Constructing Intersectional Classroom Privilege Through Cultural Capital

Cultural capital research argues that social class impacts how parents differentially shape students’ skills, which then leads to stratified profits in the classroom (Lareau 2003; 2015; Calarco 2018). Recent work has documented exactly what kinds of classed skills are produced by this socialization; poor and working class parents often favor strategies that promote constraint in engaging with authority figures as a way to show respect for teachers’ time and build good work ethic (Lareau 2003; Calarco 2018). Middle class parents, by contrast, often favor strategies that promote children’s entitlement engaging with teachers, such as advocating for their needs, calling out for help in regular and diverse ways, and seeking accommodations or extra advantages “by any means” necessary (Lareau 2003; Calarco 2011; 2014). These middle class behaviors, which stem from a concerted cultivation upbringing (Lareau 2003), often reflect the cultural capital expected from teachers and, if not done to teachers’ exhaustion, can ultimately help socioeconomically advantaged student reap academic rewards.

Foundational ethnographic research on cultural capital suggests that families’ social class, and not race, matters for developing different kinds of skills and behaviors that schools do or do not reward (Lareau 2003). Yet at the same time, race is a foundational part of the schooling experience (Warikoo 2018), and research on bias in the classroom suggests that teachers are anything but colorblind in their treatment of students. Even when teachers are not overtly prejudiced, teachers are found to have lower academic expectations of black and Latino students (McKown and Weinstein 2008; Kozlowski 2015), expect Asian students to fulfill a “model minority” stereotype (Lee 2009), construct norms of “appropriateness” in racialized ways that favor whites (Lewis and Diamond 2015), and disproportionately look for more misbehavior from and reprimand students of color compared to white students exhibiting the same behavior (Ferguson 2000; Gilliam et. al. 2016). In short, class socialization seems to produce markedly different skills that may advantage and disadvantage students in the classroom, yet it remains to be seen whether the cultural capital that results from that class socialization is actually rewarded by teachers equally by race. This study therefore asks: “do teachers equally reward class-based cultural capital across students’ diverse racial and ethnic categories, and if not, how?”

To answer this research question, I conduct a yearlong ethnography of first grade classrooms in two racially and socioeconomically diverse elementary schools, each in a different district. Findings suggest that teachers more often reward middle class versions of cultural capital with attention, extra instruction, accommodations, or validation when students are white or Asian. Black and Latino students are less likely to see their middle class versions of cultural capital rewarded. Instead, Black and Latino students are often reprimanded or dissuaded from engaging in those behaviors in the future.

Findings suggest that race intersects with social class in how teachers reward (or not) the classed cultural capital that students bring with them school. These findings have larger implications for the institutional processes by which advantage and disadvantage are reproduced in the classroom, particularly in racially and socioeconomically diverse contexts like those observed in this study.

Theoretical Background

Disparities in educational success by demographic background have long been of concern to social scientists. Cultural capital research has gained popularity as a possible explanation for understanding social class differences in education because it recognizes that institutions, like schools, facilitate the advancement of higher-class students who possess the intuitive know-how for navigating institutions designed by higher-class gatekeepers (Lamont and Lareau 1988). Much of this research has unpacked the invisible black box of intuitive know-how, by illuminating how parenting styles and coaching strategies teach higher-class students the skills necessary to navigate educational spaces advantageously (Lareau 2003; Calarco 2011; 2014; 2018; Streib 2011; Kozlowski 2020).

This line of work largely assumes that coaching techniques fall primarily along class lines because parent behaviors, and the student classroom behaviors that follow from them appear to be common across class groups. Yet, educational experiences and outcomes by race and ethnicity are just as disparate as those by social class in the U.S (NCES). While considerable scholarly attention has been given to ways that institutions may be biased along racial and ethnic lines such as racialized tracking, teacher expectations, punishment, dress codes, and so forth. Limited attention has been directed to racialized and ethnicized ways that students within similar class groups seek classroom advantage. As many Americans of color are increasingly grappling with the realities of a new nadir in institutionalized racism (cite), parent awareness of navigating such spaces is also becoming increasingly color-conscious (Dow 2019; cite). In this landscape, it is therefore necessary to forward a more intersectional view on cultural capital theory — one that recognizes the important ways that social class inequality impacts institutional navigation and exclusion, but also one that recognizes the ways race and ethnicity, two other salient and unequal statuses in the U.S., also impact institutional navigation and exclusion.

