19 SES 07 A, School, Education and Power
This study is part of a broader study examining the relationship between education and social class in Israel in three kindergartens in different socio-economic contexts. One of the central issues in the broader study is the comparison of how parents and kindergarten teachers from three different economic classes prepare the children for first grade. The ethnographic and phenomenological comparison of the cultural performance called "readiness for first grade" is very important in view of its potential to explain differences in educational pedagogy, self-concepts, and emotional capital (Reay 2000) of families and children of different economic classes, and the impact of this “readiness” educational work on life opportunities and socio-economic stratification in the terms of the sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1977).
This article is based on ethnographies in workshops for parents of upper socio-economic class in preparation for their children to enter first grade. These workshops are a business initiative that has been operating in recent years in the free market and has even been dubbed "the first-grade readiness industry." This means that a rigorous analysis of this industry shows that the workshops do not operate privately in the life spheres of the lower socio-economic classes. At least not in Israel.
Three main research questions lie at the root of this article:
1) What are the common definitions of the relatively vague concept (Graue 1993) of "first grade readiness" as described in the research literature to date?
2) What are the practices, or the educational pedagogy, proposed by the workshop facilitators to carry out and maintain this readiness?
3) What can be learned from this educational practice about the relationship between class, parenting and education?
Social Class, Education, and Parenthood
Many studies in the spirit of Pierre Bourdieu's intellectual heritage demonstrate how the differences in various socio-economic classes - and their accompanying habitus - influence not only different self-concepts and different parenting styles but also cultural processes related to inequality. The cultural clash, for example, between family culture and school culture, which is not experienced by families and students who occupy the hegemonic positions, influences the students' academic achievements and everyday school experiences.
Many studies in recent years have even described how cultural capital, especially parenting styles, in families of different socio-economic classes is expressed not only in their parenting logic, childhood ideals, the relationship between parents and their children, and the relationship between parents and teachers, but also in the growth of expert viewpoints that challenge the traditional parenting logic and offer parents to learn, practice, and acquire new parenting skills (Devine 2004). Various researchers report in this context, for example, about parenting based on concerted cultivation (Lareau 2003), intensive motherhood (Hayes 1996), and paranoid parenting (Ferudi 2002).
Readiness for First Grade
The concept of first-grade readiness is described in the research literature as a vague concept whose components are different and varied, and to which various actors in the field of education attribute different meanings. Moreover, researchers describe how this concept is related to common cultural scenarios. For instance, the dominance of the contemporary psychological discourse encourages many teachers and parents to develop the emotional component of first-grade readiness alongside the traditional academic component.
My use of the concept of structural-cultural readiness is not only psychological. The psychological approach is concerned with the internal dynamics of the child that are determined by the "internal biological clock" (Carlton and Winsler 1999:339). The social construction approach on which I rely examines the concept of readiness as a "socially constructed set of ideas or meanings used to shape the first formal school experiences of children and their families" (Graue 1993:5).
This study is based on ethnographies in three different workshops that were conducted by three different facilitators and in three different cities in Israel. These workshops were marketed to parents living in "prestigious" neighborhoods in the various cities. The cost of the workshop was about 1500 NIS (about $ 440). Each workshop consisted of three to four sessions. Each meeting took place in the early evening hours and lasted about three hours. The number of participants in the workshops ranged from 16 to 24. Some of the workshops were attended by both parents, and in some only one – usually the mothers. The workshops included a kind of introduction to first-grade readiness, which offered definitions of the concept and the importance of parents' preparation for this in view of the current technological and cultural changes. The sessions also included specific exercises and form filling, called checklist readiness, which break down the concept of readiness into different components (mainly emotional, cognitive, motor skill, and technological) and suggest that parents evaluate their children.
The ethnographies show how group facilitators not only defined -theoretically and operationally - the concept of first-grade readiness for the parents, but also anchored its significance against the backdrop of a unique cultural and technological era that requires new parenting. The importance of preparedness was supported by moral panic (Cohen 1972) about the unexpected technological future, filled with risks, and the importance of the parents' preparations for this future. Another important finding emphasizes that readiness workshops offer a breakdown of the concept of readiness into four main dimensions: general functioning of the child; cognitive; emotional-social; motor and technological. It is important to note that the various group facilitators lingered a great deal on the emotional dimension and emphasized its importance for future success. The facilitators emphasized in this context the importance of positive "emotional energy" and being "loveable". In Bourdian terms, these components act as emotional capital (Reay 2000) with the ability to convert to other types of capital, such as academic success, positive attitudes on the part of teachers, and positive attitudes on the part of other students. The discussion section will seek to proffer the unique research contributions of my research in relation to the literature on education, parenthood and social class. The findings of this study show how readiness for first-grade workshops in fact act, inter alia, as workshops for the practice of good parenting in the context of high socio-economic class. Furthermore, the study findings show how the workshops teach parents to acquire specific emotional capital which in turn creates a new emotional stratification (Illouz 2008). Finally, the findings of this study offer a unique discussion of the social construction of the concept of readiness for first grade and the attitude of upper socio-economic class parents to it.
Bourdieu, P. and Passerson, J.C. 1977. Reproduction in Education, Society, and Culture. London: Sage Publications. Carlton, M. and Winsler. 1999. School Readiness: The Need for a Paradigm Shift. School Psychology Review 28(3): 338-352. Devine, F. 2004. Class Practices: How Parents Help their Children Get Good Jobs. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Furedi, F. 2001. Paranoid Parenting. Harmondsworth: Penguin Books. Gillies, V. 2005. Raising the 'Meritocracy': Parenting and the Individuzliaztion of Social Class. Sociology 39(5): 835-853. Graue, E. 1993. Ready for What? Constructing Meanings of Readiness for Kindergarten. New York: State University of New York Press. Hays, S. 1996. The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood. New Haven: Yale University Press. Illouz, E. 2008. Saving the Modern Soul: Therapy, Emotions, and the Culture of Self-Help, Berkeley: University of California Press. Lareau, A. 2003. Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life. Berkeley: University of California Press. Reay, D. 1998. Class Work: Mothers’ Involvement in their Children’s Primary Schooling. London: UCL Press. Reay, D. 2000. A Useful Extension of Bourdieu's Conceptual Framework? Emotional Capital as a Way of Understanding Mothers' Involvement in Their Children's Education? Sociological Review 48(4): 568-585. Vincent, C. and Ball, S. 2007. 'Making Up' the Middle-Class Child: Families, Activities and Class Dispositions. Sociology 41(6): 1061-1077.
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