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Reflection #2

fli's picture

In Lareau’s Unequal Childhoods, she explores how children grow up and are treated differently because of class, gender, and sometimes race. 

The middle class children all underwent concerted cultivation. Their language was nurtured by their parents. They were taught to shake hands, look people in the eye, and to expect others to bend to their way of thinking. Their parents were always involved in their packed lives, and often had to give up much of their own lives in order to fully cultivate them. Most of their lives were scheduled, and without organized activities, many of them felt lost.

The working class or poor children all were left to natural development. Vocal exchanges are always short and to the point, with little done to encourage the children’s growth in language. Many of them lived in places where they could not look people in the eye, and they were taught to respect what elders said. If a parent said, “Jump,” they are expected to reply with something along the lines of, “How high?”. For many of their parents, it is enough work to make sure they go to school, do homework, and have food in their bellies. Anything extra is extra work and hassle they do not want to deal with. They have much free time, and their creativity allows them to fill that time with games and activities they organize. 

Lareau paints these two perfect cookie cutter images for us, and somehow, all the students she selected fall into these two categories. There is no in between the middle class and the lower class in her book. The middle class people make six figure salaries, and the lower class people sometimes struggle to put food on the table, but what about the people in between? I wonder how their children are raised. Do they also undergo concerted cultivation, or do they generally have lots of free time? Is it a balance of the two? Lareau goes into great depth about the middle class and the lower class, striving to find both black and whites of both genders in order to have an equal drawing pool. However, there is no sign of other races. What about families that are composed of more than one race? The stories, along with the families, are very black and white. Although the points she presents are valid and very interesting, I would like to see more diversity. 

Another problem I have with the text is the fact that I don’t really fit into either of these cookie cutters. My family was definitely within the lower class spectrum, and although there were not that many discussions about money, I always understood that it was short, and we needed to be careful with it. I was always taught to respect my elders and that I should listen to my parents. However, because my parents spoke no English, I was also taught from a very young age to translate, and as a result, to speak up for myself, and present myself as a competent person to adults. My sister was always around to prod at me. I in turn, was always around to annoy her, and be in her way. This lead to me to develop language skills in both of my native languages, because my parents always spoke to my in Cantonese, and my sister made sure to speak to me in a healthy mix of the two. Also, I was presented with opportunities for concerted cultivation that I made the decision to turn down. My mom offered to sign me up for prep school, Chinese classes, and piano. For some reason, in my little head, staying at home and doing chores was way more interesting than all of these things. What is ironic now is that I do take Chinese, and I regret not learning piano, but at that time, I was not interested. My mother’s greatest effort at concerted cultivation came when she made me read endless amounts of books, to which I owe my addiction to books now. Thus, although in a lower class, where I spent plenty of time amusing myself and worrying about financial issues, I had many opportunities in language development and concerted cultivation. I do not fit into either cookie cutter, and am rather an odd mishmash of the two. As much as Lareau wanted to make a point about how class defines a child’s upbringing, after thinking about my own experiences, and talking to other people whose experiences did not fit into her theories, I have to wonder at how perfectly the children she observed fit into the frames.