It has long been known to researchers that the societal status system is reflected in schools. Children from depreived backgrounds having parents of low education are likely to do poorly in schools themselves whereas children of highly educated parents are likely to do better in school. Many societies, including the highly developed societies of the West, suffer from a high degree of social stratification. In these societies, wealth and power is concentrated in the hands of a comparatively few wealthy families.
Despite the American rhetoric of having equal opportunities for everyone people whose parents were blue collar workers are far more likely to be blue collar workers. The people in the upper class on the other hand tend to remain upper class (Domhoff, 2005). Many people believe that universal education may provide a way for families to escape the cycle of poverty however the factor of social class makes it presence felt in the field of education as well. The effect of social status can clearly be seen in students’ performance in standardized tests.
On average students from high income families have much higher SAT scores than students from low income families (Mantsios, 1995). The reasons why children from low income families do poorly in school are manifold. In this essay we shall reflect on some of the main causes of children from poor families doing badly in school and effects of the cycle of poverty on a child’s education. Researchers have found that children’s language proficiency, the size of their vocabulary and the rate at which they pick up new words is strongly correlated to the conditions of their home.
Children from middle to upper class families tend to have larger vocabularies and are better at picking up new words than children from low-income families (Saxton, 2010). Researchers have found that the diversity of the parents’ vocabulary when speaking to their children directly impacted their language proficiency. Parents from middle to upper class families tend to use a greater variety of words when speaking to their children than parents from low-income families as a result the size of their vocabulary and the rate at which their vocabulary grew was greater than those of children from lower class families (Saxton, 2010).
This disparity in vocabulary between children from high income and low income families starts to happen long before the period of formal schooling begins. Researchers have found that by the age of three, the average size of the vocabulary of children from affluent families was around 1100 words while the average vocabulary size of children from families on welfare was less than half that at around 525 words (Tough, 2006). Researchers have found that even in the first year of a child’s life, the women of low income families tended to speak less often to their infant children than women from high income families.
They found that in lower income families the belief pervaded that it was not important for parents to talk to an infant, that parents had little effect on a child’s mental development and that only after a child acquired language on its own, did it become important for a parent to speak to the child (Tulkin ; Kagan, 1972). Children from low income families also receive less help from their parents in school work. The obvious reasons for this include the fact that people in low paying jobs have to work longer hours and have little free time to attend to the needs of their children.
In low-income families parents also tend to engage in fewer activities that are supplemental to learning such as helping the child learn the alphabet, taking the child to libraries and museums and reading to the child (Saxton, 2010). In addition children from low-income families tend to possess less educational paraphernalia than do children from high-income families. This includes toys appropriate to the age of the child and learning tools such as books, newspapers and computers.
The equipment that children from low-income families do posses is often of a lower quality than that possessed by children from high-income families and they tend to use the equipment that they possess in less sophisticated ways (Evans, 2004). To understand a text fully a person often needs to understand several cultural references and allusions. The children of well educated parents are more likely to come across these cultural references while conversing with their parents in their home environments than the children of low-income /under-educated parents.
This gives the children from affluent families a distinct advantage in their education (Saxton, 2010). The low educational level of parents limits their ability to help with the education of their children as much as it hinders their willingness. Many of the lowest income families have parents who are first-generation immigrants to the United States. These parents may have little understanding of English which severely limits their ability to help with the children’s schoolwork (Saxton, 2010).
Children from low income families are often raised by a single parent or have multiple smaller siblings they are required to take care of. Attending to household chores and responsibilities limits the time these children can spend studying at home. These children are thus at a distinct disadvantage to children from affluent families who are more likely to have stable, two-parent households and relatively little in the way of household responsibilities (Howe, 1976).
Researchers have theorized that the parents in high-income families place a greater importance on the education of their children than parents in low-income families. In low-income families, the parents make less use of their literacy skills in life and thus place a lesser value on literacy and education, while in high-income families, the parent’s jobs and lifestyle requires a much greater use of their education and their literacy skills and they tend to value education much more (Howe, 1976). Some researchers have theorized that the rich tend to be rich because of having greater intelligence than the poor.
The most prominent of these researchers are Richard J. Herrnstein and Charles Murray who wrote the best seller The Bell Curve. According to these theorists, the rich and intelligent mate with others of their kind pass on their ‘intelligent’ genes to their children while the poor and unintelligent mate with others of their kind and pass on their inferior intelligence to their children. This leads to the creation of a ‘cognitive elite’ and an underclass of poor and unintelligent people (Weiss, 2003).