To this end, this study examines whether and how students from varying social class and racial/ethnic backgrounds seek (or not) classroom advantage through behaviors and skills associated with classed cultural capital. Evidence from a yearlong ethnography of four first grade classrooms across two racially and socioeconomically diverse elementary schools suggests that white, higher-SES first graders perform behaviors indicative of more symbolic “reach” than students of other racial and ethnic backgrounds, even among higher-SES students.

These results suggest that cultural capital may not purely be classed, as prior research has shown. Rather, race and ethnicity, either because of racialized experiences inside the classroom or by explicit coaching from parents, may matter in how students consciously or unconsciously navigate the classroom for academic or other symbolic advantages.

Social Class and Cultural Capital

Cultural capital scholarship originates in the ideas of Pierre Bourdieu, who argued that institutions like schools implicitly favor the skills, knowledge, and interactional know-how of society’s dominant social classes (CITE). Likening school to a “game,” Bourdieu suggests that institutions like schools are governed by rules, just as games are. However, the rulebook is never made explicit, and only those who are socialized into the norms, mannerisms, knowledge, and skills (though classed parenting) are those who possess the intuitive “cultural capital” to effectively play the game (Dumais 2002; CITES).

Much of the recent scholarship on cultural capital has very clearly identified how parents often unconsciously socialize their children into classed skills, depending upon their own social class. For example, working class and poor parents prioritize rule-following and obedience in their childrearing practices (Calarco 2014). Parents do not question the teacher or encourage their children to do so either (Calarco 2014; Lareau 1987; Calarco 2018). Instead, they encourage their children to lay low, listen to the teacher, and follow orders. Working class and poor parents issue directives regularly. Kids who are subjected to directives do not have the practice of analyzing or using evidence to bolster a position, they gain less sense that they can and should have opinions or that those opinions matter. Less practiced in experiencing and delivering nuance, which is something schools evaluate. The skills development of their unscheduled free time is drastically different. Working class children have different relationships with family — use their free time for unstructured play. Mandatory time and free time are thought of differently. Parents allow kids more free time — more social skills through free time (though not always valued in schools). Different experiences with newer people, family, neighborhood. Good for human development, but not school success. Better equipped to solve a social problem, but not necessarily rewarded inside a school. However, going to a museum and knowing extra information about a president, may be rewarded in the school. Working class kids do not develop a sense of entitlement, unlike their middle class peers.

On the other hand, we know middle class children experience a large investment from their parents in developing them (Bianchi, Robinson, and Milkie 2016). These children’s free time is often strategically scheduled as a plan for development success. Part of this strategy is for example, to provide the child with evening tutors with the back thought that this will place the child at an academical advantage. Some of these extracurricular activities are more highly valued or provide exclusive networks and opportunities that could produce an advantage not only in the school system but also later in life (cite). Exclusivity exposure in life can allow students make connections in school that could be graded. We understand how some activities such as being a member of a golf club or access to an equestrian school may connect these students with class (cite). In comparison, these are much more advantageous as an experience in schools than dinner with an aunt may provide. Needless to say, class is not the only actor in exclusivity exposure since many of these places historically did not allow individuals of color to be members.

