19 The Relations of Learning and Student Social Class Toward Re-socializing Sociocultural Learning Theory

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The Relations of Learning and Student Social Class Toward Re-socializing" Sociocultural Learning Theory

Carolyn P. Panofsky

In his theory of mind, Vygotsky proposes three forms of mediation: tools, signs and symbols (semiosis), and social interaction. Most Vygotskian so­ciocultural research has focused on the semiotic form of mediation to address cognitive challenges in education. Whereas semiotic mediation relies on social interaction, and social interaction has often comprised the "unit of analysis," the mediation of social interaction itself largely remains to be unpacked. Even though some studies have investigated the pro­cesses of cooperation or collaboration in learning, the dynamics of those processes as social relations have not received extensive examination in Vygotskian research. The mediation of social relations - the dynamics of power, position, social location in the social interaction of learning - is of profound significance in education. Nowhere is the importance of social

relations in learning more evident than in the dynamics of social class in schooling.

Yet the dynamic of social relations has been shown to be central in the experience of failure for many low-income students, although literature on these relations has only rarely informed sociocultural studies in education. As researchers concerned with students' learning, sociocultural theorists need to examine the matter of social relations of those we study, for these social relations are a key mediator of students' school learning. Ideally, the perspective of sociocultural theory is able to integrate levels of analysis

from the macrolevels of culture to the microlevels of social interaction and individual thinking and speech. The research to be discussed here shows that the dynamic of social relations in the social interaction of learning comprises a critical piece in understanding the articulation and integra­tion of levels. This chapter revisits the literature on the social relations of

Many thanks to the editors Vladimir Ageyev and Alex Kozulin, and to Carl Ratner, for comments on an earlier draft of this chapter.



Carolyn P. Panofsky

schooling for low-income learners with an eye to ways that sociocultural theory may be informed by that work and to ways that sociocultural theory may inform the conception of low-income learners' experience of differen­tial social relations in schooling.


Researchers have theorized the workings of class in education in various ways, but sociocultural theory can offer an important new dimension. What is "class," and how does it operate in learning? The sociocultural approach of Vygotsky and others opens the way to answer such questions.

Vygotsky was influenced by a number of social theorists. In his work he refers to Durkheim, Hegel, Marx, and others (see Kozulin, 1990, es­pecially chapter 4). In particular, Vygotsky's repeated references to Marx appear when Vygotsky's comments are particularly relevant to social or interpersonal relations. One key shared conception is the sociogenetic rela­tion between the individual and society. In a discussion of consciousness, Vygotsky (1997b) wrote, "The social moment in consciousness is primary in time as well as in fact. The individual aspect is constructed as a de­rived and secondary aspect on the basis of the social aspect and exactly according to its model" (p. 77). In the following well-known quotation from Marx, which Vygotsky alludes to in his own work (e.g., 1993, p. 162), Marx emphasizes the relational dimension of society in the development of consciousness:

The general result at which I arrived and which, once won, served as a guiding thread for my studies, can be briefly formulated as follows: In the social produc­tion of their life, men enter into definite relations that are indispensable and in­dependent of their will, relations of production which correspond to a definite stage of development of their material productive forces. The sum total of these relations. . . correspond [to] definite forms of social consciousness. ... It is not the con­sciousness of men that determines their being, but, on the contrary their social being that determines their consciousness. (Tucker, 1978, p. 4; emphasis added)

Vygotsky explored the significance of social relations to the formation of consciousness in an article translated as "The Socialist Alteration of Man" (1994). Commenting on the relationship between base and superstructure that Marx alludes to in the passage, Vygotsky wrote,

The influence of the basis on the psychological superstructure of man turns out to be not direct, but mediated by a large number of very complex material and spiritual factors. But even here, the basic law of historical human development, which proclaims that human beings are created by the society in which they live and that it represents the determining factor in the formation of their personalities, remains in force. (p. 176)

Learning and Student Social Class


Vygotsky goes on to emphasize that" class character, class nature and class distinctions. . . are responsible for the formation of human types" (1994, p. 176).

Although the connection here between class and personality may be stated too baldly, this passage is important for raising the issue of pluralism and the importance of considering class for developing a pluralistic per­spective on learning and development. In his volume on Educational Psy­chology (1997a), Vygotsky writes that the "social environment is class-based in its very structure insofar as, obviously, all new relations are imprinted by the class basis of the environment. . . . Consequently, class membership defines at one fell swoop both the cultural and the natural orientation of personality in the environment" (pp. 211-212).

