Posts Tagged ‘Social Class’

EDCI 506 Social Class, Race, and School Achievement Week #10

Thursday, November 1st, 2012

Social Class, Race, and Student Achievement

Social class can be thought of as a mere ranking system of people based on four variables.  Our textbook states these four social class variables are occupation, education, income, and housing value (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011).  Because of those four variables, people are ranked and ordered into upper class, upper middle class, lower middle class, upper lower class, and lower lower class, which is our societies way of determining a persons worth, in my opinion.  Social class correlates strongly with school success, which is why as a teacher it is important to put aside any preconceived notions about a student’s social class when teaching.  Evidence suggests relationships between social class and academic success in many different areas including mathematics and reading.  Our textbook reads, “nine-year-olds whose parents had at least some college had average scores not far below those for thirteen-year-olds who parents had not completed high school” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p. 340).  Because of the strong relationship between social class and academic success, I as a teacher want to strive to only see children and not how much money their parents make.

I think that a huge factor that plays into academic success is teachers perceptions about how well students are going to perform based on many different factors including social class, race, and past performance.  When students turn out to be what is expected of them, that is known as the self-fulfilling prophecy.  As a future teacher, I will try my best to have high expectations for all of my students despite social class, race, gender, or any other personal bias that I may have, in hopes of them all being successful in life.  I personally am from a middle class family where both of my parents did not go to college, and so I have hope for all students that their family’s social class should not define who they turn out to be.

Race is another factor that correlates strongly with academic success and in many cases social class.  For example, “African American students have the lowest SES scores (as reflected by higher percentages in poverty).  They also have the lowest math and reading scores” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.343).  Whereas, whites have the highest SES and the highest reading scores and second highest math scores (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011).  Because race is such a huge factor in school success, I think it is very important to develop a climate of respect in a classroom.  Race ties very closely into cultural beliefs; classrooms need a sense of respect in order to function and maintain a learning environment.  The movie Freedom Writers was about a classroom full of students with many different racial backgrounds; until they respected one another, no substantial learning took place because the focus was on the racial differences (DeVito, Shamberg, & Sher, 2007).  I want to help set up a climate in my classroom like Mrs. Gruwell did; I want my students to not feel judged by me or by others based on their race.  I was all of my students to know that I believe they are worth something, and can succeed in life if they want to.

When reading the chapter, I found it very interesting that in certain cultures it is cool to be unsuccessful in school.  The book states that, “high achievers who work hard are often labeled as ‘brainiacs’ and accused of ‘acting white’” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p. 360).  This supports the fact that students are very influenced by their peers, which are usually members of the same race.  Teachers need to find a way to make learning the “cool” thing to do, maybe by creating fun projects that can be applicable to real world settings or getting ideas from students as to what sorts of assignments they would like to complete.  Overall, race is just one factor in a person’s success, and should not define what they can and cannot accomplish in life.  The book says it right, “For educators, the challenge is to improve the performance of all low-status students, from whatever ethnic group” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011, p.348).

When talking about social class, race, and their effects on academic achievement, people tend to have differing viewpoints as to whether outcomes are genetically based or environmentally; personally, I believe in the synthesizer’s or interactionist view.  When examining a person’s intelligence, some people believe that it is all from their genetics, while others believe it is all from their environment and what they are exposed to (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011).  I believe that intelligence is partially based on genetics and partially based on environmental factors.  People can be genetically predisposed to have certain traits, but unless their environment brings out those traits than no one will ever know they had them.  For example, a child who has the genetic ability to hear pitch and intonation extremely well and would be a great musician, never is exposed to musical instruments, and therefore, never turns out to be the famous musician that they could have been.  Granted, that is an example of a hypothetical extreme case, however, it could be true for someone in the world.  Overall, I believe that intelligence and academic performance is related to part genetics and part environmental factors, which is why I think teachers should not judge students based on their race or social class.

In what ways does student culture shape perceptions and behaviors?


Student culture shapes perceptions and behaviors in many ways.  As previously mentioned, students sometimes do not try in school because if they succeed they are ridiculed and told that they are “acting white” (Ornstein, Levine, & Gutek, 2011).  This is an example of how students culture shapes their perceptions and behaviors; these minority students are perceiving academic success to be a trait associated with the white race, therefore, their behavior is being effected and they are not trying in order to avoid seeming white.  Another example of how student culture shapes perceptions and behaviors is from the teacher’s viewpoint.  If a teacher views a particular ethnicity or culture in a negative light, than students will tend to have negative perceptions of the teacher and their race and act in a way that is expected of them.  Because a student may be from a minority race, the teacher may have negative views about that student, which will in turn affect the student’s perceptions about the teacher (especially if they are white) and will affect their behaviors, making them less motivated to do well in school because their teacher does not believe in them, essentially creating the self-fulfilling prophecy.  This example of a teacher’s perception affecting student perceptions and behaviors was clearly identified in Freedom Writers; some of the students made comments to Mrs. Gruwell like, “we are supposed to respect you because you are white” (DeVito et al., 2007).  The students said that they do not respect teachers because of their race; rather some hate the teacher because of their race.  Eva, one of the main characters, stated that white people are the ones who caused everything bad to happen in her life and that they can do whatever they want like put her father into jail, and that is why she hates all white people (DeVito et al., 2007).  This view of Eva’s shows that her perception of white people is very negative, which is ultimately affecting her behaviors in school, she is not doing her work and is not being respectful to white teachers.

Here is the clip about race in Freedom Writers.  I think that it explains how a students culture can shape their perceptions and behaviors.



DeVito, D., Shamberg, M., & Sher, S. (Producers), & Lagravenese, R. (Director). (2007). Freedom Writers [Motion picture]. United States: Paramount Pictures.

Ornstein, A.C., Levine, D.U., & Gutek, G.L. (2011). Foundations of education (11th ed.). Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.