Middle class parents model a style of communication with teachers. This communication often has a presence of entitlement and excuse-making, with an assumption that the excuse will be taken into advisement. For example, a middle class mother would email a teacher to inform them that her child will not complete the homework excusing her child for them. This mother skips any retaliation from the teacher and assumes the teacher will accept her excuse as valid. A working class parent would never think to ask for such an accommodation, let along assume their excuse to be acceptable. Therefore middle class students have their entitlement bolstered by their parents. These students have more space to develop such traits in the socialization happening at home. A process that is already being modeled by children from witnessing parent and teacher interactions. Additionally, a middle class parent would judge the teacher’s instruction method in front of the child as an example of how the child will go on to perform this same judgment in class. A working class parent would instead blame their child for underperforming and the child would not develop such emboldened behaviors.

This brings us to understand how middle class students speak, interrupt, and argue more than working class students. These students are more likely to be steamrolled in the classroom by their peers of higher social class. We see this take place in elementary schools for example, where middle class students request more help form teachers and do not wait for their help (Calarco 2011). They do so in different ways. These students approach teachers directly, even interrupting them if necessary to get their request through to them (Calarco 2011). This results in the middle class students spending less time waiting for help and are better able to complete assignments (Calarco 2011). This answers the question of how social class affects students. Middle class students are not passive beneficiaries of classed inequality. MC students are not just sitting back enjoying the benefits that their parents and teachers organize for them. These students actively replicate the unequal practices that are in place for them (Hagerman 2018). This action is termed as an active construction of inequality and reproducing their privilege (?; Hagerman 2018). Students of middle class take advantage of beneficial factors in classrooms while ones of working class can be dumbfounded or trampled over when they access a space of negotiating opportunities with teachers.

Time of socialization effects

Childrearing experiences are racialized and classed in meaningful ways before even getting to school. These dynamics of inequality do not only begin in elementary schools. Children as young as 4 years old start performing class (Streib 2011). Students in preschools already act out classed behaviors such as taking the floor; a practice of establishing space and time in classrooms (Streib). Lower class children, on the other hand, act with more constraint in these same spaces (Calarco 2014). These behaviors such as early as children’s first schooling experiences where class linguistic style starts to develop. The word choice and lexicon of children is developed in classed ways even younger. As early as at age 3, Hart and Risley report that the number of words kids are exposed can be 30 million word difference depended upon class (2003). Not only do middle class parents expose their children to a complex and rich lexicon but they help them develop as early as in infancy. At age 3 children are developing habits of seeking, noticing, and thinking about new experiences (Hart and Risley 2003) There is a difference in word gap, in really early children with what words, lexicon they are exposed to at home, and this is classed. Then there is a facet of finesse in how children communicate. For example, in an instance, a ten year old had to see the doctor and the doctor was explaining what was going on. The child then asked the question. The doctor had to explain himself. The child said alright, which symbolized to the author, that the child was able (and encouraged) to question the doctor. In other words, we now understand better how class is a key component of the education of children.

Classed childrearing styles and parental motivations

Middle class parents may understand success differently and envision the development of their children to meet those standards — success is being marketable in the future and opening a breadth of opportunities for development. Rule following may not be what is competitive for college, professional school, high ranked job. Working class parents may not think of themselves as comparable to teacher because the teacher is a higher-class position than themselves. They offload responsibility to teacher, who they see as the expert. Encourage children to follow teacher’s recipe for success. Have less institutional savvy to navigate bureaucracy. Middle class parents are masters of this practical understanding. Working class parents have less access to social networks with advantageous information.

Advantageous middle class behaviors

Middle class behaviors are more advantageous because of the teachers’ position. The teacher herself is of the middle class and has therefore has middle class expectations of the others around her (including the kids). Teachers want students who can relate ideas to their own experience and experience of others. Teachers will not openly admit that their expectations are classed. This is kept subliminally. They expect students to question and engage and be proactive; a skill middle class students develop to be at ease with engaging authority figures (Jack 2015). That is why middle class behaviors are so advantageous. Children learn from the way their parents address teachers to challenge their judgement and authority (Jack 2015). Working class parents tend to blame children where middle class parents tend to blame the teacher. The kinds of cultural capital behaviors that are advantageous because they lead to success in access and performance at elite institutions of higher learning. Nevertheless, besides attitudes towards teachers, middle class students through proactive behavior and classed benefits develop ties to and relationships with teacher that provide another level of advantage in schools (Jack 2015). Some of these additional resources are more understanding and emotional support, more help with extracurricular activities, more advice and time allotted for assignments, to name a few (Jack 2015). Students can learn cultural capital types of advantageous behavior of middle class students when attending prep schools that promote this behavior. Jack describes that elite institutions success is predicated upon being comfortable in these places and knowing how to navigate them.

