Incremental socioeconomic inequalities: differences in language and lessons in five Massachusetts high schools
DeMarco Berman, Stephanie Rose
This study is inspired by a desire to revisit Anyon’s Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work (1980) in a more contemporary context, one that responds to calls in the research on the socioeconomic achievement gap for deeper investigation into the heterogeneity of the middle class. More specifically, the research examines five middle class American high schools in Massachusetts, and asks the question, ‘How is classroom ‘work’ different across these schools, thirty years after Anyon’s study?’ This study employs several methods of analysis including Anyon’s ethnographic observational analysis and a corpus linguistic analysis. It also uses reflexive interviews to review initial findings and integrate participant input into the data itself. I also draw upon the data in light of previous frameworks to develop a new framework for looking at smaller differences in teacher talk, lessons and classroom instruction that is more fit for purpose. Through these ethnographic observations and reflexive interviews, this study reveals that even across schools that are considered to belong to the same socioeconomic class – the middle class – differences in instruction and lessons can be clearly observed. The body of literature discussing the middle class, in terms of the diversity within it, is very small, this extensive study contributes to this knowledge, and hopefully creates avenues for further research. Using Anyon’s approach of observing ‘work’ across social class in classrooms this research builds on Anyon’s findings in a contemporary context. Insight into the ways in which difference manifests in smaller ways in the classroom may be fundamental in understanding how small differences compound across the socioeconomic spectrum. The impact of this research on the socioeconomic achievement gap is a better, more complete, look at the picture of how the distribution of resources across the socioeconomic spectrum plays a role in classroom differences.