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Question 3: Why does equal access to education, i.e.

: equal opportunity,
not lead to equal outcomes across all social groups? What role do
teachers play in reproducing class-based educational inequality?

The concept of schools as egalitarian institutions with regards to


access to education may be established, however, equality in educational
outcomes proves to be an ongoing challenge and seems almost idealistic.
Research

looking

into

sociology

in

education

has

consistently

demonstrated that the existence of inequalities in educational outcomes


and trajectories are related to social factors (van Zanten 2005, Thomson
2002, Bok 2010). The role of schools and educators in legitimating social
practices

that,

through

various

mechanisms,

result

in

the

social

reproduction of inequalities has been established and explained (van


Zanten 2005). In fact, research studies conducted decades after the first
large-scale studies were conducted in the 1950s and 1960s, such as the
study by Duru-Bellat in 2002, suggest a continual upward shift in
inequalities in education (van Zanten 2005). The questions that need to
be asked are: what role do teachers play in the reproduction of classbased

inequality,

and

how

does

class-based

inequality

result

in

inequitable outcomes for students despite equal opportunities? This essay


attempts to answer these questions through the development of an
understanding of the complexities of inequality and the factors (internal
and external) which shape and inform it.
The concept of class has been defined as daily practices and
processes that are refuted and yet persistently portrayed (Tyler 2001,
Reay 2002). Bourdieus (1984) concepts of cultural capital, virtual
schoolbag and habitus are presented and examined here as internal
factors contributing to educational inequality. It is important to note that
these factors are not isolated, but instead, closely connected and even
determine

one

another

(Thomson

2002).

Cultural

capital,

or

the

knowledge and resources that are valued in a community or society,


results in the establishment of a structural causality on the ability of

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students to negotiate particular social contexts, including the educational


context (Bourdieu 1984, Bourdieu 1980, Thomson 2002). This could be
due to a variety of reasons, including poverty, language or racial
differences (Thomson 2002). The fact is that a significant number of
children enter school already considerably behind (van Zanten 2005,
Thomson 2002). The children of parents from lower-class backgrounds
who are less likely to be able to provide them with the resources that are
readily available to children from high-income families, such as books,
additional tuition, and educational materials, are at a disadvantage
because they possess less of the cultural capital that counts for academic
success (Thomson 2002). In addition to this, the school knowledges
situated at the top of the cultural capital hierarchy are not only those
required for higher education admittance, but are also the cultural
knowledges of more privileged members of society who are positioned to
work to maintain these privileges (Thomson 2002).
Habitus may be defined as the internalisation of the social
structures

and

dispositions

along

with

an

individuals

combined

experiences that guide the way they perceive, understand and respond to
the world (Tyler 2001, Bok 2010). Within the context of the classroom
alone, teachers exert a level of autonomy through their pedagogical
practices and choices, from the seating arrangements to the behaviour
management strategies, all of which impact on the social climate of the
classroom (Tyler 2001). This in turn impacts on how the students utilise
their habitus and the resources within them (Tyler 2001). Appadurais
(2004) theorisation of aspiration is also pertinent here. The capacity to
aspire, or the ability to read a map of a journey into the future, is
influenced by previous experiences, navigational information and the
courage to explore unmapped pathways (Appadurai 2004). That students
from lower-class backgrounds with less knowledge about and experience
with such maps have less developed capacities to realise their
aspirations suggests that aspiration is a cultural capacity, and not a
personal motivational trait (Bok 2010). While a few students may be able

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SP5 2015

to adapt to this environment and go against the trends, for most of these
students, this unsuccessful experience becomes the foundation upon
which their future navigational capacities are built. It is understandable,
then, since the capacity to aspire thrives and survives on practice,
repetition, exploration, conjecture and refutation (Appadurai 2004), that
these

students

are

unsuccessful

at

negotiating

their

educational

pathways. As teachers, we need to support these students from lowerclass backgrounds in navigating their aspirational maps, so that they do
not perceive and accept their subordinate positions to be the natural
order of things (Bok 2010). I will also endeavour to build strong,
meaningful relationships with my students because I believe that students
who are able to identify with their teachers and school are more likely to
think of themselves as learners.
The virtual schoolbag refers to the knowledge and skills students
bring with them to school (Thomson 2002). According to Thomson (2002),
a successful student is one who acquires much of the dominant habitus
from their schooling. This means that students whose cultural capitals are
less valued in education and whose virtual schoolbag contents are less
congruent with the academic curriculum have to reinvent themselves in
order to fulfil the required conditions to achieve success, and usually at
some psychological cost (Thomson 2002, Reay 2002). Reays (2002)
telling of the story of a young boys struggle to achieve educational
success in a working-class school setting while maintaining white workingclass

masculinities

shows

the

prominent

implication

of

class

on

psychological processes and the formation of contemporary subjectivities.


