Interactionism is a micro theory that focuses on the interactions that take place between people on a daily basis. People build up pictures of others and apply labels categorising them possibly being influential towards that person’s behaviour if they are aware they are being labelled. Interactionists are concerned with teachers applying labels to their students and how the labels effect the pupil’s achievement at school.According to interactionist sociologists such as Keddie imply that teachers are more likely to label middle class pupils as bright and intelligent and view them as the ideal pupil whereas working class children and children from other ethnic backgrounds are more likely to get negative labels such as unintelligent or failures. However not all teachers label students as they are aware of the changes it can have on a pupils performance during education.
According to Hargreaves Teachers tend to label according to 7 criteria, these being appearance, conforming to discipline, likeability, their relationship with other children, enthusiasm and their individual personality. Teachers who do label can also change them which can also have a good or bad effect on the child depending on the label. Also they do not identify where the label has come from because it would show as unprofessional behaviour, therefore making that teacher less favourable.Marxists argue that labelling is all based around class, therefore upper and middle class students will be seen as better or more intelligent than most working class children.
Interactionists argue that labelling may well affect a pupils’ self image and what sets they are placed in affecting the speed in which they are taught at. Labelling can even lead to anti school sub-cultures being created. When a child is represented with a label, if lasting long enough, the child can experience a self fulfilling prophecy.This is where they develop norms and values to suit the label and behave accordingly. Evidence suggests pupils build up their self image of their ability in school from messages they receive at school whether its formal or informal and act upon the messages. Rosenthal ; Jacobson wanted to test this theory by administering IQ tests to students in a school in California. 20% of the students were selected at random as being spurters, to make rapid academic progress.A year later the tests were re-done and it had shown that the children who’d been labelled as spurters had shown greater gains in IQ than pupils who hadn’t been labelled.
However, some sociologists such as Fuller argue that people do not automatically fulfil their label. She researched a group of black girls in an inner city London school and found that the girls resented the negative labels and worked hard to prove the teachers wrong. Also, Mac an Ghaill found that negative labelling did not necessarily lead to failure.Teachers labels and assessment of pupils may affect the band or set they are placed in . Ball found that pupils who’s fathers were not manual workers were more likely to be placed in top sets.
Once separated, behaviour began to diverge and lower set pupils became lazy because they felt that they could not achieve as highly as the top set classes. Similarly, Keddie found that pupils in the top sets would be taught abstract knowledge and pupils in the lower sets were taught concrete knowledge disabling them from competing with pupils in higher sets.Woods argues that pupils cannot be divided into conformists and non-conformists simply because students have too many different views on how they wish to be educated or not educated at all.
Colin Lacey also stumbled upon similar findings, that setting triggered deterioration in conformist behaviour and exam results. Mac an Ghaill suggests that gender, ethnicity and social class all play a role in how students conform, behave and learn.Research shows that children in low ability groups may form anti-school subcultures because they cannot reach any academic goals the school wish for students to achieve so they reject them and replace them with their own deviant values.
Hargreaves suggests that an emergence of subcultures is used as a way of achieving status and gaining attention, not necessarily positive attention either. Willis found that those in a subculture are not as a result of labelling, but as a rejection of the contract offered by the school.To support this Furlong suggests that pupils do not behave consistently in a subculture, thus conformist pupils may behave deviantly towards an easily influenced teacher. To conclude, Marxists argue that Interactionists do not explain where the labels come from.
Mac an Ghaill states that Interactionists ignore other social characteristics such as ethnicity and social class. Also outside of school factors are ignored and are not taken into consideration when discussing views on education from an Interactionists point of view.