An open letter about the invisibility of social class in public schools

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this is an essay about class invisibility in public school and how teacher can help promote discussions about social class. this is a project for an education course.

Submitted: October 11, 2016

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Submitted: October 11, 2016

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Dear public school teachers,

Do discussions relating to socioeconomic class occur often in your classrooms? The answer is most likely “no”. There is a silence when it comes to the topic of class and this silence should not be present because class plays a key role in shaping our public schools, the students, and even the teachers. The marginalization of students by social class influences their motivation to succeed in public schools and attain higher education. The administrators of these public schools are mostly people from upper class backgrounds. Power and privilege continue to circulate among those who already have it, for this reason, there needs to be a shift in power structure in order to motivate these students to succeed. There has to be a shift in power structure of public schools so that those who are representing these schools reflect the needs and struggles of those living in these areas. And, most importantly, teachers need to break the silence surrounding issues of class in public schools.

 Throughout my public school years, there were no conversations about class; it was as if I entered a classless community once I got to school. However, when I left school, I was reminded of my place on the social class hierarchy. Most teachers think that they can go on without ever having to bring attention to social class because it makes them uncomfortable and class brings along with it other issues of race and oppression. I think that discussions surrounding this topic are crucial to the development of students. Bell Hooks says that, “ class [is] more than just a question of money, that it shaped values, attitudes, social relations, and the biases that informed the way knowledge would be given and received” (178). Discussing class would be a way for teachers to understand each student’s learning experience and how their social class shaped them. I wish that in elementary school that I had had a teacher who talked with me about issues of class and how it shaped my work ethic. I believe that education and class are strongly related, which is why teachers should discuss it in classrooms. Through conversations with students and families, teachers will be able to develop a better understanding of the lives of their students, especially those coming from lower class backgrounds. Conversations like this would benefit both the student and the teacher; instead of internalizing their struggles, students would have them heard, which is beneficial for their overall educational experience. The teacher would, on the other end, learn a lot while also expressing their individual thoughts and experiences in order to encourage students to succeed in the classroom and in life.

Students from the lower class are generally concerned with moving up the social class hierarchy. One of the main ways to move up the ladder is to get a higher pay. For that reason, public school, for most low-income students, is only a means to better job opportunities, which should not be the purpose of public schooling. Public schools should be a way for students to gain knowledge in order to further their education. Most low-income students just want to get through public school and get a diploma with no hopes of continuing. One thing that teachers can and should be doing in classrooms is instilling hope about a better future for these students. Teachers should make it clear to their students that, through hard work and determination, they can achieve high marks and further their education regardless of their social class. I know from personal experience that students from low-income families and neighborhoods think that there is no need to spend most of their lifetime in school because a good education requires money, which they, frankly, do not have. Most of these students understand that getting an education is valuable, but, ultimately, they have to get sufficient income in order to move up in the social class.

In an article by Ray Rist, he writes that, “ ‘Given the treatment of low-income children from the beginning of their kindergarten experience, for what class strata are they being prepared other than that of the lower class?’” Public schools are not working to abolish class barriers; instead, they are silently maintaining them.  They are contributing to the inequality that is faced by lower class students. These students should be free to express their thoughts and be given the resources and preparation to achieve greatness. Dewey says, “the only freedom of enduring importance is freedom of intelligence” (61). Freedom in the classroom is important, specifically freedom of thought. Once students have the freedom to discuss issues such as class, then they will feel compelled to set better goals for themselves. All public schools and educators working with children from poor or low-income backgrounds should be holding these students to high standards.

Teachers need to get involved in helping students set higher goals for themselves, while also encouraging individual differences. I feel as though children from poor or low-income backgrounds do not set high standards for themselves and the schools they attend often do not change this thinking. Schools serving low income and poor communities should be preparing their children for higher education even if they do not end up attending, while also instilling a sense of individuality in these students. I enjoyed when my teachers took the time out their day to help me understand the material, but I found that most of my learning and understanding came from my own exploration with the lessons. It is important for teachers within public schools, specifically urban schools, to understand that their students have individual experiences, backgrounds and learning styles. I believe that for urban public schools to thrive, teachers need to see each student as an individual; this is one of the key steps in abolishing stereotypes about class and race that has been put in place by society.

Transitioning from public school to higher education requires a great deal of individuality and knowledge about how to navigate through a new culture of power, which I believe teachers can prepare students for. In this new environment, students will have to seek opportunities and take action in order for them to reach their fullest potential. With the help of their public school education and their teachers, students from low-income backgrounds will succeed in new educational settings. I believe that through a great public school education, which promotes discussions of class, students from lower class backgrounds will have the skills and knowledge to help improve the public schools in their communities and promote change and quality education for students from lower socioeconomic backgrounds. To conclude, I encourage public school teachers to break the silence when it comes to issues of class by promoting discussions about social class and by creating a space where students will be happy to share their individual experiences, thoughts, and ideas.

 

Sincerely,

DT

 

 

References

Dewey, J. (1938). Experience and education. New York: Simon & Schuster.

 

Hooks, B. (1994). Teaching to transgress: Education as the practice of freedom. New York: Routledge.

 

Ray Rist (1970) Student Social Class and Teacher Expectations: The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy in Ghetto Education. Harvard Educational Review: September 1970, Vol. 40, No. 3, pp. 411-451.


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