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Home to School: Confusion Among Working Class Children
Working class children begin school with little familiarity with school expectations for social or language behavior. The child-centered home environments in which these children experience flexible organization of time and space contrasts sharply with school expectations for schedules, routines, and neatness. Since children have experienced the requests, commands, and reprimands of their parents, they do learn through teacher directives to "look after their toys", follow simple procedures, and sit quietly during classroom lessons. Nonetheless, children are initially bewildered by the numerous and specific regulations imposed by teachers - and teachers are commonly annoyed that these children apparently lack awareness of "normal" ways of behaving.
School values for acceptable student behavior also involve expectations for familiarity with learning tasks. First, preschool teachers expect children to have knowledge of the materials and native language vocabulary associated with home learning experiences. Whereas upper and middle class parents tend to encourage learning through activities such as reading, coloring, and building block construction, lower class parents focus on providing opportunities for open-ended creative play involving props (e.g. trucks, soldiers, and dolls). Therefore, working class children are often unfamiliar with usual preschool materials such as scissors, crayons, and puzzles. In addition, because of limited experience with parental foreign language reading and writing, lower class children usually lack the multilingual vocabulary and interactional skills associated with these experiences. As pointed out in Chapter 4, teachers are often frustrated with students' lack of knowledge in these areas and subsequently label lower class children "socially and verbally deficient".
Secondly, the precision and correctness in either performing tasks or engaging in play activities expected at school are not valued within working class homes. During an interview, one mother expressed confusion and anger over teacher expectations for "doing things properly".
Alles daerf nemmen esou sin ... genee esou wei de Scboulmeechter seet. De Phillip hat eng Keier missen en Hond an e Kand molen. D']offer sot hie misst rout, blo a giel buelen. De Phillip buet refuseiert ersou ze molen wei d']offer wollt an si sot hien hatt eng schlecht Erziehung.
(Everything has to be exactly so ... just as the teacher says. Once Phillip had to color a picture of a dog and child. The teacher said he had to use red, blue, and yellow. Phillip refused to color the way the teacher wanted and the teacher said he had a bad education.)
Both Phillip and his mother were confused by this teacher's demands for precision and factual representation, i.e. Phillip must color the child's hair yellow and not purple or green. In addition, the mother was angered by the teacher's suggestion that Phillip "had a bad education", meaning that his parents had not taught Phillip proper manners and/or the correct ways for doing things. Parents greatly resent these teacher judgments. A mother remarked: "D'Schoulmeeschteren kucken op d'Elteren erof. Si mengen si wire mei" (Teachers look down on parents. They think they are superior). Confusion and resentment is more generally created through teacher expectations for learning and working class values for child-centered play. Since lower class parents consider preschool as a time for adjustment to school and extended social contacts through play activity, they view learning tasks at this time as unnecessary and even potentially harmful. One working class father observed that preschool teachers are " ... ze vill veiss ... ze streng" (too cruel...too hard).
Thirdly, as children enter kindergarten and first grade, the emphasis on precision, factual representation, and sequencing of events in description giving which is valued by the upper classes and school are contrary to the fantasy dialogues children commonly engage in within working class homes. Lower class children, therefore, find school exercises which require specific forms of description in story telling both difficult and uninteresting. A mother reported that "d'Kanner gi gar an d'Schou1...si lauschteren de Schoulmeeschtere gar no, mais si maachen net gar Hausaufgaben. Si langweilen sech a
Jseieren se ze maachen" (The children like school.like listening to the: her, but they don't like doing homework. They're bored and they refuse to it). In addition, both upper class parents and teachers structure talk with children around learning activities, resulting in expectations for adult request-child response froms of interaction. Since lower class children have learned requests-response to requests and child. questioning forms of :raction, they are commonly confused by teachers' expectations for teach luestion-child response fonns ofIearning. In these ways, the working class ues for creativity in both play and native language use through fantasizing lations and dialogue not only lack value, but are dysfunctional within 001 settings.
In tenns of foreign language learning, because working class children re lim"ited opportunities for French or Gennan interaction and experience ental avoidance of foreign language use, children learn to perceive speak,other languages as both difficult and unacceptable within their communiIn these ways, as children begin to study Gennan and French in primary 1001, they are likely to experience confusion over the value of languages i their ability to learn them. As teachers report and I observed in lower class lools, the result of confusion over expectations for both native and foreign .guage use is that children generally remain silent during class discussions i often fail to respond to questions.
Through socialization into the attitudes and values of their homes and nmunities, working class children come to school with ways of speaking i behaving which differ greatly from those valued within educational tings. In other words, working class children lack the social, cultural, and guage capital necessary for effective functioning at school - which lsequently results in poor academic perfonnance.
Poor academic perfonnance, however, is not restricted to children of ,killed workers. As noted by Pierre Bourdieu: "The distribution of the ferent classes (and class fractions) thus runs from those who are best lVided with both economic and cultural capital to those who are most Jrived in both respects" (1984: 114). In an interview with families of skilled Irkers (e.g. clerks, civil servants, and lower level managers), one mother ,orted:
Ech hat vill Problemer mam Roby an der Schoul. Hien huet viii Energie ... nervos. Sain eichte Schoulmeeschter sot hie vir domm ... en hatt eng schlecht Erziehung. Ech woIlt de Schoulmeescher wiesselen d' Joer
drop, mais jo, ech hu beim Buergemeeschter an der Schoulkommissioun versicht, an an d'Schoul Psychologin ... si sot den Roby wir normal. Mir
kennten d'Uier-personal net wiesse]en. De Roby huet am Joer drop naischt geleiert ... et war dauernd Spannung.
