. I address these questions with a longitudinal, ethnographic study of middle-class (college-educated, professional) and working-class (high-school educated, blue-collar) families whose children attend one suburban, public elementary school. I followed these students from third to fifth grade, observing them regularly in school, conducting in-depth interviews with students, parents, and teachers, and collecting data from surveys and school records. This dissertation explores three aspects of the process by which inequalities are maintained over time: the role that children play in learning and reproducing stratified patterns of social interaction, the role that parents play in teaching children these stratified patterns, and the role that institutions (in this case, schools) play in translating these patterns into differential opportunities. In three chapters, I focus specifically on children’s help-seeking—their requests for assistance from teachers—as a mechanism by which children negotiate their own opportunities. I find that there are meaningful social class differences in children’s help-seeking, with middle-class children asking for help from teachers more often, and more assertively, often calling out or getting up to ask questions. These help-seeking skills, in turn, stem largely from the training that middle-class children receive at home, with middle-class parents encouraging and even coaching children to approach teachers with requests. Because teachers generally expect students to ask for help when they are struggling, middle-class children’s helpseeking efforts usually generate meaningful profits. Furthermore, while teachers sometimes become frustrated with children’s help-seeking, these risks rarely discourage middle-class children from pursuing assistance. I discuss the implications of these findings for theories of cultural capital, stratification, and social reproduction, for research on parenting and the hidden curriculum, and also for policy efforts aimed at leveling the playing field in education. ^
Education, Sociology of|Education, Elementary|Sociology, Demography
Jessica McCrory Calarco,
"Negotiating opportunities: Social class and children's help-seeking in elementary school"
(January 1, 2012).
Dissertations available from ProQuest.