Social Class and the Classroom

While the economy has been headlining news broadcasts, class issues have never been more apparent.  ABC and the New York Times dedicated weeks to articles about the illusion of the middle class being stable and how many households labeled as middle class are struggling.

Yet, these recent news broadcasts fail to mention that many groups within the United States have always struggled to achieve and maintain middle class status.  Data based on the 2000 Census indicate disparities still exist for people of color and show how income and race impact a household.  As an example, seventy-five percent of White households own their homes compared to 46% of Black households and 48% of Hispanic households.  The ownership of a house confers many privileges; safer neighborhoods, better schools, and ability to finance for college, which sets the stage for better paying jobs.

The class differences between racial groups are apparent in charts from National Public Radio that display median income over the span of twenty years based on race.  White households consistently made $15,000 more than minority households. The Center for American Progress and the New York Times evolve this conversation by showing how few lower class households actually move to a higher class.

An article written for the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Teaching Tolerance brings class into the classroom.  It discusses how education has been believed to be an equalizer for all students, since education is provided for all children and will allow disadvantaged students to transcend their current status.  While education is provided for all students, it does not reach students equally or mitigate the difference in access to resources provided to students of different socioeconomic statuses.

The realities of the class system show us how socioeconomic status influences our students.  As educators we need to be aware of these inequities based on class.  What can be done in the classroom to bridge this disparity?

Take a look at this list of ideas to incorporate in your classroom from :

  • assign work requiring computer and Internet access or other costly resources only when we can provide in-school time and materials for such work to be completed;
  • work with our schools to make family involvement affordable and convenient by providing transportation, on-site childcare and time flexibility;
  • give students from low-income backgrounds access to the same high-level curricular and pedagogical opportunities and high expectations as their wealthy peers;
  • teach about classism, consumer culture, the dissolution of labor unions, environmental pollution and other injustices disproportionately affecting the poor, preparing new generations of students to make a more equitable world;
  • keep stocks of school supplies, snacks, clothes and other basic necessities handy for students who may need them, but find quiet ways to distribute these resources to avoid singling anyone out;
  • develop curricula that are relevant and meaningful to our students' lives and draw on their experiences and surroundings;
  • fight to get our students into gifted and talented programs and to give them other opportunities usually reserved for economically advantaged students and to keep them from being assigned unjustly to special education;
  • continue to reach out to parents even when we feel they are being unresponsive; this is one way to establish trust;
  • challenge our colleagues when they stigmatize poor students and their parents, reminding them of the inequitable conditions in our schools and classrooms; and
  • challenge ourselves, our biases and prejudices, by educating ourselves about the cycle of poverty and classism in and out of U.S. schools.

Consider the following questions:

  1. What are the benefits of being aware of class disparities that exist for our students?
  2. How have/could you provide equal opportunities in your own classroom for students of different socioeconomic statuses?
  3. How would you employ any of the suggestions provided by TeachingTolerance?

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