Just Sociology

Understanding the Complexities of the Sociology of Education

The concept of teacher-pupil relationships and pupil subcultures lies at the heart of the sociology of education. These complex theories are predicated on the idea that there is an unequal distribution of power within educational institutions, which results in differential educational outcomes, depending on an individual’s socio-economic status.

In this article, we will explore these concepts, drawing on research from sociologists such as Paul Willis and Mac an Ghail. We will examine the ways in which middle-class teachers might have a certain bias towards their middle-class pupils, leading to teacher labelling and the creation of self-fulfilling prophecies.

We will also examine the impact of pupil subcultures on the educational outcomes of children from working-class backgrounds.

Teacher Pupil Relationships

Middle-class teachers have an ideal pupil’ who is also middle class. This ideal pupil embodies the values, beliefs, and culture of the middle class, which is seen as the norm or standard.

Consequently, middle-class teachers tend to label pupils who do not conform to this ideal as deviant or problematic, irrespective of their academic performance. This is known as teacher labelling, which occurs when teachers attach particular characteristics or traits to pupils, which may or may not be accurate.

These labels then influence the way in which teachers interact with pupils, leading to self-fulfilling prophecies. For example, a teacher might label a pupil as lazy or disruptive, resulting in less attention and support from the teacher.

The pupil, in turn, might internalize this label, leading to a drop in academic performance or further disruptive behavior. Teacher labelling is often the result of unconscious bias, which is prevalent in society.

This bias stems from preconceived notions of what is normal or acceptable within a particular social group, based on an individuals class, race, gender, or religion. Middle-class teachers, for example, might view working-class pupils as lacking ‘cultural capital’, which refers to the knowledge, skills, dispositions, and attitudes that are valued in middle-class society.

These teachers may unconsciously view working-class pupils as deficient, leading to negative labels, which then become self-fulfilling prophecies.

Pupil Subcultures

Pupil subcultures refer to the different subgroups that exist within schools, based on shared norms, values, and beliefs. These subcultures are often linked to social class background and can affect educational outcomes.

For example, working-class pupils may develop a subculture that is counter to the values and beliefs of the school, as they feel alienated from the education system. Such subcultures may generate resentment towards teachers, schooling and education in general, leading to poor academic performance.

One of the most influential studies on pupil subcultures is Paul Willis’ research on working-class rebellious boys and counter-school culture. His study was based on a group of working-class boys in a comprehensive school in the UK.

These boys were rebellious and defiant towards the school, rejecting academic learning and formal authority. Instead, they developed a subculture based on anti-school values and beliefs, such as masculinity, toughness, and street-smartness.

This subculture became a way of resisting the middle-class values of the school, which they felt were alien to their own experiences. Another important study on pupil subcultures is Mac an Ghail’s study of working-class subcultures.

Mac an Ghail’s study was based on a group of working-class students in a further education college. These students developed a range of subcultures, including the ‘macho lads’, the ‘real Englishmen’, the ‘Asian warriors’, and the ‘new entrepreneurs’.

These subcultures were based on ethnicity, religion, and masculinity, and they were used as a way of coping with the pressures of college life. The students felt that their particular subculture gave them a sense of belonging and identity, which was lacking in the college environment.

Conclusion

The concepts of teacher-pupil relationships and pupil subcultures are critical to the sociology of education. They highlight the unequal distribution of power within educational institutions, which can lead to differential educational outcomes.

It is essential for educators to be aware of the ways in which unconscious bias can influence their interactions with pupils and the labels they attach to them. At the same time, it is crucial to recognize the importance of pupil subcultures in shaping the identities, values, and beliefs of students.

By understanding these complex theories, we can work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive education system, which serves the needs of all students, regardless of their socio-economic background.

3) Class and Gender

The intersection of class and gender is a fundamental area of study within the realm of the sociology of education. Issues around the performance of working-class boys in comparison to middle-class boys highlights the impact of gender and social class on the education and life chances of young people.

Working-class boys feel immense pressure to express traditional anti-school masculinities, which often results in nonattendance, truancy, and disengagement in academic pursuits. On the other hand, middle-class boys are more likely to try hard at school and conform to the institutions expectations.

