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Critical Assessment of Lareau

rthayil's picture

Lareau states her theoretical perspectives regarding the inequality of education and educational institutions which encompasses different philosophies of child rearing, psychology, and socioeconomic standings and their correlation to each other. According to Lareau, middle class families tend to employ the concerted cultivation approach, while lower income families tend to employ the accomplishment of natural growth approach. She seeks to prove how concerted cultivation leads to a sense of entitlement in children while the accomplishment of natural growth leads to a sense of constraint. Although Lareau attempts to validate both approaches, she notes the significant advantage of the concerted cultivation approach and how it prepares the student for the inevitable life ahead of dealing with the masses of faceless institutions (and how this advantage automatically places others at a disadvantage). While I feel Lareau's theories hold some truth, I find her approach extremely reactionary and her study blind to the other causes of disadvantages in the classroom. In many cases, her observations are skewed to fit her theory and her attempt to distinguish her theory as binary in nature often leaves out the dynamic aspect of family lives, child-rearing methods, and situations. Because of this, the significance of her theory is stunted.


While Lareau appears to have approached her study very carefully (as detailed in her methods sections), there were a few blatant flaws which caused me to stumble from my confidence in her theories. It appears that Lareau created her theory first and then sought to prove it in the families she found for her study. Clear examples of this can be noted in the way she interacts with the middle class Williams family and the lower income Taylor family. A minute, yet revealing instance is how she describes what each child was watching on television. While Tyrec Taylor was watching "Cosby", Alexander Williams was watching "The Cosby Show". Though both of the children were watching the same show, Lareau's desire to create a distinction leads to a warping of the picture, so that her audience will perceive the same action as different. Yet another example demonstrates Lareau's desire to warp the image to her advantage. While Tyrec's mother wanted and allowed Tyrec to participate in football, Lareau did not accept this as an attempt at concerted cultivation. When asked by the fieldworker in what ways she thought football was beneficial for Tyrec, Tyrec's mother explained the significance of responsibility, routine, and working as part of a team. This answer was apparently not adequate for the fieldworker. Tyrec's mother was pressed for more meaningful reasons that would contribute to his "overall development", for "even little ways". This response to her legitimate answer is condescending and unfair, especially when considering the answer and response given and received by the father of Alexander Williams. When pressed to respond to a similar question about the benefits of learning to play the piano, Alexander's father responds with a limp "How can that not make him a better person. I'm convinced that this rich experience will make him a better person, a better citizen, a better husband, a better father - certainly a better student." He was not pressed any further despite the lack of substance in his response. These instances of warping, whether or not they were purposefully done, heighten the issues of perception in such studies and how perception can influence any objective observation. This also leads me to the conclusion that Lareau tailor made her theories before her field study.


Despite the many flaws of her theory, I do feel they are enacted to a certain extent in the lives of students. In the vacuum and isolation of her study (or more accurately, her perception of her study), concerted cultivation and accomplishment of natural growth appear as very explicit and are governed in static situations. So while there is evidence that these two ideas exist, it is not fair to accept it as a binary system. My parents moved from India to a small apartment in a questionable Brooklyn neighborhood in their early twenties, fresh out of college and with little money in hand. Now, they live in a larger house in a relatively suburban area. Our socioeconomic situations have changed while my sisters and I were growing up, adding to the equation many more variables, and causing my childhood experiences to greatly differ from those of my older sisters'. Because I had a greater amount of resources growing up, I was able to learn martial arts and how to play an instrument, unlike my sisters. But the result of these differences in child rearing approaches is not so clear cut. While I do feel more entitled to the resources around me (for example: attending a private college while my sisters attended public universities), I do not feel as though my sisters are particularly constrained. Both attended the colleges and graduate programs they wanted and are very (very) vocal individuals. So while there is a clear advantage in the resources available to me compared to the resources that were available to them, the outcome is not at such deviations as Lareau emphasized.


Because I do see that there is a basis for her theories, I do believe Lareau's theories are enacted in the lives of students, but not to the extent that Lareau intended. There are many factors that affect students. There are many factors that affect the overall growth and development of people in general. While it is not squarely wrong to see socioeconomic factors as affecting the development of students, it is incorrect to assume it is the only or the most significant one.