Class Reproduction by Four Year Olds

Abstract

While scholars know that young children are active if inadvertent participants in social reproduction, little has been said about how young children engage in class reproduction. Through observing in a preschool classroom with a class diverse student body, I show that preschoolers are already class actors, performing class through their linguistic styles. Upper-middle-class children speak, interrupt, ask for help, and argue more often than working-class children. Upper-middle-class children’s classed linguistic style effectively silences working-class students, gives them less power, and allows them fewer opportunities to develop their language skills. The children’s linguistic class performances have immediate consequences and potential future implications for class reproduction.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    All of the children were 4 years old at some point in the year.

  2. 2.

    The use of a laptop to take field notes is perhaps unconventional. I believe this method has advantages as well as drawbacks. The main advantage is that I could take more accurate and detailed notes as I could record events while they were happening. It minimized my need to rely upon my memory. However, using a laptop also meant that I was less mobile than I would have been without a laptop. As the teachers preferred I stay out of the way, that I limit my interactions with the children, and be relatively immobile anyway, the addition of the laptop was only a minimal constraint on my mobility. Lastly, my use of a laptop likely shaped how others saw me. It made me obviously different than anyone else in the room, and marked me as a researcher to parents. As will be shown in the results section, the use of a laptop also changed how differently classed children reacted to me. While I have no data on which children had laptops at home, the students’ interactions with me may have differed by their familiarity with, access to, and meaning given to computers. Each of these aspects of computer use and meaning may be influenced by class. In sum, using my laptop had minimal effects on my movement, and increased my ability to understand the class dynamics in the classroom.

  3. 3.

    It is possible that the children could read my own upper-middle-class identity, and that this example is partially an example of the upper-middle-class children recognizing that I am like their parents and teachers. Similarly, it is possible that I seemed different to the working-class children’s parents and therefore less approachable. However, it is my guess that the bigger influence is how children of different classes perceive adults and what norms they follow in approaching and interacting with adults of all classes. Lareau (2003) finds that middle-class and working-class children are socialized to have different ideas about how to approach and interact with adults.

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Acknowledgements

I would like to thank the following people for their support and advice with this paper: Al Young, Fred Wherry, Karin Martin, Karyn Lacy, Amy Cooter, Alexandra Killewald, Anju Paul, Jane Rochmes, Jessica Wiederspan, the members of the Culture, History, and Politics workshop, and the anonymous reviewers. Thanks, too, to Lynn Sametz for her many rounds of edits. Also, thank you to the Community Preschool teachers, staff, students, and parents for allowing me to conduct this research.

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Correspondence to Jessi Streib.

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Streib, J. Class Reproduction by Four Year Olds. Qual Sociol 34, 337 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11133-011-9193-1

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Keywords

  • Social class
  • Education
  • Social reproduction