Some researchers extend this theory to the issue of race and argue that the inferior intelligence of the racial minorities leads to the perpetuation of their poverty and that this is a greater factor in the poverty and the lack of education of racial minorities than any societal and governmentally imposed racism. In the words of conservative columnist John Derbyshire: “Racial disparities in education and employment have their origin in biological differences between the human races. Those differences are facts in the natural world, like the orbits of the planets.
They can’t be legislated out of existence; nor can they be “eliminated” by social or political action. ” (Derbyshire, 2010) These theories are controversial due to their obvious similarities with the theories of ‘scientific racism’ employed by the Nazis and other racialists of the previous century, Children from schools districts where a majority of the population is white and affluent often attend a better quality of public schools than children from districts where the majority consists of impoverished racial minorities.
While overt discrimination against African-Americans has been removed and the governments can no longer segregate African-American children into lesser quality schools, the schools in African-American majority areas are often of a lower quality than the schools in White majority areas. These schools may have to put up with overcrowding, a lack of equipment and supplies and unqualified teachers (Kozol, 1991). In addition, African-American children may be disproportionately pushed into classes for mentally challenged children in good schools (Kozol, 1991).
Some intellectuals theorize that it is not the innate lack of intelligence of poor people that leads them to do badly in education, but the presence of a ‘Culture of Poverty’ which leads to children from poor families adopting a different set of values than the children from affluent families. These misplaced values lead the children from low-income families to do worse in school than children from affluent families (Patterson, 2006). It has been theorized, regarding African-American youth, that their culture leads them to give the maintenance of a fashionable image a greater priority than their studies.
It has been speculated that the fact that a disproportionate number of the top most sportspeople and athletes as well as a large number of the most highly paid entertainers of the United States are African-Americans has something to do with this (Patterson, 2006). According to these intellectuals, African-American youth place undue importance to the maintenance of a socially adept, sexually active, violent and Dionysian image as a result of their misplaced cultural values. They are admired by their peers, including the White youth for this image and White youth tend to attempt to imitate them in this regard.
However the White youth, do not let this imitation expand to the extent that it places their academic survival into jeopardy (Patterson, 2006). Researchers have found that the children from families of a lower socio-economic status tend to have a lower self esteem than children from families with a higher socio-economic status. Depression and anxiety is also much more common in children of families of a lower socio-economic status. Children of low socio-economic status families also tend to suffer more from behavioral problems than children high socio-economic status families (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002).
Parents of low socio-economic status are also more likely to order and direct their children’s behavior and use negative reinforcement in order to correct their child’s behavior and to use verbal commands instead of gentle persuasion and are less likely to encourage their children to speak by asking them questions (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002). Parent divorce, single parenthood, criminality, drug abuse and alcoholism of parents are all linked to behavioral problems and delinquency in children. These things tend to be more common in low socio-economic status families than in high socio-economic status families (Harris, 1998).
Children from low socio-economic status families are more likely to grow up in unhealthy environments than children from high socio-economic status families. Children of low socio-economic status families are likelier to grow up in crowded conditions of dense urban environments, have less availability of parks and gardens in their neighborhoods, have structural defects in their houses, have inadequate heating arrangements in the winter and have rodent infestations in their houses (Evans, 2004).
Low income residential areas are also likelier to be situated near polluting industries and have lower air quality than high income residential areas (Evans, 2004). In addition the noise pollution level in low income residential areas is likely to be several times higher than the noise pollution in high income residential areas (Evans, 2004). Children living in low income residential areas also tend to have a greater exposure to lead and toxins such as pesticides which are harmful to the mental development of children (Evans, 2004).
Children from low socio-economic status families are also much likelier to be the victims of violence and aggression and to witness violent acts being committed (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002). Living in stressful and violent environments has a negative impact on the children’s mental health and their educational development (Bradley & Corwyn, 2002). Massive governmental intervention is needed to solve the problem of providing a good education to disadvantaged children.
In some countries, social workers are dispatched to the homes of low-income families to read to their children for a few hours every week. This project should be tried on a massive scale in the United States. In addition the Federal Government should intervene to provide healthful housing environments to the poor. The Federal Government should also intervene to ensure a uniformly good quality of schools for the children of all areas of the United States.