backgrounds raised obstacles to college success and how they
overcame those obstacles. In the other, they talked about
obstacles and overcoming them, but without reference to class.
At the end of their first year, working-class students who
attended the “class” condition had much higher grade-point
averages than those in the control condition, and about the same
GPAs as students from higher class backgrounds, the team found.
The studies suggest that “if we can raise people’s awareness
about how people’s social class backgrounds matter in college,”
says Stephens, “we can give them insights that can help them to
better navigate their college experience.”
Meanwhile, Indiana University sociologist Jessica McCrory
Calarco, PhD, has been looking into what might cause cultural
differences in academic attitudes and performance in the
first place. For two years, she observed a cadre of working-
and middle-class kids from the third to the fifth grade, and
interviewed the kids, their parents and teachers. In a study in
the October American Sociological Review, she reports that
middle-class youngsters who were struggling received more
attention from teachers because they more actively sought it
out, while working-class kids tended to keep quiet because they
didn’t want to bother the teachers.
Interviews with parents shed further light on these
behaviors: Middle-class parents perceived it as their right and
duty to take part in the system, while working-class parents
felt it rude to insert themselves too much in their children’s
schooling. As a result, working-class parents “tended to be
less aware of what teachers expect today, and hence less apt
to encourage their children to seek help with their school
challenges,” Calarco says.
As the world continues to shrink, it’s more important than
ever that we understand the subjective nature of such cultural
dichotomies, Markus adds.
“Social class differences come about because of the
ideas and values you are surrounded by, the types of social
interactions you have at home, school and work, and the sorts
of institutional practices and policies that are common in your
community,” she says. “That means that these differences are
not immutable.” n
Tori DeAngelis is a writer in Syracuse, New York.
• Fiske, S. & Markus, H. R. (2012). Facing social class:
How societal rank influences interaction. New York: Russell
• Jensen, B. (2012). Reading Classes: On Culture and
Classism in America. Ithaca, N. Y.: ILR Press.
• Markus, H. R., & Conner, A. C. (2014). Clash! How to
Thrive in a Multicultural World. New York: Plume.
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