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Paper #2

Jerome K. Jerome's picture

Looking toward my Field Placement with an Eye on Lareau

Annette Lareau analyzes the role of social factors in a child’s upbringing, but the main focus is social class. The crux of her argument is that middle class children have more “cultural capital” as a result of their class and the concerted cultivation method of upbringing that Lareau asserts is a defining feature of a middle class upbringing. As I head into my field placement, I wonder how Lareau’s study will rear its head in my experiences and observations. How present will class distinctions be at the Smith High School? What role will race play and how will the uncertainties that come with the issue of race be addressed by the school? Using Lareau’s lens, how much cultural capital do I think these students are attaining--or not attaining?

The first thought that pops into my head as I try to answer these questions is that Lareau’s analysis is not perfect. For example, I am a member of a middle class family, and neither my two sisters nor myself was cultivated or even raised in much of a concerted manner. We are products of “natural growth” despite our social class. My father grew up in a working class family but gained many of the skills Lareau mentions concerted cultivation children having from his work experience that started when he was sixteen, and it is him that we owe our current class status to. Given the fact that I only had to look inward to find an example that challenges one of Lareau’s core assumptions suggests to me that while her study raises interesting points and provides a foundational framework about how class influences childhoods, cultural capital, and lifetime achievement, her analysis is a generalization that cannot be applied to everyone; every individual family and child is different. That is not to say that Lareau’s findings are useless or wrong but rather that they are not absolute and must be applied with care. To some extent, Lareau herself seems to recognize the variances that naturally show up in society and in the upbringing of children.

If we take Lareau with a grain of salt but do not reject the overarching premise of her work, I expect to see many of the dynamics that Lareau describes in her book on display during my field placement. I have no doubt that I will see students that fall into the archetype that Lareau establishes. Based on some very basic pre-placement research I have done on my school, I expect most students to fall into the concerted cultivation model. The admissions criteria on the school’s website states that “Admission to SHS is based on a combination of a student interview at the school with a presentation of completed work, Advanced or Proficient PSSA scores, As and Bs with the possible exception of one C, teacher or counselor recommendation and good attendance and punctuality. Interested families must contact the school to set up an appointment for an interview. SHS will not initiate the interview process with families.” Such an admissions process suggests to me that the students will be intelligent and motivated, and because of success being something of a prerequisite for getting a spot in the school, a middle class child seems to have an advantage getting in--in a vacuum. Lareau states that one of the advantages of a child brought up with concerted cultivation is that he or she will be able to effectively communicate with adults, which is a skill the interview process would presumably test. I am curious to see how accurate my assumptions turn out to be.

However, I have a harder time predicting how the school’s educative methods themselves will complement--or clash--with the upbringings of students. The school’s mission and approach to learning seems to be unique to me based on what its website says is its mission: “Students at SHS learn in a project-based environment where the core values of inquiry, research, collaboration, presentation and reflection are emphasized in all classes.” This idea seems indicative of a more student-empowering progressive model that, as Dewey stresses, would hope to use experience to stimulate growth in students. How will the social dynamics that Lareau discusses fit in with that model? For example, how much will the communication skills that a concerted cultivation child would presumably have affect interactions in the classroom? How noticeable will the impact be? The “practical” focus of the school also seems like it may complement some of the distinctions Lareau discusses. I am especially curious to see what the racial makeup of the school is and how that interacts with other societal factors as well as the school’s educational policies. I expect race to be noticeable in student interactions as it is a key factor in identity, as Lareau touches on, but I am not sure what the scope of its impact will be.

Lastly, as I have touched on somewhat, I expect many of Lareau’s ideas to be present and to some degree reaffirmed by my field placement. Taking into the aforementioned limits to her theory, I expect many of the advantages to come with concerted cultivation to be on display. Lareau focuses a great deal on cultural capital, and I think the students at SHS are likely attaining a great deal of that. Though the school only opened in 2006, some of its visitors include Bill Gates and Barack Obama--not exactly obscure people. Whether I find the students’ overall experience to be valuable in that regard remains to be seen, but I expect to be impressed by the students, the faculty, and the curriculum, even though having the privileges Lareau describes does not mean everything is perfect or always runs smoothly. I am curious if my expectations will be met. I am certainly curious to find out.

[school pseudonym edited in bam!]