For a long time, we have thought that students from different socioeconomic backgrounds have different levels of success due to the resources available to them in their schools and from their families. However, a new study from the University of Pennsylvania shows an equally important factor in a child’s success is how the study identifies and secures resources for himself.
The study found that the children who came from middle class families are more comfortable and assertive when asking their teachers for help than are the children who come from working class families. Because the students ask more often and more assertively, they often get more attention and assistance from their teachers, which in turn helps them do better in class.
The students who come from middle-class families often directly address the teachers in class and sometimes will even interrupt the teacher in order to make their questions known. The students who came from working-class families were more likely to wait for assistance and rarely sought it out themselves. If they did actually seek out assistance from the teacher, they were passive and waited longer for the teacher to notice them than the students from middle-class families did, on average.
According to Jessica McCrory Calarco, the author of the study, the children who are more comfortable asking for assistance might have learned to do so from their parents. These parents “also deliberately coach children on the language and strategies to use in making these requests [for additional help from the teachers].”
“What that means is that middle-class kids’ help-seeking skills and strategies effectively become a form of ‘cultural capital’ in the classroom – by activating those resources, middle-class kids can secure their own advantages in the classroom,” Calarco continued. “It also means that children play a more active role in stratification that previous research has recognized.”
In the long run, this reluctance to ask questions can be correlated to the difference in dropout rates between the two socioeconomic groups. Students who come from low-income families are five times more likely to drop out from high school than students who come from higher-income families. Looking even farther down the road, those who do not have a high school degree make substantially less than their peers who go on to earn a higher level of education.
What can we do about this? Parents should encourage their children to ask questions in class if they are confused or need clarification and teachers should try to pay more attention to the students who do actively seek help for themselves. Those are the only solutions I can think of. What do you think? Tell us your opinions in the comments section below.