(I've had lots of problems with Roby and school. He has lots of energy ... nervous. His first teacher sai4 he was dumb ... he had a bad education. I wanted to change his teacher the next year, but...well, I tried the mayor and the school commission, and ... and the school psychologist...she said Roby was normal. We couldn't change teachers. Roby learned nothing the next year ... there was constant friction.)
In this particular family, the father works as a civil servant and the mother is a housewife. Although both parents have come from working class backgrounds, they were able to raise their status and aspirations through contacts with relatives who have higher degrees and positions - and the father's subsequent job promotions. This family, in fact, is in the process of crossing cultural/class categories and, thus, hold values relevant to both the working and middle classes. Roby has experienced and displays in school many of the attitudes and behavior specific to the working class. However, since his parents aspire to middle class values for school success, they are active although sometimes unsuccessful - participants in Roby's education. This example of cultural/class cross-over demonstrates the need to view class differences in terms of a continuum. In addition, school difficulties arising from differences must be understood in view of the specific community and/or home background of students.
In addition to the barriers to educational success created by lack of sociolinguistic capital, other socioeconomic factors operate to hamper upward mobility. A common working class phenomenon involves the formation of "counter-culture" values and behavior which allows unification among members through rejection of middle and upper class values. In Luxembourg, individuals within the counter-culture group avoid foreign language interaction, ridicule the use of other languages by members of their community, and discourage children from speaking French or German. In addition, members of the working class hold negative attitudes towards school and do not encourage children's educational efforts. In discussing the phenomena of counter-school culture among working class kids in England, Paul Willis states:
... the counter-school culture is involved in its own way with a relatively subtle, dynamic, and, so to speak, 'opportunity-costed' assessment of the rewards of the conformism and obedience which the school seeks to exact
from working class kids. In particular this involves a deep seated skepticism about the value of qualifications in relation to what might be sacrificed to get them: a sacrifice ultimately, not of simple dead time, but of a quality of action, involvement and independence.
For Luxembourgish working class parents, school has not provided them with opportunities to develop language or occupational skills which would assist upward mobility. Therefore, these individuals harbor a "deep seated skepticism", first, about the reality of school opportunities for their children. This skepticism is born out in the early years of schooling as teachers criticize children in terms of "having a bad education" and "lacking intelligence". Secondly, without successful completion of upper levels of schooling, individuals have few opportunities for job satisfaction. As Willis points out:
... the culture makes a kind of assessment of the quality of available work. Though it is questionable whether they secure employment anyway, it can be suggested that what qualifications 'seem to promise for their working class bearers is basically iIlusory iIi the first place. Most work in industry is basically meaningless.
In the portrait of the Thills, Claude finds his work dull and meaningless and expects the same to be true for his son. When I asked Claude and Marie what they hoped Joey would do when he grew up, they appeared surprised by my question and then answered that they had not thought about it. Later, Claude suggested that Joey would probably be doing the same kind of "bl6d Arbecht" (uninteresting/dumb work) he did. Willis also suggests that the hopelessness born out of working class individuals' experience is recreated into defiance of the institutions which serve to suppress them .
... the working class student must overcome his inbuilt disadvantage of possessing the wrong class culture and the wrong educational decoders to start with. A few can make it. The class can never follow. It is through a good number trying, however, that the class structure is legitimated. The middle class enjoys its privilege not by virtue of inheritance or birth, but by virtue of an apparently proven greater competence and merit. The refusal to compete, implicit in the counter-school culture, is therefore in this sense a radical act: it refuses to collude in its own educational suppression.
For working class parents and their children, rejection of Luxembourg upper, middle, and school values for language learning - and learning in generalprovides quality of action, involvement and independence within their own community. By secondary school age, those students who have not "made it" (i.e. any of those students on the lower end of the continuum of languagel cultural/social capital who have been unsuccessful at school) often actively engage in counter-school culture behavior. For example, a group of young people studying to become electricians whom I observed in classrooms and interviewed suggested that most of their classes are useless. These students see little purpose in studying languages - especially English - and are scornful of others within their "electricians" group who either study or participate in class lessons. At school, the electricians are noisy and disruptive; teachers reported that they do poorly on homework or tests and are "impossible to control". In these ways, students form a cohesive group who have a negative assessment of language learning or opportunities for upward mobility and, consequently, find more satisfaction in their "counter-school culture" than in conforming to school norms.
Both the working class and students from different social backgrounds involved in the counter-school culture can· not presently afford to sacrifice group membership to illusory hopes for future success. However, because of the major economic changes in Luxembourg over the past decade, increased language and occupational skills across population segments are essential fOI continued national economic prosperity. The question remains of whether 01 not the government will be able to develop educational programs which fulfill individual needs and goals in the process of attempting to reach national objectives
Language Planning in Multilingual Contexts,
Kathryn Anne Davies, University of Hawaii
John Benjains Publishing Co, Philadelphia (1994)