This point has caused one of the main criticisms of looking at cultural deprivation as the reason for working class underachievement. Critics have argued that working class parents seem less interested and less encouraging because of their situation and circumstances. They want to show their children what life is like realistically for the working class, that high occupational status is a dream. Another criticism of cultural deprivation has been by those who feel that material factors are more important.
These critics are structuralists, and think that it is important to focus on what parents can provide materialistically that would encourage their children to do better at school, for example a quiet room for homework and appropriate books.
If there is not enough money for books, the student has to get a part-time job which is likely to result in less time spent on schoolwork, thus not doing well in exams. There are other critics of cultural deprivation who feel it is important to look at factors of the school which affect the performance of different social class students.
For example, there are subcultures (anti-social, anti-school) which working class students are more likely to be drawn into, and so their educational performance is obviously affected. The next explanation was a criticism of the last one – material deprivation, or material factors. These theorists believe the students’ homes background influences and affects them the most. This is very much a structuralist view. The argument is that working class parents cannot afford the materials necessary for their children to do well.
The children are likely to share bedrooms with other siblings and don’t have a quiet place for study, and my have to get a part-time job if their parents are not financially secure. Working class parents are also less likely to be able to attend parent’s meetings because they have a clash of time with work. Working class students are less likely to continue to higher education because their parents simply cannot afford tuition fees and the extra necessities of university.
All these negative aspects of material deprivation are why many sociologists argue that material factors are why working class students are relative failures in the education system. However, as with inheritance and heredity, and cultural deprivation, material factors have also been criticised. Those who do not believe in material deprivation focus more on ‘in school factors’ and how these affect performance. They argue it is more important to look at how the school can provide materialistically, but overriding this, culturally.
For example, they look at the dominant culture and value system of teachers. In school, teachers have authority and students of working class, in particular, feel intimidated and do not want to do well. This often results in a case of teacher versus student values debate. Where the teacher may encourage the benefits of education, the student may feel that the teacher’s authority and ‘nagging’ is discouraging. There are many other in school factors that sociologists have put forward, which became the next explanation – interpretivist arguments.
The interpretivist explanation for working class underachievement focuses on in school factors. They believe there are many things that happen inside school which prevent working class students performing as well as middle class students. One of these factors is subcultures, both anti-school and anti-social. Working class students find themselves easily drawn into these subcultures, often with excuses such as “the teacher’s picking on me so I’m not going to his/her lesson”. Peer pressure is also a major issue in anti-school subcultures.
When one student decides that school isn’t for them and does not attend, they need somebody or several fellow students to truant with. Students who may have previously conformed do not want to be ‘left out’ and join the anti-school feeling. Two important in school factors of the interpretivist argument are teacher labelling and streaming. Labelling is where a teacher prejudges a working class student, labelling them as “useless”, thus giving middle class students more attention and support.
This drives working class students away in anti-school subcultures and holds them back from educational success. Streaming is where students are split and taught in groups of their perceived ability. David Hargreaves, an interactionist, claimed streaming created an increased amount of feeling inferior as ‘lower stream boys’ progress to more mature ages. This affects how they feel towards education and more than often results in poor exam performance. As older students feel inferior and join anti-school subcultures, younger students find themselves without role models and in turn feel anti-school.
Both labelling and streaming involve teachers stereotyping students of all social classes, which can lead to discrimination, e. g. sexism and racism. Again, interpretivists have also found themselves being criticised for their views. The critics are structuralists who feel it is more important to look at ‘out of school’ factors and the student’s home background, in other words material and mainly cultural factors at home. Focuses are on things such as the values of and attitudes to education at home, and religious and cultural values.
Critics argue that parents of working class students have very different values and attitudes to education than middle class parents. For example, working class parents may find it important to emphasise survival as key in their children’s futures, whereas middle class parents could believe in encouraging their children to aim as high as possible and achieve all they possibly can. Religious and cultural values are also important in the structuralist view. Where features of religion may interfere with how students are taught, their parents may choose to pull them out of the education system.
A current example of this is the banning of the Muslim scarf in French schools. It is a vital aspect of Islam for females to wear a scarf, so where I has been banned, huge protests have been held and many Muslim parents have taken their children somewhere Islam can be practised and the children can be educated. Critics of interpretivists also think peer pressure in the area where the student lives is important. If there is an anti-school subculture in the area, the student is extremely likely to be a part of it as it its where they spend most of their time.
As time has passed, each of the explanations offered for working class underachievement have become more developed, and have also faced more criticism. The first sociologists to look into this issue believe intelligence is inherited and measurable, and middle class parents are generally more intelligent. They also believe in IQ tests and think they are an excellent way of measuring intelligence. However, there are opponents to this suggestion who believe IQ tests are unfair and cannot be used to test member of different social classes and people of subcultures within social classes and ethnic groups.
There are many weaknesses and not many strengths to the argument of inheritance and heredity. Though the sociologists argue that intelligence is inherited from parents, there has not been a study to prove that this is so, i. e. no evidence has been provided to back up this idea. They do, on the other hand, not deny that there are less intelligent middle class students and more intelligent working class children. I agree with the critics who claim that IQ tests are unfair because when an IQ test is created, it will in some way be biased to a certain group (usually the middle class).
There would be questions on the test that working class children would not be familiar with, thus failing to perform well and being labelled “unintelligent”. This is an extremely unfair way to explain why working class students are relative failures in the education system. Cultural deprivation was offered by those sociologists who felt working class children were brought up in a culture where people around them placed a lower value on education and where their parents were much less interested in their schooling than middle class parents.
I agree with the critics who say that it is unfair to say working class parents are uninterested in their children’s education because it is their circumstances that put them in that position. A weakness of this argument is that although a researcher may have looked into a working class family and found that their argument was proven correct, not all working class families are this way and many do encourage academic success.
As a reason for working class underachievement, cultural factors are important to look at but do not apply to all working class families. The sociologists who argue that material deprivation at home is the cause for working class underachievement have a strong argument. They claim that working class parents are unable to afford the materialistic requirements of school and that this forces their children to fall behind and perform badly. Though this is a very valid argument, it is important to look at other factors as well as materialistic factors at home.
For example, material and cultural factors at school are equally important, and should all be taken into consideration. The interpretivist argument focused on in school factors and how these affected the performance of students. The sociologists looked at things such as anti-school subcultures and teacher labelling and streaming. Like the sociologists who agree with material factors, interpretivists fail to look at other factors. They see in school factors as the sole reason for working class underachievement, which is not correct.
Though it is also a valid argument like material deprivation, it should not be forgotten that the home background of a student is equally important to look at as well as the state of the school. I think that inheritance and heredity do not cause working class underachievement, but that a combination of cultural and material factors both at home and at school cause working class students to be relative failures in the education system. Where each individual theory counts out the others as valid reasons, I think this is wrong and that all count equally towards working class underachievement.