In African American circles, black men stratify in groups based on their perception of class and respectability (Oeur 2017). This classed behavior within a minority group takes place by engaging in ‘respectability politics’ as a tool for upward mobility for black men (Oeur 2017).

Collier and Morgan show that changes in cultural capital are a result of parents experiences in education (2008). This creates challenges different to demographic groups for mastering ‘the student role’ of succeeding in classrooms (2008). Working class and other class kids interpret assignments differently putting them at a disadvantage for not meeting expectations from teachers. There is a privileged box of knowing how to play into the hidden curriculum (citation) and therefore, mastering the student role is a concept recognized as a form of cultural capital. A concept that is classed and unequal to reap cultural capital benefits from.

Scholarship limits in the absence of race

Lareau describes that race does not matter in classed advantages in schools. Now we understand that race, in fact, invades class (Patillo). Patillo believes race inflects class, where the dynamics of social exclusion cannot be fully understood without paying attention to race. In fact, class plays a role children’s development of an understanding of race and the learning of each action of society (Hagerman 2018). In other words, a lower class family interprets race in the United States differently than those racially and class privileged (Hagerman 2018). Contemporary scholars of cultural capital such as Calarco explore only studies of white children knowingly. Others focus on the old dichotomy of black and white exclusively. Such works, while recognize as very strong, remain limited due to the narrow focus of their studying. Among the studies that looks at different racial and ethnic background, some of these scholars do not address conclusions of what these differences mean in denouncing educational inequality. These studies may not go into how those diversities affect race and class understandings. Inequalities of access to resources and opportunities are racialized and are infected into essential social institutions such as schools (Shedd 2015; Sojoyner 2016). Race therefore impacts early socialization of children.

Race and Cultural Capital

Racialized socialization

A reason why race and class cannot work separately — there is class variation within racial groups. Considerable variation within black middle class. Racial stereotypes do a disservice to African American and Asians students whose performance does not vary in accordance to preconceived notions of motivation and selectivity.

It is not popular to think about race having culture and racialized socialization because it reminds us of some of these old culture of poverty arguments that tend to blame the victim that tend to reduce any culture to a stereotype and that has not been well received in previous scholarship. We are not trying to do that here.

This is not an attempt to be reductionist by generalizing that all Latino people have this culture per se but that the structure does impact people experiences and we are exploring how this may matter in education. Of course, it will be intersectional in many parts of their identity, class, and so forth, for the purpose of fleshing out some of the elements that may matter, here is one of them.

For black students to show a stronger work orientation, space is allocated against narrative of mainstream school experience (Marsh 2012). When African American students are allowed the space to discuss among each other their experience in the classroom, they develop a network that promoted confidence in their abilities (Marsh 2012; Anderson 1999). Their lack of motivation was in part attributed to not feeling accepting even in highly competitive high schools. Students in our study suffered from similar inequalities of being type casted and not leaving the stereotypical attributed to them.

Racialized structural limitations

Why race matters? There are large structural impacts of race in society. Schools are a direct representation of public society. Current understandings of schools show us that schooling dynamics are racialized and gendered (Carter Andrews et al. 2019). Black women, for example, are not granted the same civil liberties and rights than ones of white males. This political disenfranchisement trickles down to education. Women of color are economically disenfranchised (Carter Andrews et al. 2019). Literacy has been pushed aside for Black women limiting their educating to segregated underfunded schools (Hill Collins 1990). Negative stereotypes, limited educational opportunities, and lack of political representation make up the three-dimensional structure of inequality that Hill Collins details in her renowned “Black Feminist Thought.” These overwhelming multifold injustices leave the Black woman disenfranchised in the American educational system.

