Serendip is an independent site partnering with faculty at multiple colleges and universities around the world. Happy exploring!

Maddy's Paper 2: Lareau Critique

maddybeckmann's picture

Annette Lareau Perpetuates Inequality Rather than Helping the Issue

“America may be the land of opportunity, but it is also a land of inequality. This book identifies the largely invisible but powerful ways that parents’ social class impacts children’s life experiences” (Lareau, Kindle Locations 299-300).

My Dad was born in Louisville, Kentucky. He lived in a very small house with four other siblings. He grew up incredibly poor. His mother and  father worked every day from early in the morning to late at night. He was not involved in any after school activities as he was growing up except for high school football. My dad’s parents were not involved in school and when talking to him he barely remembers them coming to a game or even stopping by school.  I would assume that his teachers did not expect him to go to college because his parents were not involved and neither went to college themselves. My dad’s parents hoped for my dad to make a way for himself in the world despite the fact that they themselves could not provide opportunities for his success. My Dad defined expectations and the “bind” of his social class. My dad got by in school because he worked hard and eventually got a scholarship to Centre College. He worked extremely hard in school and now after years of many low wage jobs to support his family is a CEO of a hospital company. I think often we forget that children, even when they are young, have autonomy even when their surroundings are not “ideal”. I think we also forget the impact of expectations for success depending on social class. In Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau writes about many different families in different classes and how a child’s social class affects their life. She finds that children in middle class families have “concerted cultivation”, meaning that parents are actively fostering their child’s development as opposed to low income families that allow children the “accomplishment of natural growth”. Children in the middle class do better in school and the reader is left in a sense that these middle class children are the ones who succeed in the future. In the title alone, I had a feeling of where the book was headed. “Unequal Childhoods’” underlying message is that we should make childhood more equal and thus better equip our children for success. But does this undervalue a parents that cannot provide the “ideal” “concerted cultivation” upbringing?  Does this suggest that the problem with our society is located in the way we raise children not the prejudices of society itself?

While there are most definitely correlations between a way a child is raised and success, I believe that these assumptions perpetuate stereotypes. I feel that we do not value a child’s own drive to succeed. If we expected the same of each child no matter what situation they came from would we encourage all students to succeed? How do our expectations of a child due to their discourse hinder their ability to succeed? How do students defy these expectations? My dad had the odds stacked against him and was expected to do what his father did and stay in “his class”. However, he used education as an avenue for success and defied what people thought he could accomplish. Lareau’s book, whether it means to or not, expects certain things of certain classes. She derives many of her ideas from Bourdieu's idea of cultural capital. Cultural capital is essentially social assets such as education, speech, dress and knowledge of music etc that allow middle and upper classes to get ahead. Lareau seems to accept this as the norm instead of questioning these norms. Those who do not have the “right” cultural capital are simply unequal. My dad did not have cultural capital that helped him succeed, rather he worked to defy this. Are there ways to value lots of different discourses and thus different forms of cultural capital?

As a society whether we mean to or not we expect success from middle and upper class white people and not from others of different races and classes. Lareau seems to perpetuate these expectations as an underlying text by providing parenting very black and white. I believe in order to advance our society and allow equal opportunity for success we must begin to value our family lives and what happens outside of the classroom inside the classroom. We should investigate ways to make our classrooms more porous.  We should also begin to evaluate what we expect of ourselves and those around us not depending on where we come from.

I wonder how we can do this. How can we as a society set expectations for our children in order to help them succeed, no matter their social class? How can we make a classroom a place to value different discourses and offer chances of success? How can we create the best and equal opportunities for success no matter what class, race, gender, etc. a person is? While I believe Lareau offers interesting thoughts about the different ways of rearing children, I believe she perpetuates stereotypes instead of helping us advance how we can fix inequality.

Lareau, Annette (2011-08-02). Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life (Kindle Locations 299-300). University of California Press. Kindle Edition.