• Created by: Anna Gray
  • Created on: 06-09-15 17:36

Cultural Deprivation

According to cultural deprivation theorists, working class families fail to socialise their children and so they lack the cultural ‘equipment’ needed to do well and so underachieve. There are three main aspects of this:

  1. Intellectual development:

  • Many working class families lack the books and educational toys that stimulate a child’s intellectual development and so children from these homes start school without the necessary tools needed to succeed.

  • J.W.B. Douglas (1964) found that working class pupils scored lower on ability tests than middle class pupils and he said that this was because their parents were less likely to support their child’s development through reading with them or doing other educational activities.

  • Basil Bernstein and Douglas Young (1967) also found that the way middle class mothers think about toys has an influence on their children’s development because they are more likely to choose toys that encourage thinking and better prepare their children for school.

  1. Language:

  • Carl Bereiter and Siegfried Engelmann (1966) highlighted the importance of language for educational achievement. They said that language used in working class homes was deficient and that they communicated with gestures and single words or disjointed phrases. This means that children fail to develop the necessary language skills and grow up incapable of using language to explain or describe and this means that they cannot take full advantage of the opportunities school offers.

  • Basil Bernstein (1975) also identified the differences between working  class and middle class language and distinguished between two types of speech code:

    • The restricted code- used by the working class. It has limited vocabulary and often uses short, unfinished and grammatically incorrect sentences. Their speech is predictable and may only use a single word or gesture- this means that it is context bound so the speaker assumes the listener has the same experiences as they do.

    • The elaborated code- used by the middle class. It has wider vocabulary and uses grammatically correct and more complex sentences. This is context free- the listener doesn’t have to share the same experiences as the person communicating to them.

  • The differences in these speech codes allow middle class pupils a head start at school because this is the speech code that the teacher will be using to communicate to them. The elaborated code is also going to be used in text books and exams because it is seen as the ‘correct’ way to speak and is a more effective way of communication.

  • The early use of the elaborated code means middle class pupils are more ‘at home’ at school whereas the working class feel left out and they are therefore less successful.

  1. Attitudes and values:

  • Parent’s attitudes and values are a key factor affecting educational achievement. Douglas found that working class parents placed less emphasis on the value of education and were less ambitious for their children. They also took less interest in their child’s education and rarely visited the school so didn’t discuss progress with teachers meaning their children had lower levels of motivation.


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