Lee and Zhou describe the idea of a bamboo ceiling as far as success goes for Asian Americans. Meaning, no matter how high the selectivity and performance is, there will always be a racial ceiling limiting their success. We see this happen with higher-SES rewards of white students compared to Asian students.

The educational experiences of Asian American students are affected by being marginalized socially, culturally, and economically (Ngo 2006). The Asian American experience in education has been understand in the past through the theory of relative functionalism. Asian immigrant families adopting the US culture of pseudo-meritocratic practices of upward mobility in hopes to secure financial security (Sue and Okazaki 1990). Through this theory, we come to understand racialized practices of Asian families such as guilt from parental efforts and the need of children to fulfill expectations, respect for education, obedience to elders such as teachers, and social comparison with other Asian immigrant families, to name a few (Sue and Okazaki 1990). However, now we know that these are not intrinsic to Asian people — in the broad sense of the mischaracterized term — but practices adopted as a reaction to the immigrant experiences made in the United States.

White upper class families have their own enclave of racial and classed privilege (Hagerman 2018). It is self-serving, selfish, and exclusionary. Such parents and children are responsible for creating the main piece to the puzzle of racial socialization processes that has long needed further inquiry (Kozlowski 2020, 2021; Hagerman 2018; Calarco 2014). White majority families should not necessarily be at the center of race, yet they are responsible for causing much of the racial socialization that outsiders undergo. In other words, for us to better understand racialized socialization in minority families we should aim to better understand they key actors in this puzzle/issue first. A center issue of white actions that stratify other groups is opportunity hoarding. White families hoard resources and opportunities for themselves and for people like them at the exclusion of others. A lot of the socialization that families of color undergo is directly reacting to making up and grappling with such divisive practices as the hoarding of opportunities performed by white families.

Lewis-McCoy finds that educational resources are not valued the same in families. When these are valued, finances and issues of white opportunity hoarding impede minorities of accessing such beneficial resources (Lewis-McCoy 2014). Besides, racism continues to be a prevalent actor limited such access to resources and therefore partly responsible for opportunity hoarding. Racism actively hinders the academic success of students of color (Johnson-Ahorlu 2012). White children participate in the reproduction of their privilege and ultimately of the white supremacy we still see today (Hagerman 2018; Carter Andrews et al. 2019).

New understandings of demographic mischaracterization are also being uncovered. The model minority stereotype (Hurh and Kim 1989; Kao 1995) of Asian hyper-selectivity now appears to be narrow sighted and continues to push unequal practices in schools (Lee and Zhou 2017; Ochoa 2013). Asian immigrants across generations experience educational success differently. Chinese and Vietnamese immigrant parents and children use ethnicity as a resource to construct and support a strict success frame that helps the poor and working class override their disadvantages (Lee and Zhou 2014). U.S. immigration law has allowed for a steady stream of highly selected immigrants. Additionally, “there is nothing essential about Asian culture or values that promote exceptional academic outcomes” (Lee and Zhou 2017, p. 2319; Hsin and Xie 2014). Nevertheless, the exceptional educational outcomes of Asian students are the result of an immigration process unique of Asian immigrants to the use and vary in country of origin tremendously (Lee and Zhou 2017). For example, while 56% of Koreans fall under the hyper-selectivity concept only 26% of Vietnamese do so.

Immigrant children that are not white may not have the chance of ever socializing into the middle class white society (Portes and Zhoe 1993). Much of these issues of immigration have to do with understandings and stereotypes of Latin and Asian immigration to the United States. First generation immigrants are understood as having an optimistic and enthusiastic outlook of gratitude and privilege towards education (Porter and Zhoe 2013; Valenzuela 1999). Second generation students are now looked as less diverse than their previous generation and are categorized as being unmotivated and anti school (Valenzuela 1999). Both generations are affected negatively by these mischaracterizations and it damages the students’ identity of self (Valenzuela 1999). This happens on top of not being truly cared for in schools, having to leave their mother tongue behind for the benefit of academic training (Valenzuela 1999).

