Social Class In the Classroom
Part of growing up is finding where you belong amongst the people around you. Many children experience this first through school. As a child, most of the time you are categorized in a classroom by your social class. Once you get to a certain age, the other kids around you begin to realize where your from and whether your family comes from money or not. Then, for many people, you get judged for having, or not having money like the other children around you. I had this experience in grade school. Many of the children around me were much wealthier than I was and it definitely affect the way I learned in the environment. Teachers often tend to tune out when it comes to social class even though small things like these can powerfully impact a young person’s life.
In many instances, we see people push aside social class as an issue in classroom scenarios. Race and religion are the main focus of many people’s concerns with equality in the classroom. In an article written by Adj Marshal, he discusses the effect of bringing social class into the classroom and touches on how the weight of this on children is sometimes overlooked. He says, “Compared with race or gender, class is less obviously inscribed on the body and more poorly understood, with more gray areas and fewer shared terms for social categories, making identity development a slower and more fraught process.” In many cases social class is a large part of a child’s identity, so not making it a larger part of the discussion in the classroom, like Marshall says, it could potentially damage a child’s image of themself.
Personally, I have had social class affect me negatively in a classroom environment. I was in the second grade when I realized my peers were not raised the same way I was. I attended a private school on a partial scholarship while my mom had to scrape pennies to pay the other end of my tuition. Meanwhile, many of my classmates never had to worry about not being able to go to school the next month because their parents couldn’t meet the tuition deadline, or if they would be able to pay for the newest pair of uniform shoes. They took these things for granted. The day after after winter break I walked into class wearing my new winter coat that my mom had just bought me for Christmas. All of the other children were sitting playing on their new Nintendo DSI’s that they had received over the break. One of the kids asked, “Louisa, where is your DSI? Don’t you wanna play with us?” I didn’t know how to reply at first. As the nervousness settled into me, I said, “I didn’t get one for Christmas, I got this new coat instead.” Just as I could get the words out of my mouth another kid said, “She didn’t get one because she’s poor.” Immediately, the tears streamed to my eyes. The feeling of shame and embarrassment welled through me as the other kids just stared.
This is an important point to be noted not only because the children used this as a form of bullying, but because it made me feel uncomfortable to participate in the class. Social class is much more important than it is viewed as by most teachers. In an article on social class in the classroom, written by journalist Meghan Smith, she discusses a series of tests performed on a class of children to prove the effect of social and economical class on children. When discussing the results of one of the tests she says, “This can lead to students in lower social classes, or with lower familiarity with a task, to perform even worse than they would have. In other words, highlighting performance gaps with no explanation for the gap can make the gap even wider!” The gap she refers to is that of the gap between children in different social classes. Even though children don’t quite understand what kind of stress and embarrassment child of a lower class feels.
Even though social class is generally looked over now, in the future teachers should be more aware and even create an approach to avoid tension in the classroom. A good solution may be to begin teaching children about social and economic classes from a younger age so that they will have the information they need before they judge someone. Teaching young children about social class could also allow them to view the world around them in different ways and avoid them creating future prejudices. Social class is something that causes children to learn differently and feel uncomfortable in some learning environments, but it never should be. My hope for the future is that someone will break the chain, so that children will never have to feel too embarrassed to learn.