However, Vygotsky did not research the functioning of class in school­ing; nor did he fully develop his conception of "the mediation by a large range of very complex and spiritual factors" that contribute to the forma­tion of diverse forms of class character. He did, though, identify both the labor process and the institutional process of schooling as comprising so­cial systems and sites that are significant in the production of personality and human psychology. This discussion aims to explore the school expe­rience of low-income students as a site in the production of their identity as learners and to highlight ways that the interpersonal or social relations of the classroom mediate students' learning. Despite more than 20 years of Vygotskian-inspired research in education in the United States, little con­sideration has been given to the school per se as a site or a social system in which class mediates the formation of the personality and psychology of the learner. But just as Marx claimed the workplace as a key site in the production of the "social being" of adults, so the school may be considered a key site in the production of the social being of the young; and the stu­dent's social being has significantimplications for her or his life as a learner. The discussion will explore the "definite relations" to which learners may be subject in schools and the implications those relations have for them as

learners - and, in turn, for a Vygotskian sociocultural theory of learning. In particular, I address the issue of social class difference to examine students' social being and consciousness as learners, asking, "What is known about the 'relations of learning' for students from low-income backgrounds and how do these relations mediate their learning?"

I turn, for this discussion, to key ethnographic studies of social class difference in the lived experience of learners. Cole (1996) has encouraged workers in sociocultural studies of education to combine their research with that of researchers in other disciplines to study "the institutional set­tings of those activities-in-context. . . . [F]rom a cultural-historical perspec­tive this level of analysis is important as a site where large-scale factors such as social class articulate with individual experience" (p. 340). In particu­lar, a number of ethnographic studies of poor and working-class children


Carolyn P. Panofsky

in schools, elementary through high school, suggest the importance for a Vygotskian theory ofIeaming ofIooking closely at issues of social relations, including power and conflict in the dynamics of institutionalleaming. I will use a few of these texts to illustrate the significance of these concerns for Vygotskian theory. First, however, I will clarify the ways culture and social class are used in this discussion.


Vygotsky wrote that" children grow into the intellectual life of those around them" (1978, p. 88). In time, Vygotsky notes, the individual's environment undergoes change when "it expands to participation in societal produc­tion" (Vygotsky, 1998, p. 43). Children grow into the life of those around them, and those life spaces are multiple and varied. Of course, between the time that children grow into the life of the family and later into the life of "societal production," they also grow into the life of the school. As the environment expands, Vygotsky points out, the young also develop shared interests and life activity with a specific socioeconomic group: "The his­tory of the school-age child and the youth is the history of very intensive development and formulation of class psychology and ideology" (ibid.).

Thus, Vygotsky noted the pluralistic nature of development and the importance of class in that variation. Leontev (1981), too, in discussing the concept of activity, identifies the relevance of social structures in all human activity:

If we removed human activity from the system of social relationships and social life, it would not exist and would have no structure. With all its varied forms, the human individual's activity is a system in the system of social relations. It does not exist without these relations. The specific form in which it exists is determined by the forms and means of material and mental social interaction... [which depends on the individual's] place in society." (1981, p. 47; emphasis added)

Going further, Leont'ev argues that desires, emotions, motives are all produced in and through the system of social relations, just as are cog­nitive processes. He writes that desire is "a factor that guides and regu­lates the agent's concrete activity in the objective environment.. .. [The formation of desires] is explained by the fact that in human society the objects of desire are produced, and the desires themselves are therefore also produced. . .. . We can say the same thing about emotions or feelings" (1981, pp. 49-50; emphasis in original). Leont'ev's conceptualization of the for­mation of desires and feelings becomes significant in attempting to under­stand students' lived experience in schooling and the formation of student identities, their ways of acting or forms of agency, and their transformation over time in the cultural processes of schooling. Although Vygotsky and

Learning and Student Social Class


Leont' ev refer primarily to family and work settings as sites in the pro­duction of consciousness, the school is clearly also an important activity setting in the system of social relations.

The notions provided by Vygotsky and Leont' ev are important for providing a conception of cultural processes and their production and for alluding to the larger dynamics of power and conflict at play at the societal level. But more attention should be given to the specific ways that activity shapes psychological phenomena, especially because the workings of power and conflict in the macro level of social life and their reflection in the microlevel of social relations are so little discussed. Ratner (2000), however, has assembled the dimensions of Vygotsky's conceptualization of culture and added specificity in ways that can aid in the articulation of micro- and macro levels of the analysis of particular examples. Ratner identifies five main kinds of cultural phenomena: cultural activities; cultural values, schemas, meanings, and concepts; physical artifacts; psychological phenomena; and agency. Because of the importance of Ratner's formulation in the analysis to follow, I will quote his discussion of the five main kinds in full:

1. Cultural activities such as producing goods, raising and educating children, making and enforcing policies and laws, providing medical care. It is through these activities that humans survive and develop themselves. They are basic to the ways in which individuals interact with objects, people, and even oneself.