African American and Asian American students are not the only ones to experience structural limitations in schools. Latinas/os students together with Asian American students experience handicapped access and learning experiences (Ochoa 2013; Conrad et al. 2015). While Latinx students are seen to be socially privileged and Asian Americans as academically privileged, these are stereotypes that help neither. Such stereotypes of academic profiling result in unequal access to school resources, funding, and separate social groups (Ochoa 2013; Vargas 2018). This affects their student capital negatively (Ochoa 2013). These students will experience unequal access to educational development such as skills building, and their isolated friend groups limit the spectrum of their learning (Ochoa 2013; Conrad et al. 2015).

Latin American families experience the educational system in this country differently than other groups. Same situation for Latinx parents. Experiences of being type casted under the same umbrella of Latino, leave Hispanic and Latinx families to raise their children differently to better prepare them life outside the home. HOW? Similar to the Asian pan-ethnic spectrum of students, Hispanic cultures vary immensely, yet their shared experience in this country makes them find common ground in a discriminatory system. Research shows that Latinx students at later stages of education find solace in spaces where they no longer are a minority and share common goals such as supporting their families financially or meet their parents’ expectation to live at home, unlike the majority of their white peers (Reyes 2017). The politics of being Latino; while your cultures may differ among each other and of whiteness, but these students in the U.S. find common culture and family behaviors through sharing common ground through cultural elements shared. Include specifics, like Mexicans and Guatemalan families may do something very different than white Upper Class families (they are very individualistic, go kid and do your kid).

Racial differences and childrearing

African American parents include both cultural values of majority U.S. culture and Afrocentric values (Hill 2001). These parents and children share a racialized socialization where Afrocentric values are not being represented in schools and become predominant in homes (Hill 2001). Racial fear is a concern of African American mothers in their childrearing (Curenton et al. 2016). From which racial discrimination is a driving force for middle and upper class African American mothers to adopt unique parenting strategies (Robinson and Harris 2013; Curenton et al. 2016). Black parents across classes provide a racial socialization to their children through racial coping strategies (Johnson 2004). Some of these are for children to be respectable, to value themselves, sometimes through Christian faith, and “instill in them that they have to do more . . . achieve at school, and have a good work ethic” (Curenton et al. 885, 2016; Johnson 2004). Other strategies are to project racial pride and overall asserting their personal selfhood (Johnson 2004).

Such adaptations to raising their children while protecting them from outside discrimination leaves these parents to suffer from exhaustion due to their parenting experience. When it comes to academic performance, Black parents are more inclined to engage their children in punitive ways (Robinson and Harris 2013). White parents are less inclined than black parents to do so. Conflict is also viewed differently between these groups. White parents use conflicts as a chance for establishing individual jurisdiction, while black parents recognize conflicts to be related to respect (Robinson and Harris 2013). These findings are known to be associated with improving or worsening children’s reading and math achievement. Punitive practices that black parents tend to adopt more than their white counterparts hinder their children’s academic performance (Robinson and Harris 2013). White parents perform academically advantageous parenting strategies. Within each racial group, we know that parents’ parenting style is less punitive the higher their education level is (Lareau and Shumar 1996; Robinson and Harris 2013).

Elements of racialized socialization that parents teach children different skills. Such strategies impact how kids attempt to secure advantages in classrooms. African American students for example have to learn to navigate historically white spaces where they are still seen as unexpected for their presence (Anderson 2015). White people avoid black spaces by choice, yet black people have to learn how to navigate their peers’ spaces as an existential reality (Anderson 2015). Often having to do so to break the stereotypes surrounding blackness in America such as the black ghetto (Anderson 2015). When black girls, for example, chose to speak out in schools out of injustices, these were often ignored by students and school authorities (Carter Andrews et al. 2019). This burden to constantly proof that you are not one of those people. Maybe not happening in the first grade, but parents who may be going through these processes themselves, maybe they are attune to something in that white space that they may be passing on to their kids.

