Labelling

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  • Labelling
    • To label someone is to attach a meaning or definition to them. For example; teachers may label a pupil as bright or thick, trouble maker or hard working.
      • Studies show that teachers often attach such labels regardless of the pupil's actual ability or attitude.
        • Instead, they label pupils on the basis of stereotyped assumptions about their class background, labelling working-class pupils negatively and middle-class pupils positively.
      • A number of studies of labelling have been carried out by interactionist sociologist. Interactionists study small-scale, face-to-face interactions between individuals, such as in the classroom or playground.
        • They are interested in how people attach labels to one another, and the effects that this has on those who are labelled.
    • Labelling in secondary schools
      • Howard Becker (1971) carried  out an important interactionist study of labelling. Based on interviews with 60 Chicago high school teachers, he found that they judged pupils according to how closely they fitted an image of the 'ideal pupil'.
        • Pupils' work, conduct and appearance were key factors influencing teachers' judgements. The teachers saw children  from middle-class backgrounds as the closest to the ideal, and the lower working-class children as furthest away from it because they regarded them as badly behaved.
          • Aaron Cicourel and John Kitsuse's (1963) study of educational counsellors in an American high school shows how such labelling can disadvantage working-class.
          • Counsellors play an important role in deciding which students will get on to courses that prepare them for higher education.
            • Cicourel and Kitsuse found inconsistencies in the way the counsellors assessed students' suitability for courses. Although they claimed to judge students according to their ability, in practice they judged them largely on the basis of their social class and/or race. Where students had similar grades, counsellors were more likely to label middle-class students as having college potential and to place them are higher-level courses.
              • Aaron Cicourel and John Kitsuse's (1963) study of educational counsellors in an American high school shows how such labelling can disadvantage working-class.
    • Labelling in primary schools
      • Labelling occurs from the outset of a child's educational career, as Ray Rist's (1970) study of an American kindergarten shows. He found that the teacher used information about children's home background and appearance to place them in separate groups, seating each group at a different table.
        • Those she decided were fast learners, whom she labelled the 'tigers', tended to be middle-class and of neat and clean appearance.
        • She seated these at table nearest to her and showed them greatest encouragement.
      • The other two groups - whom she labelled the 'cardinals' and the 'clowns' - were seated further away. These groups were more likely to be working-class.
        • They were given lower-level books to read and fewer opportunities to demonstrate their abilities. For example, they had to read as a group, not as individuals.
    • High and low status knowledge
      • These studies show how the labelling of working-class pupils puts them at a disadvantage other studies show that labelling can be applied not just to pupils, but also to the knowledge they are taught.
        • As Nell Keddie (1971) found, both pupils and knowledge can be labelled as high or low status.
      • As comprehensive school classes she observed were streamed by ability, but all streams followed the same humanities course and covered the same course content.
        • However, Keddie found that although teachers believed they were teaching all pupils in the same way, in practice, when they taught the A stream, they gave them abstract, theoretical, high status knowledge.

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