2. Cultural values, schemas, meanings, concepts. People collectively endow things with meaning. Youth, old age, man, woman, bodily features, wealth, nature, and time mean different things in different societies.

3. Physical artifacts such as tools, books, paper, pottery, eating utensils, clocks, clothing, buildings, furniture, toys, games, weapons and technology which are collectively constructed.

4. Psychological phenomena such as emotions, perception, motivation, logical rea­soning, intelligence, memory, mental illness, imagination, language, and per­sonality are collectively constructed and distributed.

5. Agency. Humans actively construct and reconstruct cultural phenomena. This "agency" is directed. at constructing cultural phenomena and it is also influ­enced by existing cultural activities, values, artifacts, and psychology. (Ratner, 2000, p. 4)

These five kinds of phenomena are clearly interlocking and interde­pendent, each embodying the distinctive character of the others within itself. For example, "Agency originates in, reflects, and facilitates ac­tivities, concepts, artifacts, and psychological phenomena" (p. 4). These five dimensions give specificity to the analysis of school contexts and activities.

In addition to a conceptualization of culture, a conception of social class is necessary for this discussion. A long history of sociological study of class has produced many conceptions and divergent views of social class. Here,


Carolyn P. Panofsky

I take an approach offered by Pierre Bourdieu, who takes what he calls a "relational" rather than a "substantialist" or categorical approach to the conception of social class. He denies the existence of classes, in themselves, but argues that differences in social space are continually being enacted; hence "classes" are relational. Bourdieu asks, must we "accept or affirm the existence of classes? No. Social classes do not exist. . . . What exists is a social space, a space of differences, in which classes exist in some sense in a state of virtuality, not as something given but as something to be done" (1998, p. 12). Social space is an "invisible reality that cannot be shown but which organizes agents' practices and representations" (1998, p. 10). The practices and representations organized by social class construct distance or prox­imity between students and teachers and work through teacher-student interaction to differentiate students' experiences, as will be seen later.

Bourdieu's conception is especially well suited to sociocultural theory because he develops a theory of action and focuses on the analysis of prac­tices. His focus on differences that are enacted, rather than seen as static group characteristics, is particularly relevant to dynamics of class in school­ing. Although his writing is dense and complex, Bourdieu states that his perspective can be "condensed in a small number of fundamental con­cepts - habitus, field, capital- and its cornerstone is the two-way relation­ship between objective structures (those of social fields) and incorporated structures (those of the habitus)" (Bourdieu, 1998, p. vii). Social space is con­ceived as a kind of field, distributing and differentiating individuals by "economic capital and cultural capital. It follows that all agents are located in this space in such a way that the closer they are to one another in those two dimensions, the more they have in common; and the more remote they are from one another, the less they have in common" (1998, p. 6). The habitus represents the embodiment or incorporation of this relational structure. It is the

generative principle which retranslates the intrinsic and relational characteristics of a position [in social space] into a unitary lifestyle, that is, a unitary set of choices of persons, goods, practices. . .. [W]hat the worker eats, and especially the way he eats it, the sport he practices and the way he practices it. . . . But the essential point is that, when perceived through these social categories of perception, these principles of vision and division, the differences in practices, in the goods possessed, or in the opinions expressed become symbolic differences and constitute a veritable language. (1998, p. 8; emphasis added)

Here is the key to the analysis of school culture: The structures of differentiation and perception compose a language that everyone reads and understands, albeit out of awareness. Such readings function as what Bourdieu calls a "logic of symbolic violence. . . according to which domi­nated lifestyles are almost always perceived, even by those who live them, from the destructive and reductive point of view of the dominant aesthetic"

Learning and Student Social Class


(1998, p. 9). When these structures of differentiation operate (as they cultur­ally and historically have), they produce the sorting mechanism in school­ing. The dominant lifestyle, in this way, enacts the "logic" of symbolic violence. Although symbolic violence may appear an exaggerated or overly dramatic term, it has real and specific meaning and is used to denaturalize, to specify the objectification through evaluation that differentiates opportu­nities (e.g., unquestioned hierarchies of high and low "ability" produced through identification of dialect or by testing). It is important to note that the cultural workings of the dominant aesthetic in schooling are largely in­visible, appearing "natural," and are not to be understood as maliciously enacted by educators. Rather, the logic of symbolic violence is part of the out-of-awareness culture that analysis seeks to make visible. As Cole has suggested, the practices we study need to be located in a larger social field than they frequently are in our relatively microanalyses of activity. Bourdieu's concepts of field, lu1bitus, and capital can help to do that, in conjunction with a conception of culture that seeks the unification of ma­terial, ideal, practice, subjectivity, and agency.