In order to help my students build on the contents of their virtual
schoolbags, I will need to determine, appreciate and utilise each students
individual configuration of knowledges and interests. A repertoire of
pedagogical practices will allow me to then connect these students
knowledges and interests with the knowledge identified in the school
curriculum (Thomson 2002). Through regular critical reflection, I will also
consider my own virtual schoolbag to increase self-awareness of my

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personal attitude, beliefs, values and behaviour. This will allow me to


uncover and comprehend the privileges as well as drawbacks associated
with my identity and background so I am better able to relate to my
students.
Research has also shown that teachers have a tendency to adjust
their professional ideologies to the contexts in which they are positioned
(van Zanten 2005). While the instrumental focus in average to good
schools is on learning, in lower-class, ethnically segregated schools where
there is a high concentration of low-achieving students, the focus shifts to
building interpersonal relationships (van Zanten 2005). Although this
expressive focus is essential both as part of the role as a teacher and to
motivate the students to learn, inclusion and compassion become
significant components of pedagogy in these schools, resulting in a limited
curriculum that is less challenging and ambitious (van Zanten 2005). I
need to be aware of this in my teaching. As a teacher, I need to ensure
that regardless of the context of the school, whether heterogenous or
homogenous,

my

practices

and

approaches

incorporate

strategies

appropriate for all my students, and that I integrate where possible their
different systems of being and knowing. It is also necessary that I
maintain pedagogical standards and practices that open access to the
aspirations

low

socioeconomic students have but

may struggle

to

implement.
van Zanten (2005) has also shown in his research that effective
schools are characterised by a central focus on learning, as well as a
philosophy centred around the hypothesis that all children can learn. It
has already been suggested by Lam (1997) that working-class parents,
owing to financial limitations, may lower their expectations of their
children with regards to their educational achievement (Frohard-Dourlent
2009). It needs to be clarified here that this is not due to the hostile
culture of working-class homes to academic success or the unsupportive,
lackadaisical attitudes of working-class parents towards their childrens
future success as previously suggested research has shown this to be

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untrue; the majority of parents, regardless of their financial situations,


consider school and education to be very important (Bok 2010). The type
and

level

of

parental

involvement

that

educators

and

school

representatives consider to be positive and commendable is also more


congruent with that associated with middle-class parents (FrohardDourlent 2009). Therefore, it is necessary that I bear in mind that it may
not be an inherent lack of motivation on behalf of students from workingclass backgrounds, or their parents. Unfortunately, the only way we can
help in this context as teachers is to attempt to compensate for our
students perceived shortages and shortcomings. It is my personal view
that the belief that all children can learn should be inherent in teachers,
because if we dont hold high expectations of our students or fail to
demonstrate and communicate this to them, the students themselves
dont have high academic expectations, and this discourages them from
improving their performance (van Zanten 2005).
As teachers, in order to challenge the inequities that disadvantage
some students, we need to learn to question biased practices and policies,
to discover and utilize students different knowledges and capabilities, to
be critically reflective of ourselves and our pedagogies, and to collaborate
with

co-workers

and

colleagues

to

transform

our

practices

and

procedures. It is necessary, however, to highlight that although individual


teachers are capable of making a huge difference in their students lives,
teachers alone cannot change the systems and practices that contribute
to educational inequality. A broad-scale, significant difference requires the
consolidation of individual efforts with collective, institutional changes
(Nieto 2000). School councils, education committees, teacher education
faculties and other members of schools and the wider community need to
take a stand on social justice to transform the practices and policies of
education institutions (Nieto 2000).
It is evident that teachers and schools, through educational
processes,

help

establish

and

perpetuate

class-based

educational

inequalities. To fail to respond to these and move towards diminishing

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these inequalities is to be complicit with them. As teachers, we should be


committed to equal educational opportunities for all students. The
approach to achieving equal educational opportunities and therefore
outcomes for all students needs to be holistic and integrated. It should
focus on the design of programs and the development of educational
environments which are fair and effective, and which promote the learning
of all students. As a future teacher, I need to recognize that my
pedagogical practices and choices are guided by own virtual school bag
and habitus, as a result of my personal experiences, observations and
considerations. With this knowledge I will hopefully be able to better
inform and/or modify my preconceived perceptions and understandings to
implement appropriate pedagogical changes and contribute to the
realization of more evenly distributed educational outcomes.

(1650 words)

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SP5 2015

References:
Appadurai, A, 2004, The capacity to aspire: Culture and the terms of
recognition, Culture and public action, pp. 5984.
Bok, J 2010, The capacity to aspire to higher education: Its like making
them do a play without a script, Critical Studies in Education, vol. 51, no.
2., pp. 163-178.
Bourdieu, P 1980, The Logic of Practice, Stanford, Stanford University
Press.
Bourdieu, P 1984, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste,
London, Routledge.
Frohard-Dourlent, H 2009, Why the school system fails to equalize: the
influence of socioeconomic background on childrens achievement in
school, Sojourners: Undergraduate Journal of Sociology, vol. 1, pp 37-45.
Nieto, S 2000, Placing Equity Front And Center Some Thoughts On
Transforming Teacher Education For A New Century, Journal of Teacher
Education, vol. 51, no. 3, pp. 180-187.
Reay, D 2002, Shauns Story: troubling discourses of white working-class
masculinities, Gender and Education, vol. 14, no. 3, pp. 221-234.
Thomson, P 2002, 'Vicki and Thanh' in Schooling the rustbelt kids: making
the difference in changing times, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, NSW, pp. 116.
Tyler, S 2011, Transforming inequality in the classroom: Not as easy as it
sounds, Journal of Student Engagement: Education Matters, vol. 1, no. 1,
pp. 21-28.
van Zanten, A 2002, New Modes of Reproducing Social Inequality
Education:

the

changing

role

of

parents,

teachers,

schools

in
and

educational policies, European Educational Research Journal, vol. 4, no. 3,


pp. 155-169.

Lesley KONG . 100096415 . EDUC 5161


SP5 2015

Lesley KONG . 100096415 . EDUC 5161


SP5 2015