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Chapter 4 Class Differences: Economic Inequality in the Classroom. Classism. “Class” communicates a person’s position in society, determined by money, education, occupation and access to resources of information

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  • “Class” communicates a person’s position in society, determined by money, education, occupation and access to resources of information
  • “Classism” is the differential treatment of groups of people because of their class background and the reinforcement of those differences through values practices of institutions, such as schools
  • Steady increase of rich getting richer and poor getting poorer, increases disparity between the two classes.
  • Schools are doing very little to help children understand economic inequality, how it pertains to them, and the effects that are apparent in the classroom.
  • There is an overwhelming idea that all Americans have equal opportunities to succeed, those who don’t only have themselves to blame.

Why Address Classism in Education?

  • Class differences DO affect learning. A correlation between social class and educational outcomes surfaces where lower class students have lower levels of education fulfilled. The opposite is true for upper class students.
  • Most schools promote values and practices of the middle class and those children tend to do better.
  • Children from lower class do not have resources or have fewer opportunities to develop skills needed to succeed in school.
  • Students do not see the factors that play into their academic success and tend to blame themselves, regarding themselves as dumb.
  • Highly trained and effective teachers teach in middle and upper class school districts, so low income areas may not have the resources to attract these teachers.
  • Schools serving lower income children have limited resources that results in buildings in disarray, increased violence, and lack of parental involvement or after school programs.
  • Schooling is believed to help people surpass their class status, this is not true for all individuals

Why Address Classism in Education?(cont.)

  • Different treatment of students from different classes affects a students self perception and consciousness.
  • Teachers expectations of students’ abilities can close off opportunities for those students.
  • Teachers may have opportunities to attend workshops that help them gain a better understanding of race and culture. However, it is rare to find classes or workshops on classism.
  • Low income families tend to move more, mobility has an effect on achievement.
  • Summer vacations allow for higher income children to gain ground while lower income lose ground a greater disproportion is formed for the next class year.

Heightening Teacher Awareness About Class

  • Teachers may not be prepared to deal with students from different social classes.
  • Unintentional discrimination by teachers may affect the classroom in many ways.
  • Difficult for teachers to sympathize with students that may have anxieties like noting having enough to eat or having a roof over their heads.
  • Teachers need to educated themselves about people from different socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Expectations of teachers matter because these expectations are subtly communicated to students about their perceived abilities. Research shows that learners that are perceived to be from a lower class tend to be perceived as less capable.
  • Avoidance of using assignments where students have to bring items in from home, revised show and tell time, and fundraising for field trips are all attempts to bring the class together on one level.
  • Teachers can examine messages about class in text and see how these messages might affect students.
  • Educators can create opportunities to discuss class issues with their colleagues.
  • A no put down norm should be established in the classroom.

Creating norms and practices to affirm class differences

  • Educators can work to create alternatives of class procedures that may be class biased and examine resources that maybe not be equally distributed to all children equally.
  • Organizing of activities that raise money for children to buy books from book clubs and allow children to go on field trips.
  • Teachers and administrators can and should be role models for students by being advocates for class equity.

Teachers talk about class

  • In order to create a classroom as free from classism as possible and that affirms all children without regard to their class backgrounds, teachers much be aware of class issues and consistently look at how their actions affect children of varied classes.
  • Teachers tell the importance of examining their expectations and be as careful as possible not to make any assumptions about lifestyles and beliefs.


  • Schools are places where middle class values are constantly confirmed.
  • Middle class teachers unintentionally make judgments that criticize working families and their choices. Ultimately teachers are judging people with values different than their own.
  • Reading is important for an interconnection between social class and school achievement, important to encourage reading without implying there is something wrong with the family for not reading.
  • Place more of an importance on storytelling since passing on stories is a literary tradition.

Being inclusive

  • Simply not denouncing a specific lifestyle is not enough, teachers need to verify a diversity of lifestyles.
  • Provide different activities inviting parents to join.
  • Contribution by all parents.
  • Teachers need to look further than simply stating things as fate, or allowing things to go beyond their control, make student groupings work.


  • Approach students and their clothing without fixed preconceptions and assumptions.
  • Refrain from making value judgements and sit back, observe and try to understand.
  • Realize activities where students might damage or stain their clothing might be a big deal to some parents.

School Success

  • Standardized tests and other methods of assessment have a strong correlation with socioeconomic status.
  • Some districts expect less from children that come from low income homes.
  • Role models, supportive teachers, parents and community members as a main focus of students academic achievement.
  • Parents need to be included in the childs classroom and academics.
  • Cooperation and competition have a major impact on learning.


  • Becoming more aware of class issues can lead to modification of our educational work.
  • Development of activities working to increase awareness of class issues and create new methods for sharing resources in the community.
  • Structuring groups differently, creation of a inclusive curriculum that is a reflection of people and a variety of class backgrounds.
  • Work towards creating parental involvement, respecting parents skills and needs.
  • Reflect on the impact of our actions that show in the classroom in regards to culture and socioeconomic status.