Numerous studies by ethnographic researchers have focused on the issue of social class as a factor in schools and classrooms, and many of these are of significance here. Examples can be cited addressing all ages of learner populations, from preschool through college; addressing the full range of school settings, urban, suburban, and rural; considering all regions of the United States as well as other countries; and covering numerous subgroups across a range of ethnic, cultural, and racial identities. Rather than attempt­ing to survey this literah!re, I choose to examine a few key studies in depth. The studies chosen here present important, revealing work, but the find­ings of each can be explicated in greater depth through application of the

theories just summarized. Furthermore, applying these theories to a few classic studies illustrates how sociocultural theory can be articulated with sociological and anthropological studies of the workings of social class in schooling.

I will begin with consideration of two studies that examine children in the earliest years of public schooling. One study examines social class in a school where all students and adult personnel were Black; the other study compares classrooms in two schools in a community that was essen­tially all White. The similarity in findings across the two studies helps to clarify the relevance of social class difference to schooling. The first study

to be considered was conducted by Ray Rist. Although Rist conducted the study more than 30 years ago, its influence has been long lived, and in 2000 the article was republished in the Harvard Education Review as a


Carolyn P. Panofsky

"classic" because of its ongoing relevance. The site of Rist's study was an "urban ghetto school" in which "all administrators, teachers, staff, and pupils [were] black" (1970/2000, p. 271) and more than half of the stu­dents had families who were receiving economic assistance. The study site and teachers were considered "as good as any in the city" (p. 271). Signifi­cantly, Rist found that class distinction was widely reflected in the adults' treatment of the students.

Rist identifies a profound pattern that was established before the end of the second week of kindergarten and appeared to define children's school­ing from that time forward. On the eighth day of kindergarten, the teacher placed the children into three reading groups that she regarded as reflecting ability. The placement was based on no testing, as none had been done. In attempting to account for the way the placements were made, Rist identi­fies all sources of information available to the teacher. Before the beginning of school, the teacher had information about each child from parental reg­istration forms (such as whether the child had attended preschool), from the social worker (whether the family received assistance, as did 55% of the school population), and from other teachers (such as whether an older sibling was "a trouble maker"). Once school began, the teacher appeared to begin favoring children who were dressed in newer and cleaner clothing and spoke in a dialect similar to standard. Even sooner than the children were placed in three groups of high, middle, and low ability, Rist noticed that a favored group had emerged - those the teacher called on to lead activities and to answer questions and who later all appeared in the high group. This is the logic of symbolic violence that Bourdieu refers to, reflect­ing the workings of the social space and the remoteness and proximity of agents and revealing the way an economic hierarchy of social relations is enacted in the classroom. The identifiable commonalities in the high group were material and class-identified: The children were dressed in newer, cleaner clothing, and their dialect of English more closely approximated the middle-class standard. .

Over time, Rist found multiple levels on which the symbolic violence was manifested in line with the teacher's structuring of the three ranked groups and produced an economy in the class that represented a robust hierarchy of privilege within the classroom. The teacher gives her time and attention to the Table 1 "high-group" students and all but ignores students at Tables 2 and 3 during instruction. When the teacher does di­rect her attention to Tables 2 and 3, she delivers negative messages to the students; Table 1 never receives negative messages. Both the high- and lower-group students internalize the norms of value and privilege by treat­ing each other according to a shared set of values: The Table 1 high-group students mistreat the Table 2 and 3 students, both physically and verbally. The Table 2 and Table 3 students also mistreat each other - but never the Table 1 students.


Learning and Student Social Class


Rist accounts for the teacher's behavior in terms of a "normative ref­erence group," by which she would identify individual students having characteristics she associates with being most like her own academically successful middle-class group, and least similar to those of the less privi­leged students. Bourdieu's notions of social field, habitus, and capital can give more specificity to the finding: The teacher appears to favor students who are located similarly to her in the social field, displaying a habitus that reflects similar cultural and economic capital. The student habitus includes "coming from a family that is educated [through high school], employed,

living together demonstrating ease of interaction among adults; high

degree of verbalization in Standard American English; the ability to become a leader; a neat and clean appearance. . . and the ability to participate well as a member of a group" (Rist, 1970/2000, p. 276). Rist finds similarpattems of social relations between teacher and students and between groupings of children when he follows the children into Grades 2 and 3. In particular, he finds increasing disaffection from classroom activity among the Table 2 and 3 students, manifested either as "acting out" through verbal and be­havioral resistance to school work or as apathy in the form of work not done.

