Some writers argued that middle-class children are under more pressure to succeed. Why is this, and what are the consequences of this pressure? When researching class differences in education there is always a tendency to assume that middle-class children have a significant advantage during their education due to social status and capital. These middle-class children may have certain advantages, for example, capital to spend on extra-curricula activities, but these advantages come with their own problems in the form of pressure from home and school, as well as from peers.
Working-class children also have some pressures, as some of the pressures experienced by middle-class children overlap into the lives of working-class children. Both classes, for example, will experience pressures from parents to succeed in their schooling, but the methods used may differ from class to class. This essay will look at the different pressures experienced by different the different classes, why they occur, where they occur and what these pressures can lead to in later life.
Working-class problems appear to occur more amongst the parents (typically mothers) and their emotional involvement in their child’s educational experience and success. In ‘A useful extension of Bourdieu’s conceptual framework? Emotional capital as a way of understanding mothers’ involvement in their children’s education’ Diane Reay talks about the different effects of emotional involvement and also how certain forms of this involvement can lead to different outcomes, dependant on the child, and their upbringing. She also looks at the different pressures associated with different class groups.
Unlike Nowotny’s idea that, primarily, positive emotions generate profits for the families, Reay discovered that positive emotions could have ‘negative repercussions for children’ and that negative emotions could also ‘spur children on academically’ (Reay 2000). Reay also found that the same form of emotional capital could have a certain effect in one situation, and a completely opposite effect in another. “Anger could communicate to children that the mother had a clear expectations of educational performances that she would back up with sanctions and this could result in the child making increased efforts.
But it could also generate resistance, non-compliance and the break down of communication. ” (Reay, 2000, p. 573) Reay discusses the issue of working-class mothers being concerned with their child’s educational experience and distresses. Although it is natural for mothers to be concerned with their child’s experiences, they can have a tendency to become too enmeshed in their children’s distresses and anxieties. This can lead to them being ‘both unable to provide appropriate support and having to deal with a welter of negative feelings’ (Reay 2000).
Even though this could occur in any class it was primarily working-class women who found themselves having trouble providing emotional capital to help their children through any difficulties they may be having. This was normally due to the mother being reminded of difficult experiences during their own education. This can also be a problem because the working-class mothers do not have the economic capital to help, such as hiring a private tutor, which middle-class mothers are able to provide if help is needed.
Another aspect of working-class mothers that Reay discovered was that they tended to give praise and support, even when the teachers believed that the child was under performing. Middle-class mother will tend to keep trying to push their children to better the present academic achievements, not believing that a child could be performing at their full academic capacity; the idea that ‘you can always do better. ‘ One major difference Reay found between the class groups was the freedom given to the children.
She found that, generally, middle-class children had very little free time and they did not have much independence compared to their working-class counterparts. There is the idea that academic homework is ‘not open to negotiation’, and that freedom is a ‘consequence of self actualisation’ (Reay 2000). Middle-class children also have to deal with the lack of freedom concerning extra-curricular activities like playing a musical instrument.
The idea of out-of-school activities has constantly been used to argue the advantages the middle-class children have over working-class children. But to not have the choice whether to participate or not, works against the child and, while maybe resulting in enhancing the child’s cultural capital, can also lead to a depreciation of their emotional capital (Morrow 1998). This ‘lack of freedom’ also carries through to secondary school choices with some children being signed up to go to certain schools when were only 3 years old, obviously having no personal input themselves.
Reay also found that, while working-class mothers could have a tendency to become too emotionally involved in their child’s well being, middle-class mothers did not seem to acknowledge the possibility that these pressures could have costs for their children. This was apparent even though many of the middle-class children that Reay spoke to talked about academic pressure and the pressure of school selection exams. Having said that, one major advantage that middle-class mother have, over their working-class counterparts, is that they generally have more time to spend with their children.