Helping students understand and change classism

What to do

What NOT to do

  • Make the structure of the class the same for all students
  • Use the same pedagogical approach for all students
  • Provide different materials, teaching methods, and interaction patterns based on class background
  • Providing traditional, routine instruction to lower class students and innovative, progressive instruction to middle- and upper- class students.

Examples of classroom practices

  • Have the class work together to finish an open ended story about a student whose family might be evicted from their apartment.
  • Read a letter written by a student who is unable to go to college to become a doctor because she must work to support her siblings and discuss students’ reactions.
  • Ask students why people stereotype others and think of ways to stop this type of discrimination.

Examples of classroom practices

  • Divide the class into groups and ask them to create a project on a topic being studied. Give each team unequal resources but have them all be evaluated the same way.
    • Have groups discuss situations in which people are expected to perform equally given unequal amounts of resources
  • Use demonstrations to show students the distribution of wealth in the U.S
    • Follow up by asking students to explore their own environments (school, home, community) for class-bias

Examples of classroom practices

  • Have students examine their text books and other assigned reading materials for classism
    • Determine if people from different classes are presented in different ways
    • Try to determine the author’s opinion of these characters
  • Have students examine the media for stereotypes
    • TV commercials, newspaper advertisements
  • Encourage students to take action
    • Have students create stories that counteract stereotypes
    • Make books for the school library or present stories in short skits

Classroom practices

  • Although these activities were mentioned, we do not recommend using all of these practices
  • It could create more misconceptions
  • Take other factors into account before implementing

Classroom norms and practices

What to do

What NOT to do

  • Create groups of mixed-ability reading levels read to each other in class
  • Organize a car wash, book sale, or raffle to raise money so that all students can order a reasonable amount of books
  • Make field trips financially accessible for all students
  • Have students read independently at all times
  • Offer school book club orders to only those students who can afford them
  • Charge some students an additional fee for not having certain items (ex: ice-skates)

Classroom norms and practices

What to do

What NOT to do

  • Remain neutral and do not judge those with different values from your own
  • Teacher invites all parents to participate in the classroom and provides many opportunities that will attract different parents
  • Teacher creates student groups that are diverse in class and race
  • Serve as a role model for students by actively supporting class equality
  • Teacher only reaffirms the values and culture of the middle class in the classroom
  • Teacher is selective when choosing opportunities for parent involvement appealing only to a particular group of volunteer
  • Teacher creates homogeneous groups based on skill
  • Teachers react passively to classism present in the school and community


  • Define your own awareness
    • In general
  • Determine what lengths
    • How they will create a bias-free classroom
    • Addressing students
    • Don’t let it effect learning
    • Incorporating equality into the lesson planning process

Helping Students Understand Classism

What to do

  • Start the school year off by implementing activities that allow students to get to know one another and develop trust
  • Create an classroom in which all students feel valued
  • Set a classroom tone that encourages the discussion of issues that are related to socioeconomic status
  • Use role-play of real life situations so students can become more aware of issues and can recognize stereotypes

Helping Students Understand and Change Classism

  • Intentionally teach socio-economic inequality and attitude that reinforce classism.
  • Build a supportive atmosphere in the classroom, where all children feel accepted and are comfortable discussing sensitive issues.
  • Once children understand class discrimination they can begin to examine their own environment; text books and the media.
  • When students understand the effects of prejudice and stereotypes then they can understand how classism unfairly distributes resources to particular groups of people.
  • Students can in turn make a difference when they are given practice to stand up for what they believe in with knowledge and understand about discrimination.
  • Students need information about different classes so they can conceptualize a different living environment. Role play will help students retain this.

Classroom Activity

Draw a picture

  • Divide the class into 3 groups at random; lower, middle and upper class groups.
  • Us current demographic distributions to model the current population.
  • Each student gets the same size piece of paper, slightly larger then one desk size.
  • Crowd the lower class group around a group of desks and give them each one crayon of a different color for them to share.
  • Set the few upper class group up at a large table with plenty of room and give them each a plentiful box of a variety of color crayons.
  • Middle class students can remain at their own desks, uncrowded with a small assortment of crayons.

Classroom Activity cont.

Draw a picture

  • Once all the students are in place reveal a picture that the students are to copy to the best of their ability.
  • Set a fix amount of time for the students to do the work. Arrange for the lower class students to share the crayons to avoid unnecessary conflict.
  • After the time has elapse, display the pictures from each group and have the students evaluate them.
  • Have students discuss what problems and benefits they had with their situation and what were the underlying factors that caused them. How could things have been different?
  • If there is time try rotating the groups.


Fly Away Home

  • by Eve Bunting
  • Fly Away Home is the story of a little boy who lives in the airport with his father.
  • The boy tells the story of the things they have to do to stay out of sight.
  • The boy parallels his own situation with a bird getting trapped in the airport that one day flies out.
  • The boy tells how his situation makes him feel, but also that he remains hopeful that he to will someday leave.


  • Definitions
    • Class
    • Classism
    • Emerging trends
    • presence in education today

Why address in education?

    • Disparity
    • Differential treatment of students by class
    • Fewer resources, teachers with less training
    • Raising funds