Viewing Rist's findings through the lens of Ratner's (2000) five dimen­sions of culture highlights the potential formation of differential habitus in the experience of schooling itself. Rist's findings suggest that the lower­group children's lived experience of schooling differs substantially from that of those in the privileged group in terms of all five dimensions of culture identified by Ratner: (a) teachers engage the high-group chil­dren in more prestigeous cultural activities, and these activities offer greater opportunities for academic learning; (b) teachers endow the groups with different values through'use of verbal and nonverbal messages so that sub­group identities of high and low social value are assigned; (c) lesser value is linked to physical conditions of tables and locations, as the lower-group tables are more distant from the teacher and the chalkboard, out of view of both, and more crowded; (d) the emotional and motivational experiences of rejection versus desirability construct differential classroom psychologies;

(e) the different groups appear to reflect differential constructions of agency, as the privileged children conform to teacher and school values, whereas the stigmatized lower-group children enact either active or passive resis­tance in the forms of either oppositional behavior or disengagement. Over time, the development of increasingly different "durable dispositions" or habitus seems quite likely, with potential for diminished opportunities for some and diminished humanity for alP

1 In case the result of differential ways of acting may be thought simply to reflect differences in ability, Rist offers some telling details from visits to low-group students' homes: He discovers that children have actually learned material from classroom instruction either that



Carolyn P. Panofsky

The point here, then, is not simply to revisit the literature on the effect of differential teacher expectations. Rather, this discussion seeks to explain the schooling of low-income children as a cultural activity with distinctive social relations because the character of such activity and of such relations is central to the development of children as learners, the development of their learners' habitus and school identity, which can powerfully mediate children's learning. If so, these dimensions are essential in the construction of a sociocultural theory of learning.

A second important study of social class as a factor in early schooling was conducted by Kathleen Wilcox (1988). Unlike Rist, Wilcox studied class­rooms in two schools for 1 year in a controlled-comparison design. She, too, used ethnographic observation, here in two first-grade classrooms in the same district, one in an upper-middle-class (UMC) neighborhood school, the other in a lower-middle-class (LMC) one. Both the teachers and almost all the children were White. Wilcox's findings are very similar to Rist's (with African American teachers and children), and there are no discrepant findings between the two studies. Wilcox, however, uncovers further dimensions of differential expectations and treatment. Recall that Rist found more controlling behavior directed to children from less privi­leged backgrounds. Relatedly, Wilcox found qualitative differences in the ways teachers verbally controlled higher- (UMC) and lower- (LMC) status children. She identified" external control" language and "internal control" language. In external control, the teacher simply directed the child or chil­dren, for example, "I want that done now" or "You have an assignment; sit down and get busy" (Wilcox, 1988, p. 288). In internal control language, the teacher emphasized the children's internalizing of responsibility, as in "Will this misbehavior help you to become a better reader?" or "Be fair to yourself; use your time wisely to help you become a better reader" (Wilcox, 1988, p. 290). Wilcox found striking differences in the distribution of the

teachers' uses of internal and external strategies and messages of control:

UMC classroom 39% Internal strategies 59% Internal messages

LMC classroom 9% Internal strategies 10% Internal messages

In order to determine whether such differences simply reflected indi­

vidual teacher variation, Wilcox also separated each class into the top and bottom half of readers, with the following result:

Children in the top half of the reading groups in both classrooms received signifi­cantly more internal messages than children in the bottom half of the reading groups in the two classrooms (p = .005). They also received significantly more internal

their classroom performance does not display or that they are not given the opportunity to display. This information tends to belie an interpretation of ability difference and, even, to suggest the opposite: Despite being ignored during instruction, the low-group students were learning material that was being taught quite directly to others, but not to them.

Learning and Student Social Class


academic messages (p = ..046). Thus, an internal approach, particularly with re­spect to academic interactions, is associated in both classrooms with children who are perceived to have the highest ability level and future potential. (pp. 290-291)

In addition, Wilcox found that the higher-status children were given many more opportunities to develop what she calls "self-presentation skills" such as speaking and presenting before the group and that they re­ceived considerable guidance in and praise for doing so. The higher-status children were also given considerable focus on the future, "what you will become and therefore need to prepare for." The teacher of the higher-status children voiced her expectations eight times more frequently about their futures and emphasized going to college, whereas the teacher of the lower­status children was never observed referring to college. Of the teacher of the LMC children, Wilcox writes, "The most remarkable characteristic of Mrs. Jones' approach to the future of the children in her classroom was that she virtually ignored it" (p. 295).

