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Saturday, 04 May 2013 20:02

Academic Credentials, Class and Cultural Integrity

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The intersection of class, race and knowledge are well documented and it is also well understood that the single most significant variable in educational achievement is the level of poverty or affluence. In colonial countries like the US,[1] Australia[2], Canada[3] and New Zealand[4], this variable is most closely associated with race or colour, and we tend these days to place less emphasis on the issue of class as a mediating factor. Note, for instance this early speech by Barak Obama in 2004:

“Go into any inner-city neighborhood, and folks will tell you that government alone can’t teach kids to learn. They know that parents have to parent, that children can’t achieve unless we raise their expectations and turn off the television sets and eradicate the slander that says a black youth with a book is acting white.”[5]

Here, the future President of the United States echoes the common understanding that poverty=black=academic failure, (we will leave aside for the moment the plight of other races in the US – particularly that of the indigenous community) and interestingly he also frames failure against a landscape of “white” success. I am not here trying to suggest that there is no substance to his argument, merely that in presenting it thus he renders invisible the millions of working class white children (and the children of other minority races) who face similar struggles. He fails to recognise that economic class is a salient variable in the equation.

Perhaps because of its association with Marxism, and the additional emphasis given to culture since the 1960s, class has largely been elided from the critical discourse of education. Yet the work of Willis and others shows clearly that the same dynamics of exclusion, internalised oppression and academic failure are predominantly class-based, albeit filtered through race and ethnicity. It may be no accident, that class (a social variable which has the capacity to unite different races and nationalities around common cause) has been excluded from the socio-political discourse at the precise time when globalisation has rendered the collective economic plight of the culturally diverse poor more precarious than at any other time in history. 

What follows is a short personal story about educational achievement and the dilemmas that it posed for a working class boy from the industrial North of England, now grown older and wiser and about to be bestowed with his PhD. To download the PDF click here

[1] Darling-Hammond, L., Unequal Opportunity: Race and Education”, in: Brookings Institution, Spring 1998. See also, Darling-Hammond, L., The African American Predicament, Brookings Institution Press. Washington DC, 2000.

[2] Kringas, P. and Stewart, A., “Class, Race and Education: An Australian Case Study”, in: Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, Volume 13, Issue 1 October 1992 , pp. 20 - 35

[3] Henry, F. and Tator, C, The Colour of Democracy: Racism in Canadian Society, Thomson Nelson, 2005.

[4] Ballard, K., “Teaching in Context: Some Implications of a Racialised Social Order”, Te Kotahitanga Voices Conference, 2008, University of Waikato. New Zealand

[5] Barack Obama, Keynote Address, Democratic National Convention, 2004. See also: Fryer, R. G., ”Acting White: The social price paid by the best and brightest minority students.” in: Education next, Winter, 2006, pp. 53-9.


To download the PDF click here 

Read 3605 times Last modified on Tuesday, 04 June 2013 21:35

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