White students have no remorse, they try it all, they have this Reach of how much they can do (Salisbury 2019). Salisbury understands through his findings whiteness to be an explanatory force that tends to divert attention away from racially fair solutions to inequality in schools (p.285). White parents of upper class families especially make decisions for their children through economic privilege and allow them to choose how far they can make their own young decisions. For example, a white affluent parent often has the financial and system know how to be able to remove their child out of bad teaching, bad schools, or from mistakes they have made by for example moving them to a different school, such as a private school (Hagerman 2018). These parents help develop their children’s cultural knowledge by taking their family on foreign vacations. Much of their activities are planned (a million people). Advantageous activities for children can include such doings that the public may either not know how to navigate, how to access, and afford. Privileged white children may engaged in advantageous activities for their schooling experience such as visiting museums, musicals, creative studios, or sporting events with high starting cost such as golf, horse-riding, or fencing. These lead to raced and classed divides among their fellow classmates that structurally who rarely will come across such activities unless they belong to the same enclave. Many of these are historically white spaces where golf clubs did not allow members of color. It is noteworthy that our classrooms are still majority white and it is their predominant space. Space dictating how the ego and self-perception is boosted from remaining being the majority in classrooms.

Asian American parents invest significantly more in educational resources than white parents (Kao 1995; Sue and Okazaki 1990). Parents pressure their children out of concern for their financial security and chances for upward mobility in the U.S. (Ngo 2006; Huang and Gove 2012). This makes for racial differences in childrearing styles. Chinese parents, for example, will consider they have failed if they have not been able to influence their children to success academically (Huang and Gove 2012). These parents consider that too much praise may lower their children’s academic performance (Huang and Gove 2012). The Asian student may be passive, feel shame, and feel isolated in the U.S. educational system due to facing the dichotomous conflict of family expectations and U.S. hidden curriculum in education (Huang and Gove 2012). These feelings and behaviors are not reciprocated by white students and parents in the realm of education. Asian and white families approach the goal of academic achievement in a myriad different ways. Parental involvement is also racially different for example between Asian and white parents. In white families, there are a lot of parental involvement to promote academic achievement (Mau 1997). In Asian families, there is a negative relationship between parental involvement and the academic achievement of Asian American students (Mau 1997).

This academic performance and family practice varies across immigrant generations. Understandings of Asian migration to the United States is understood through the first generation, the one-and-a-half generation, second generation and additional generations. Increased migration in the 20th century has created a more diverse United States breaking the biracial discussion of black and white (Lee and Bean 2004). For us to unravel their experiences, we come to realize that most Asian Americans are post-1965 — Civil Rights Movement — immigrants, arrived as one-and-a-half generation migrants or the second-generation offspring (Sakamoto et al. 2009).

Misrepresentation in cultural capital

Asian American students do not reap the benefits of cultural capital at similar rates than white students. There is a gap of academic success between Asian and white students. While white students are savvier to reap cultural capital benefits, Asian American often do so through academic performance. They do not do so by chance, or white social skill, but pay high psychological and social costs (Hsin and Xie 2014).