Wilcox gives considerable attention to trying to place the pattern of iden­tified differences into the larger sociocultural context in order to account for her troubling findings. She finds nO evidence that the differential forms of treatment occurred in response to ways children acted; On the contrary, they were initiated by school personnel. Wilcox writes "Interviews with teachers themselves made it clear that they felt they were allowing and encouraging each child to develop and progress as far as each was able; they would have been shocked at any accusation of differential treatment based On social class" (p. 295).

What Wilcox finds is a disconnect between general commitments to

equality and specific beliefs about the families and home lives of the chil­dren in the schools at the level of the school staff, the district staff, and the state educational apparafus. At the level of the school, she concludes that the "social class level of the neighborhood was a very salient characteris­tic in the minds of the staff at both schools. It generated general levels of expectations for children in each neighborhood which could be seen to in­fluence the behavior of the teachers in the classroom" (Wilcox, 1988, p. 298). These differences appeared to have "strikingly different consequences in terms of the staff's reaction to individual learning problems on the part of individual children" (ibid.). A UMC child having a learning problem, for example, would receive multiple forms of assistance until the problem was solved, whereas an LMC child would receive no assistance because the problem was seen as "to be expected."

Wilcox's findings at the district and state levels reflected analogous patterns of differential expectations associated with social class.2 Wilcox

2 At the district level, the test scores of the UMC school were readily given out and shown off, whereas scores for the LMC school were withheld and the researchers were told that "the schools' achievement scores could not be given out" (Wilcox, 1988, p. 298), necessitating


Carolyn P. Panofsky

concludes, "Most significant is the fact that all of the factors used to de­termine the level of expectations are factors outside the classroom walls. The implication is, unavoidably, that what is really important in terms of achievement are the characteristics a child brings from home rather than what takes place at school" (pp. 299-300). Ultimately, however, Wilcox does not indict the individual personnel at all levels of the educational system, but instead suggests that" the educational personnel observed in this study behaved no differently than one could expect any cultural beings to behave in the situation" (Wilcox, 1988, p. 302).

Wilcox's conclusion presents a significant challenge to educational innovation aimed only at the level of learning and instruction:

The research findings suggest that many popular educational reforms are likely simply to rearrange the appearance of classroom interaction, leaving the substance of what takes place in the classroom largely untouched. This is because the reforms are conceptualized and introduced with little understanding of the powerful cul­tural influences at work in the classroom. (Wilcox, 1988, p. 303)

Employing Ratner' s five dimensions again, as with Rist's study, there are signficant ways that Wilcox's findings add to conceptualizing the cultural production of student habitus. The differential focus on internal strategies and differential frequency of internal messages constitute specific cultural activities and cultural values (a and b); these, in turn, contribute to differen­tiation in psychology, particularly motivation (d), and produce significant differences in students' sense of agency (e). Similarly, the differential access to the activity of self-presentation (a) contributes to differential develop­ment of language, memory, and related cognitive processes (d), as well as to sense of agency (e).

The final investigation of first-grade classrooms to be discussed expands the significance of differential relations to specific curricular content. James Collins (1986) investigated the ways in which patterns of differential treat­ment such as those identified by Rist and Wilcox become translated into dif­ferential instruction in reading groups. Collins examined first-grade read­ing lessons in high and low groups of the same class, conducted by both a senior teacher and a regular teacher's aide, across the school year. The class was divided into four reading groups, considered low (I), mid (2),

extensive negotiation between the researchers and the district. Wilcox writes that officials gave the explanation that scores were not given out because parents complained about them. She adds, "A high-level district official said with considerable indignation that the parents simply did not understand that the scores were a direct consequence of the average IQ and socioeconomic level of the neighborhood" (Wilcox, 1988, pp. 298-299; emphasis in original). A similar attitude was reflected at the state level in the construction of a statistic that computed "an expected test score range for each district and for each school within the state" based on socioeconomic status and related factors (such as pupil mobility rate and percentage of bilingualism).

Learning and Student Social Class


high (3), and extra high (4); Collins compared groups 1 and 3, the low and the high groups. "High-group readers were from white professional families, low-group readers from Black working-class families" (Collins, 1986, p. 122). Referring to the contrast between the groups, Collins writes, "Since the two groups were homogeneous with regard to ethnic group and social class membership... we could expect maximal contrasts in community-based speech styles and in such things as implicit teacher expectations" (ibid).

