ERG SES D 11, Innovative Intercultural Learning in Education
This study examines the educational role of "mentors" - a new role in a high socioeconomic status (SES) private school in Israel that translates an educational policy ("therapeutic education", see Ecclestone and Brunila, 2015) into a specific educational practice. This empirical analysis helps to understand the construction and maintenance of a privileged class identity among students of high-SES schools.
The research questions of the study are: 1) What characterizes the organizational construction of a new educational role in a high-SES school? 2) How mentors define and experience their role and what are the main practices for establishing and maintaining this role? 3) What emotional and psychological capital is associated with the mentor’s role? How this capital is associated with class identity?
For empirical analysis, in-depth interviews were conducted, on the non-cognitive emotional skills, perceived as important, and imparted by mentors to develop students’ self-perception. These emotional skills function as psychological resource and emotional capital and influence the ways in which inequality perpetuates itself, according to Bourdieu’s analysis of various forms of capital (Bourdieu, 1986).
Sociological and anthropological studies show how schools construct the subjectivity of students from different social classes. Among the structural characteristics is the cultural-educational production of a specific self in different classes (Stephens, Markus and Phillips, 2014; Khan, 2011). A key finding emphasizes the integration of psychological and neo-liberal discourses, encouraging a specific selfhood that is distanced from structural attributes (Shoshana, 2017). Psychological discourse (and its accompanying emotional capital) relies on individualistic meritocracy, promotes personal attributions, and encourages students to prefer solipsism to structural attributions (Manstead, 2018).
Psychological discourse has been awarded a higher status in pedagogy (Mizrachi, 2009), and its characteristics are "translated" into educational practices ("therapeutic education") in high-SES schools. These practices include initiatives dealing with emotional well-being, emotional management, and the use of emotional resources. Understanding their impact on the individual provides insight on how the use of psychological discourse and emotional capital strengthens class identity; thus, reproduces inequality (Ecclestone & Brunila, 2015).
In high-SES schools, "soft" psychological individualism was found, emphasizing uniqueness and linked to success, well-being, and self-fulfillment (Kusserow, 1999). This psychological individualism includes the use of the "ethics of care" (Noddings, 2007); ethics that places the student and his/her emotional needs at the center and serves as emotional capital (Reay, 2000).
Ethnographies in high-SES schools (Khan, 2011; Demerath, 2009; Gaztambide - Fernandez 2009) also reveal the cultural-educational production of privileged class identity. According to these ethnographies, in addition to vast use of psychological discourse and the accompanying emotional capital, the use of practices such as conveying a message that hierarchies are "natural" and used as ladder rather than ceiling (Khan, 2011(; distinction about the students’ extraordinary subjectivity (Gaztambide - Fernandez, 2009); attempts to control future academic-professional conception (Colonizing the future) (Demerath, 2009); and knowledge of the "rules of the game"- informal knowledge of institutions’ operation methods and specific communication styles with authority (Lareau, 2015). A learned sense of ease regarding interaction with authority figures and the ability to imagine the future and translate it into everyday practices (Silva and Corse, 2017) helps these teenagers to develop a sense of entitlement.
These skills described as psychological resource that children in the upper classes can translate into other types of capital; economic capital (achieving prestigious jobs) and cultural capital (cultural value for future employment), (Rivera 2015).
Given the paucity of research on elite spaces (Khan, 2011), the study’s findings are of great importance. Understanding how privileged class identities are maintained by using psychological discourse and accompanying emotional capital, illuminates the complex dynamics of the way inequalities operate and are reproduced.
The study’s findings are based on an in-depth interview with ten teachers serving as "mentors" in a private high-SES school in northern Israel. The interview sought to examine how they perceive, experience and interpret the role of mentoring, in relation to their students' socioeconomic status. The mentors' perspective on the emotional aspects and the affirmed practices they use was examined, to teach emotional skills and to examine which emotional skills are perceived and experienced by the mentors as important in the education process. Schoolteachers undergo an admission process, which includes several stages and is not parallel to the admission process in public schools. Half of the interviewees have PhDs and are employed concurrently with their work at the school, as academic staff members at universities or colleges. All the interviews were recorded and transcribed.
The findings of this study reveal how a new educational role - "mentoring" in a high- SES school - helps to maintain class identity through the transfer of non-cognitive skills acting as specific psychological capital, translated into rewards, thereby preserving social stratification. The class identity of students in a high-SES class school was found to be characterized by individual subjectivity, entrepreneurial activity that works in a manner designed to promote personal goals. The mentors viewed themselves as supporting figures, tutors and/or facilitators, whose role was to create emotional discourse, engage emotional skills, communicate non-formal knowledge, and help students create their "life story”, from which they derive the meaning and understanding needed to shape their development. The mentors were perceived as "cultural guides" that help students decipher how institutions operate and how to deal with them appropriately (Lareau, 2015). Advanced degrees and familiarity with the operation of academic institutions, serve as cultural capital that influences the shaping of students' identity. These interactions have a significant impact on students' understanding of the "rules of the game", their control of their future image, and the ability to realize it (Silva & Corse, 2017). Based on sense of ease dealing with authority figures, and the ability to imagine and colonize the future, these youngsters develop a sense of entitlement. Discourse of distinction (Gaztambide-Fernandez, 2009), including ceremonies of excellence, emerged in the study as a foundation for the mentors’ argument that their students belonged to a distinctive elite group with exceptional subjectivity. The findings and discussion reveal how mentors and school culture use "soft" individualism, as a means of bridging between social demands for excellence and validating emotions. The discussion section lingers on the implications of the dominance of therapeutic education in an elite school, in relation to the inequality and maintenance of specific social ideologies.
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