This intriguing essay by Jean Anyon focuses principally on the theme of social class divisions within education and how this is differentiated within various social classes who try to get the best sort of education for their children. Her observations are interesting as she splits schools according to their social class and one can note the striking differences in teacher attitudes and other aspects of the educational stream.
Anyon’s description of what she terms as the working class school is instructive. Here she describes the fact that the procedure is intrinsically mechanical, there is no real room for imagination or departure from the rigidly set norms. Students are not allowed to intervene much in class and this obviously leads to a lack of enthusiasm and empathy with subjects and the actual curriculum. This type of approach obviously reflects the way children from the working classes are treated by society, they are deemed not to have too much opportunity on the life chances ladder so they are left to their own devices and are also emarginated in a sense.
The description of the middle class schools also calls for some scrutiny. Here there is some more leeway in the way children are treated and there is a little more imagination in this respect. Although the teachers appear to be rigid and sometimes rather strict in what they attempt to do, the children can experiment with certain roles although again this is quite restricted and their opportunities for advancement are also a bit limited. Anyon explains that in these type of schools, ‘work is getting the right answer’ so one has to study profusely to achieve this aim at the end of the day.
In the affluent professional school we began to see a certain leeway in the manner with which students are treated. This is obvious as the parents here have a little more knowledge on what should be going on in schools so their input is much greater. Anyon describes the fact how students are allowed much more creative input into proceedings and the concepts applied to the classroom are also in themselves much more creative. Liberty at these type of schools is also much more pronounced with several children allowed out of the classroom at the same time and this is indicative of a laissez faire attitude consonant with the parent’s wealth and social status.
Anyon then moves on to the Executive Elite School where the children practically have the run of the place and are pretty much allowed to do whatever they want. The rapport between teacher and student is much more informal as the teachers are also in their sense, highly paid professionals who have their own initiative and can also do what they wish as long as the child improves analytic powers. In fact, Anyon argues that these types of schools are much more focused on the children’s analytic powers and their eventual improvement. This perhaps is the school with the most potential for young children and it is an excellent opportunity to observe what social class differences can do.
Anyon would place herself in the affluent professional class sector due to the fact that she is intrinsically a professional with considerable experience in observing the class differences and social strata which are differentiated in the various types of schools. Her social commentary indicates the almost racial segregation in the school system which was actually tried and tested in the Deep South in the 1970’s when affluent white parents set up their own schools and foundations so that their children need not mix with black pupils in public schools. Obviously this type of segregation is not really present in this analysis but still, the children from the higher classes are shielded and insulated from the others and inhabit their own sheltered world where they consistently excel in every way.
Anyon is circumspect about the potential of the school division system which has its intrinsic benefits but also has its disadvantages. Obviously one has to analyze this in the terms of social strata which do not always create the right type of differentiation but one need not be blind to realize that those children who attend the executive elite schools have much greater life chances than those who come from the working class backgrounds and whose education is in a sense not really important to the country.
Finally one can observe that the work curriculum in each and every school is strikingly different and is intrinsically applied to the different social classes accordingly. Notwithstanding all this, Anyon’s arguments are not watertight although one can detect a certain bias in her writing too but if what she says is true, then the future for the working class student in America appears to be rather bleak. On the other hand, the excitement and variety of the curriculum for the upper classes enables them to start off at a much better pace than their rivals who are left pretty far behind.