Collins's findings follow a pattern that is similar to those identified by Rist and Wilcox. He summarizes his findings as follows:

Comparison of the groups revealed a two-tiered structure of differential treatment. On one level, the more general one of amounts of time spent at the various types of instructional activities, low-group readers were given extensive sound-word identification drill, with little attention paid to the meaningfulness of the reading task, while their high-group counterparts were given much more practice in pas­sage reading and the answering of questions about the material being read. On the other level, that of specific instructional procedures, correction of oral reading errors for low-group readers focused on grapheme-phoneme correspondences and word recognition, while corrections for the high group readers focused more on the semantics and pragmatics of text comprehension - in short on meaning. (Collins, 1986, pp. 122-123)

Collins develops a more fine-grained analysis of transcribed lessons of the small groups than can be fully presented here. Of particular sig­nificance for this discussion is that the interactional process of teacher­student exchanges in the small groups leads to two differing conceptions of what counts as reading being learned by the two groups of students. By examining feature~ such as pauses, points of interruption, and in­tonation, Collins shows that the teachers respond differently to equivalent errors in the two groups: "Numerous examples taken from the entire cor­pus of sixteen lessons had shown that identical miscues prompted either decoding-focused or comprehension-focused corrections" (Collins, 1986, p. 129). That is, teachers' responses differ not necessarily because chil­dren have different skills; rather, they differ even when the children in the different groups make the same miscues. This finding clarifies another dimension of the workings of social space as it "organizes agents' prac­tices," as suggested by Bourdieu. The same academic "mistake" is inter­preted differently, depending on the relative positioning in social space; the act of the more spatially distanced is interpreted as less meaningful and less skillful. Such findings raise the question of whether the same

"correct" answer also may be interpreted differentially, depending on social location.

As with the Rist and Wilcox findings, Collins's study also suggests differentiation in the several dimensions of culture specified in Ratner's


Carolyn P. Panofsky

model: differentiated instructional activity (a) constitutes differential ways of reading as a linguistic and cognitive psychological process (d); the specific content difference of a mechanical vs. a meaningful task also carries impli­cations for differing values and meanings students learn to give to reading (b), as well as for differential constructions of motivations and feelings about reading (also d), and sense of agency in relation to reading (e).

Like Wilcox, Collins (1986) is careful to note that his analysis

should not be construed as a condemnation of individual teachers, however. When we study conversational interaction in multi-ethnic situations we are looking for the effects of unconscious habits of organizing talk (prosodically, lexically, syntac­tically) on the unfolding interaction. But a participant, as an actor present in the situation, either as a teacher or student, cannot be expected to employ the analyst's detached perspective. Instead, he or she is busy in the process of assessing and responding to another's contributions. (p.. 129)

The reference to "unconscious habits" that Collins offers recalls Bourdieu's assertions about the functioning of social fields. Teachers' socially constituted perceptions of students who are positioned most distant from them enact the logic of symbolic violence because the students are given lesser opportunities to learn through differential and differentiating instruction, as well as differential and differentiating interaction.

Overall, the studies of Collins, Wilcox, and Rist all suggest that the pro­cess of differential expectations and differential treatment of low-income learners is both out of awareness of educational personnel in all dimen­sions that the researchers observed and, at the same time, integral to the cultural processes of schooling in U.S. society.3 The findings of the three studies strongly suggest that differentia1 treatment in the process of school­ing itself is of central importance to the development of a learner's sense of identity and agency. If one accepts that a child does not begin formal school­ing with a "student habitus" fully formed, then it is important to recognize that schooling is not a "null space" in the production of the child's sense of herself or himself as a learner and her or his sense of what the practices and processes of schooling are about. Teachers and other educational person­nel at all levels go to work with their own social and cultural dispositions, their habitus highly developed over years of lived experience in a stratified and stratifying society. Considerable reflection is required to denaturalize resulting subjectivities so that they might be transformed and that the re­

lations of learning for low-income students could be transformed, in turn.

3 Of course, there are many educators, both teachers and administrators, who are aware of such cultural processes and successfully resist them. The reality, however, is that they remain in the minority and that differential expectations for low-income and minority learners remain a major challenge if education is ever to achieve the ideal of equal opportunity and social justice.