Working-class boys feel a cultural dissonance with the educational system, which stems from a sense that their masculine identity is not aligned with the norms of the school. This crisis of identity is exacerbated by the tendency of educational institutions to valorize the attributes of middle-class students, inevitably leaving working-class boys feeling like cultural outsiders who are ill-prepared for the academy.

This cultural dissonance creates what is called the ‘educational underachievement paradox of the white working class male,’ a phenomenon where the representation of working-class boys in higher education is disproportionately low. In this sense, social class has a direct influence on the educational experiences, aspirations and performances of boys, but with the added and specific dimension of gender.

For middle-class boys, a different set of expectations shaped by social class comes into play. Unlike working-class boys, middle-class boys tend to fare better in school as they are socialized with a stronger emphasis on the values of education and intellectual pursuits.

With private school education being more readily available, middle-class boys have more options for how and where to receive education, ultimately concluding in better educational outcomes. While the performance of boys from different social classes finds itself in sharp relief, it is important to mention that inequality and access to education are not limited to gender and social class.

Young girls, especially those from working-class backgrounds, are often discouraged from pursuing higher education, which results in fewer women in politics, sciences, and other careers. There are several factors that contribute to this situation, including discrimination, a lack of female role models and unrealistic stereotypes of working-class women.

Young girls without access to education struggle to compete with young men in areas like politics and science.

4) The Organization of Teaching and Learning

The organization of teaching and learning is an essential area of study within the sociology of education. The way that schools group students for instruction has a significant impact on academic achievement and the educational outcomes for children from different backgrounds.

Two approaches to grouping students are banding and streaming, which have often been criticized for their inherent biases towards working-class children. Banding is an approach that separates pupils according to their assessed academic ability.

In this model, pupils are grouped into different classes based on their performance in tests. Banding can have a significant impact on academic achievement, as it creates a sense of hierarchy within the school, with top classes gaining the most attention and resources from teachers.

This can lead to the marginalization of lower-ability pupils, who may not receive the same quality of education as other students. Consequently, children who come from disadvantaged backgrounds or who have low levels of prior attainment are often allocated to lower bands.

Streaming is a similar approach but goes a step further in segregating students based on their academic ability. Unlike banding, which groups pupils according to their performance in different subjects, streaming assigns pupils to a specific class based on their performance level in one subject.

For example, a student who is performing poorly in math would be placed in the lowest stream for math, even if they performed well in other subjects. Streaming, therefore, leads to a sharp division among students, with pupils in lower streams often feeling stigmatized and demotivated.

The consequences of these approaches in the classroom are numerous. There is ample evidence that grouping students based on academic ability has a negative impact on the self-esteem of students in lower bands or streams.

For example, working-class pupils may feel that they are being denied the opportunity to study difficult subjects, the available social and academic resources, and are, therefore, constrained in their academic progress. Furthermore, children who underperform in assessments, sometimes children from certain minority groups or classes, may end up being streamed into the lowest ability groups, which will ultimately limit their access to higher education.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the concepts of class, gender, and the organization of teaching and learning are fundamental to the sociology of education. In this article, we have explored how working-class children are negatively affected by sexist ideas, gender expectations, and imposed educational models that are misaligned with social class.

These pressures lead many young males to underperform academically and contributes to the under-representation of these groups in higher education. While it is important to hold accountable the individual actors and personal factors, there is no doubt that there are structural factors at play in the education system that reinforce the existing disparities.

The organization of teaching and learning through banding and streaming has intensified inequality and acted as a form of institutional discrimination that disadvantages disadvantaged working-class children and some minority groups.

5) The Hidden Curriculum

The concept of the hidden curriculum is a critical area of study in the sociology of education. It refers to the hidden values, beliefs, and social norms that become subtly embedded in the education system, affecting the way that students and teachers interact with one another.

Educational institutions are considered middle-class environments, with middle-class values and tastes taking center stage. This middle-class orientation creates specific dynamics in the classroom, which could make working-class pupils feel less at home at school.

The hidden curriculum has been described as a form of social control, which reinforces existing social and economic inequalities. Working-class children are less likely to feel at home in this environment as they are less familiar with the cultural norms and values of the middle class.

