Pupils from wealthier households have more natural confidence at school after being taught by mothers and fathers to engage with authority figures, it was claimed.
The study found that children with working-class parents were more polite and courteous in lessons but often shunned teachers and attempted to solve problems alone – hampering their long-term academic development.
It was feared that the differences in classroom behaviour by the two groups may have knock-on effects in later life as poorer children slip further behind richer classmates.
The disclosure – in research published in the United States – comes amid continuing concerns over link between social class and educational achievement.
One British study earlier this year found that the highest-performing pupils from disadvantaged families lagged around two-and-a-half years behind bright children brought up in wealthy homes by the age of 15.
Despite an extensive Labour drive to boost access to higher education, it also emerged that the richest schoolchildren were around six times more likely to go on to a top Russell Group universities than the poorest fifth.
Jessica Calarco, assistant professor of sociology at Indiana University, assessed the classroom behaviour of primary-age pupils as part of the latest research.
She said: “Even very shy middle-class children learned to feel comfortable approaching teachers with questions, and recognised the benefits of doing so.
“Working-class children instead worried about making teachers mad or angry if they asked for help at the wrong time or in the wrong way, and also felt that others would judge them as incompetent or not smart if they asked for help.
“These differences, in turn, seem to stem not from differences in how teachers responded to students – when working-class students did ask questions, teachers welcomed and readily addressed these requests – but from differences in the skills, strategies and orientations that children learn from their parents at home.”
The study was based on observations of a class of state school children aged nine to 11 over a two year period. Children were assessed twice a week and then interviewed with their parents over the summer holidays.
Research revealed that pushy parents from all kinds of social backgrounds attempted to teach their children how to behave at school and work hard.
But a clear class divide in their methods emerged.
Working class parents were more likely to emphasise the role of politeness and courtesy and being deferential to authority, it was revealed. They would also tackle assignments or projects but on their own without asking for help.
In contrast, middle class children were encouraged to raise their hand, ask questions and not be afraid to ask for help when needed.
These children are then more likely to be noticed by teachers who tend to reward such behavior, said the study. It meant that they became more outgoing as they get older, which could help as they get jobs or have to deal with authority in other ways, it emerged.
WOW. This is really relevant to me/my experiences and I’m really glad I read it. I had actually never really thought about this but it makes a lot of sense.
This is something I often think about. Privilege vs. Education. People from middle-class families likely have parents who have university educations and as a result of attending such institutions enforce their children to be critical thinkers as well. I feel that working class people are put at a disadvantage, not just financially in terms of whether they were able to attend private vs public schools, grew up in rural vs. urban settings, etc. but also how their parents think and if they fit into the molds of a traditional educational system.
I notice this more and more now that I’ve attended graduate school in a large Canadian city where there is lots of diversity. Many people I go to school with come from wealthy educated families and also had the ability to attend private school. Many of them are also from urban or sub-urban areas.
I grew up in rural Nova Scotia in a working class family. I didn’t have many options for the classes I could take because I attended a small school. My mother has a university degree but has not worked since I was 4 due to having Multiple Sclerosis. I was the first person on my Dad’s side to graduate with a university degree when I finished my undergrad in 2010. Compared to my peers at University, I feel sometimes that I am at a disadvantage because of this. It has made me think more and more about privilege and education and even how I carried myself in junior high and high school.
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