Learning and Student Social Class



The three studies reviewed all examined the earliest school experiences of low-income learners. How might the lived experiences of the students in these studies be extrapolated over the long span of 12 years of schooling? Vygotsky's general law of cultural development offers a way to approach this question:

Any function in the child's cultural development appears twice, or on two planes. First it appears on the social plane, and then on the psychological plane. First it ap­pears between people as an interpsychological category, and then within the child

as an intrapsychological category [I]t goes without saying that internalization

transforms the process itself and changes its structure and functions. Social rela­tions or relations among people genetically underlie all higher functions and their relationships. (Vygotsky, 1981, p. 163)

The three studies help to suggest how children's" cultural development" is differentiated in the processes of schooling. Similarly, Bourdieu's concept of the habitus complements Vygotsky's notion. The habitus is that "system of lasting. . . dispositions which, integrating past experiences, functions at every moment as a matrix of perceptions, appreciations, and actions" (Bourdieu, 1977, p. 82). His "history made nature" (1977, p. 78). The habitus is "embod­ied history, internalized as second nature and so forgotten as history. . . the active presence of the whole past of which it is the product" (Bourdieu, 1990, p. 56, emphasis added). Vygotsky and Bourdieu are explaining the same phenomenon on their respective levels of focus, the psychological and the sociological. Thus, for example, Collins finds a low- and high-group reader making the same oral reading error, but one is corrected with decod­ing facts and the other is corrected with a meaning-making strategy. For

the former, reading is experienced as an activity of making sound-symbol correspondences; for the latter it is an activity of making meaning from printed text. Studies of adolescents who are nonreaders or poor readers bear out the suggestion that their reading instruction was not focused on meaning-making and they have not known reading as a meaningful and engaging activity (e.g., see Mueller, 2001).

If students' experiences are consistently patterned as the studies of Rist, Wilcox, and Collins suggest, consider how school history might become second nature. How might students' differential "interpsychological" ex­periences construct differential "intrapsychological" student habitus and identity? Referring once again to Ratner's (2000) cultural dimensions, the ongoing cultural activity (a) of schooling is a lived experience of signif­icant failure and rejection for some, but one of success and affirmation

for others. For some children, schooling and literacy come to be endowed with positive and desirable meanings and values (b), whereas for others they are endowed with negative and aversive meanings and values or at least boring and meaningless activities. Some children in school have


Carolyn P. Panofsky

access to valued artifacts (c) such as the "high table" and the "high books," and others receive less valued artifacts and placements. For some chil­dren, the lived experience of schooling constructs psychological phenomena (d) of negative emotions and motivations toward school and restricts ac­cess to experiences that can promote the development of language, mem­ory, logical reasoning and intelligence; conversely, for others schooling is an activity that promotes the production and distribution of positive phe­nomena and highly developed cognitive processes. Finally, some children develop a strong and positive sense of agency (e) in school activity, whereas others either see themselves as weak and incapable learning agents or man­ifest agency in the form of rejection of school activity, whether actively as oppositional behavior or passively as disinterest. The suggestion, then, is that student-teacher relations of learning that diverge widely in terms of meanings, values, activities, artifacts, agency, and feelings contribute to the production of divergent student identities.

What might be imagined for the students such as those in the studies of Rist, Wilcox, and Collins when they get to high school? What kind of school participation might be expected after 8 years of unrewarding school relations? Many studies of low-income students in secondary schools bear out the hypothesis of a "school-rejecting" student identity (e.g., Everhart, 1983; McLeod, 1987; Weis, 1985). In a study of working-class high school students, Weis (1990) found commonalities across studies of low-income secondary students. In particular, there is "the often overt and sometimes covert rejection of school meanings and culture. There is an attempt on the part of working-class youth to carve out their own space within the institution - space that can then be filled with their own meanings which are fundamentally antischool" (Weis, 1990, p. 18). Ironically, Weis found that deindustrialization and the attendant loss of high-paying jobs had led students to aspire to higher education. But, contradicting their explicit aspirations, students' actions belied negative valuations of academic learn­ing and dispositions. Students have learned to view schooling merely as work to be completed, which then translates as "a ticket" to a better job. As students who have effectively been" outsiders" to educational success, they do not see any substantive value in the schooling itself. In this un­derstanding, "passing" one's courses is thought to be enough to get on to higher education, but of course such a view leads to later failure when they go to college. Not surprisingly, working-class students do not have access to the cultural knowledge - in Bourdieu's language, the "cultural capital" - to understand how higher education actually "works."

An interpretation of Weis's finding is that the school identity produced through years of subordinate experience is not easily transformed to sup­port late-adopted aspirations. A long history produces a deep-seated "sec­ond nature" requiring substantially different social relations to achieve transformation: A new intrapsychological process can best be produced

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