This creates a problem of cultural dissonance, which can lead to underperformance or disengagement from academic pursuits. Working-class children, in particular, may feel a cultural dissonance in the classroom, as the hidden curriculum tends to emphasize middle-class values, norms, and beliefs.

This cultural dissonance is often intensified due to the relative scarcity of working-class teachers at school. Working-class pupils may find it difficult to relate to middle-class teachers who seem to live in an entirely different world, with different interests, values, and tastes.

Such boundaries create a sense of alienation, reducing the chances of community-building in schools. At the same time, middle-class students may have a greater affinity for the hidden curriculum as they have been socialized to value the norms and beliefs of this group.

The hidden curriculum effectively becomes naturalized, leading to a smooth transition from school to university and, ultimately, to middle-class employment. This lays the foundations for the perpetuation of the social class hierarchy, where children from middle-class backgrounds have greater access to opportunities and resources, leading to upward social mobility.

The hidden curriculum is omnipresent in the classroom, and it shapes the way that teachers interact with their students, which can have a lasting impact on their academic achievement. For example, teachers who are middle class may unconsciously favor middle-class pupils or overlook the needs and concerns of working-class pupils.

They may be more likely to hold middle-class values, emphasizing individualism and competition over cooperation and collective goals. In this context, it should be noted that teachers, as well as pupils, are subject to and reinforce the hidden curriculum, leading to the transmission of hidden preferences from one generation to the next.

One area where the hidden curriculum is particularly evident is that of school discipline policies. Children are expected to respect authority and follow strict protocols that have been shaped by middle-class values.

This model may be problematic for working-class children, who may have issues with discipline because these rules may clash with their cultural norms and values. The use of exclusionary punishment like suspension and expulsion compounds this issue further, resulting in working-class students becoming increasingly disengaged and underachieving.

Conclusion

In conclusion, the hidden curriculum plays a significant role in the sociology of education. Influencing the values, norms, and beliefs in the classroom, it shapes the way students and teachers interact with one another.

It is critical to recognize and address the impact of the hidden curriculum on working-class children in distinct ways. We must strive to employ working-class teachers at a similar rate to middle-class teachers wherever possible to improve the diverse cultural representation within the educational framework.

Additionally, the hidden curriculum needs to be reimagined from more of a democratic perspective, taking into account working-class values, beliefs, and cultural norms that are often missing and marginalized in educational settings. This approach requires educators to be open-minded and proactive in their pursuit of social justice and equity in education, leading to a more diverse, equitable and inclusive education system that is sensitive to the various backgrounds and life experiences of its students.

In conclusion, this article has explored some of the key theories in the sociology of education, particularly around teacher-pupil relationships, pupil subcultures, class and gender, the organization of teaching and learning, and the hidden curriculum. These concepts highlight the challenges faced by students from disadvantaged backgrounds, particularly working-class and minority students.

By understanding these complex theories, we can work towards creating a more equitable and inclusive education system, which serves the needs of all students, regardless of their socio-economic background, gender or race.

FAQs:

Q: What is teacher labelling?

A: Teacher labelling is when teachers attach particular characteristics or traits to pupils, which may or may not be accurate. These labels then influence the way in which teachers interact with pupils, leading to self-fulfilling prophecies.

Q: What are pupil subcultures? A: Pupil subcultures refer to the different subgroups that exist within schools, based on shared norms, values, and beliefs.

These subcultures are often linked to social class background and can affect educational outcomes. Q: How does the organization of teaching and learning affect working-class children?

A: The organization of teaching and learning such as banding and streaming can intensify inequality and act as a form of institutional discrimination against disadvantaged working-class children and some minority groups. Q: What is the hidden curriculum?

A: The hidden curriculum refers to the hidden values, beliefs, and social norms that become subtly embedded in the education system, affecting the way that students and teachers interact with one another. Q: How important is the intersection of class and gender in the sociology of education?

A: The intersection of class and gender is fundamental in highlighting the impact of gender and social class on the education and life chances of young people. Working-class boys feel immense pressure to express traditional anti-school masculinities, while middle-class boys are more likely to try hard at school and conform to the institutions expectations.

Working-class girls, on the other hand, are often discouraged from pursuing higher education.

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