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Classism in Education
| Home | Further Class Divisions | Definition | Historical Perspective | Causes | Actions | Advocates in Education


Equal Education 

Crowded classrooms with a growing number of socially and economically disadvantaged students continue to challenge the education system. While schools have often been viewed as the equalizer for opportunity, all children do not start at the same point. In actuality the educational experience of a child will vary depending on the socio-economic group a child is from (Persell, 87) Class disparities among school districts are increasing as communities become economically more homogeneous. Those children from the lower socioeconomic class are not being educated with middle class students. They are often denied access to the better teachers, and facilities of the middle class districts (Hochschild & Scovronick, 26).  Statistics indicate that the majority of students from Nonwhite European social groups in Western nations are not receiving quality education and that the inequality continues to expand rather than contract (Osborne, 286).


In large urban schools having students from varied social backgrounds, it is not uncommon to divide students based on their perceived abilities. Often the methodology used to teach fails to reach the students. The students are perceived to be the problem, and are placed in lower tracks or less demanding academic classes. These students end up receiving a different and unequal education. Family income often parallels the levels of grouping and tracking of students (Spring, 77). Schools with larger populations of low-income and diverse students frequently have large remedial and vocational programs and smaller academic tracks. The social class background of students is linked to the way tracks are assigned, the frequency of tracking and the type of tracks available.(Persell, 96) A school’s expectations of students may be influenced by the social class of students’ parents. Schools located in working class communities direct the education and learning toward rote behavior and following directions.  Schools located in affluent areas with a professional social class tend to value creativity and student interaction (Anyon, 4).



The Assimilationist Philosophy


The projection of only one dominant culture as relevant, and unfair practices of stratification of certain groups to low class statuses, are all legitimized by the undertones that students must assimilate for survival. The assimilationist philosophy is a live entity ever present in schools that push to the fringes power, cultures that it regards as threatening to its position of dominance. According to James Banks,

"The assimilationist ideology makes it difficult for educators to think differently about how U.S. society and culture developed and to acquire commitment to make curricular multicultural." (Banks, 2005)

The obvious meaning of assimilation is to eliminate the general difference in people, making only one standard socially acceptable. Nothing could be said to be more true than in the exclusion of cultural differences in curriculum of the school system. James Banks, in his study of the assimilationist approach towards education interviewed am African American Educator. The Educator was blunt, in her assertion of the need for African American students to assimilate,

"I think many of the youngsters [from the] larger community have more normal set of values that people generally want to see, and therefore do not have [as] much difficulty in coping with their school situation...[The Black Children] do have difficulty in adjusting because they are just not used to it. Until we can adjustively counsel them into the right types if behavior...I think we're going to continue to have these types of problems."

Assimilation is an age old concept used as a tool to marginalize and exclude certain groups of ethnicity, under the illusion that these groups could develop the "cultural capitol" to be accepted into mainstream society. Traditionally, what has resulted in a schism in the psyche of the mariganlized people; a development of a "dual consciousness" (Bennet, 2003) of the African American people. The viewpoint that has been widely accepted is,

" the face of physical torture and white attempts to eradicate their cultures, the many peoples of Africa among the slaves...became a single African American people and forged their own oppositional culture, an African American culture. Drawing on deep spiritual roots, these new Americans shaped their distinctive versions of Afro-English, and their own philosophical ans politcal thinking about racial oppression, liberation, and social justice."

Where assimilation comes into play is when the dominant culture considers such cultural distinctions invalid and unacceptable. For the students of color, what is suggested is the complete abandonment of familiar culture and the complete mastery of foreign culture and social skills for social acceptance and access to educational opportunities. According to Christine Bennet, The dominant culture views other cultures as unacceptable, inferior, or a threat to social harmony and national unity. the dominant group only accepts members once they give up their original identity." It isn't difficult to see how such a philosophy is problematic for students of color.




A mind stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimensions. "—Oliver Wendell Holmes



School Achievement Gap 


The achievement gap between different racial and socioeconomic groups may be attributed to an array of categories: family conditions, peer culture, poverty, curriculum, pedagogy, cultural differences, teachers’ expectations, unequal access to resources, lack of role models, and language differences. This list illustrates the complexity of the situation. "In addition to this list there is a need to increase people’s understanding of how race and class bias—personal and institutionalized, conscious and unconscious, blatant and subtle—operate in schools and society to impede student learning. Racism can be subtle or blatant, conscious or unconscious, personal or institutionalized.   An  example of such bias may be when teachers have low expectations of Black or Latino students when they interact with them less thoughtfully and less often than they do with White students. Institutionalized racism includes policies or practices of attitudes and values that work to the disadvantage of students of color (for example, tracking practices that consign many students of color to low tracks with less experienced teachers from which they can seldom escape) The unquestioned acceptance by the institution of White middle-class values (for example, rewarding facility in taking tests or the absence of authors of color in many secondary school English curricula)" (Weissglass, 2003).