Social class and underachievement (Cultural Deprivation)

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Cultural deprivation theorists argue that most of us begin to acquire the basic attitudes and values needed for educational achievement from primary socialisation within the family. However, according to cultural deprivation theorists, many working-class families fail to socialise their children adequately. Therefore, these children grow up culturally deprived, that is, they lack the essential equipment needed for educational success. The three main aspects of cultural deprivation include: intellectual development, language and attitudes and values.

Intellectual development refers to the thinking and reasoning skills, such as the ability to use ideas and concepts. Cultural deprivation theorists argue that many working-class homes lack the essential: books, educational toys and activities that would stimulate a child’s intellectual development. Thus, children from working-class backgrounds start school without having developed the intellectual skills needed to progress. J.W.B Douglas (1964) found that working-class pupils scored lower on tests of ability than middle-class pupils. Douglas argues that this is because working-class parents are less likely to support their children’s intellectual development through reading with them or other educational activities in the home. Basil Bernstein and Douglas Young (1967) reached similar conclusions that the way mothers think about and choose toys has an influence on their children’s intellectual development. Middle-class mothers are more likely to choose toys that encourage thinking and reason skills and prepare children for school.

Likewise, the importance of language for educational achievement is highlighted by Carl Bereiter and Siegfried Engelmann (1966). They claim that the language used in lower-class homes is deficient. As a result, their children fail to develop the necessary language skills. Working-class children grow up incapable of abstract thinking and unable to use language to explain, describe, enquire or compare. Because of this, they are unable to take advantage of the opportunities that school offers. Basil Bernstein (1975) also identifies differences between working-class and middle-class language that influence achievement. The structure of language that the middle-class use, is similar to which teachers express in school. Working-class children use a different code of speech which doesn’t allow them to perform well within the educational system, which is culturally biased in favour of the middle-class. Bernstein distinguishes between two types of speech code: the restricted code and the elaborated code. The restricted code is often used by the working class. This consists of short, often unfinished grammatical sentences. The restricted code is context bound; that is, the speaker assumes the listener shares the same set of experiences. The elaborated code is typically used by the middle class. This code has a wider vocabulary and is based on longer grammatically correct more complex sentences. Speech is more varied and communicates abstract ideas. The elaborated code is context free; speaker does not assume the listener shares the same set of experiences, and so he/she uses correct grammar to express meanings explicitly to the listener. Critics argue that Basil Bernstein is a cultural deprivation theorist because he


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