The hidden curriculum affects these students differently. White students are trying to maximize the process to get to point B. Asian students are trying to get to point C, and extra correct answers. (our example of Asian girl that knows she will get CC benefit from knowing that there are performing very well academically)

When we categorize students as Hispanic or Latino we continue to press stereotypes onto students that may not share the same experience or access of cultural capital. When we coded one of our students — Sergio_wh/hs_m — we faced the issue that many Spaniards face in the U.S. categorization context. Asian students in our study vary immensely in culture and background — through nationality — as previously described. While somewhat less in number of students in our study, Hispanic or Latino students were also different in other ways. Some identified with one side of the parental ethnicity of being Puerto Rican and Sergio on the other hand was a Spaniard with what Soto-Marquez describes as a bifurcated identity (2018; Reyes 2017). A student that does not fit under our understanding today of whiteness and Hispanic pan-ethnicity. Sergio exhibited advantageous practices in classrooms, yet his parents were not upper class, yet belonging to Spain’s large middle class. Nevertheless, racial ideology does shape and produce the racial privilege present in our society, and practice of race in society and more specifically in schools (Bonilla-Silva 2018; Hagerman 2018; Tatum 2004). Therefore, making students, like Sergio, in our ethnography be seen as desirable by teachers or fellow classmates due to their ethnic distinction on top of their whiteness.

Asian stereotypes can be positive as they become symbolic capital (Lee and Zhou 2014). Asian Americans can benefit from the stereotype promise of being viewed through a positive stereotype that can result in bettering their performance (Lee and Zhou 2014). Nevertheless, we understand the faultiness of the term ‘Asian’, as mischaracterizing the experiences of their subgroups. More specifically, Chinese, Korean, and Southeast Asian youth outperform white youth in math test scores for example (Kao 1995). Asian Americans do what Xie and Gayette name as a strategic adaptation to possible discrimination when choosing careers (2003; Kao 1995). This racial gap is due to differences in educational and occupational expectation (Xie and Gayette 2003). Asian students show to perform better in scores than white students and but also carry a higher motivation due to family expectations (Goyette and Xie 1999). Asian students are more likely to attend university and study high-earning majors more than their white counterparts (Xie and Gayette 2003; Gayette and Xie 1999). Asian parents invest more than white parents in educational resources making Asian youth perform better (Kao 1995). This racial gap in achievement is a result of cultural practices that make Asian communities to overachieve (Kao 1995) [this is literally what she claims]. Some of these conclusions were reached with survey data from the 1990s and but we are trying to understand how cultural capital influences classrooms different by class and race today.

The unknown of race and class in children

Race and class are essential actors in the earliest classrooms. These affect the student capital of students negatively (Ochoa 2013). These students will experience unequal access to educational development such as skills building and their isolated friend groups limit the spectrum of their learning (Ochoa 2013; Conrad et al. 2015). Minorities, insofar as ethnoracial identity and socioeconomic status, experience limited growth not only due to the behavior of majority-grouped students and parents but due to their own perception of self as being disadvantaged (Shedd 2015). Teachers also work to perpetuate the same limitations to minority’s educational experiences. Students’ capital is restricted since teachers actively limit expressions of diverse by asking why is Spanish for example being spoken, avoid socializing with diverse teachers, and even overburden students and teachers of non-white identity (Flores 2011; Ochoa 2013; Conrad et al. 2015). Such active actions of alienation of Latino or other diverse cultures ensures the limits of educational access to non-white students. Teachers are actively working to construct this mainstream whiteness over the otherness through how by them themselves surround themselves by teachers of their same race, and put all the ethnic factors in their corner. Teachers provide a white input to students since they already filter ethnicity out of everything around it. Therefore, making the gap between white Upper class students and the teachers, and the gap so much bigger.


In cultural capital research there is a well investigated understanding of white boys of higher SES and their privileged position in schools. It is clear how the middle-class white students command space and time in the classroom often hoarding the opportunities available. We also understand the shortcomings of lower SES students tend to be much less successful at gaining cultural capital and often fail to secure advantages in classrooms. Nevertheless, there are blurred lines when we place what we know about class through the lens of race. A myriad of questions arises from the scholarship we have to date. Are white higher SES students performing their privilege in the same way Black higher SES students are? How about Asian and Hispanic students of similar class? How do families account for racial and ethnic differences when raising their children? These questions take center stage in our study where we analyze racial and ethnic differences in class inequality in 1st grade classrooms.

White Students of Higher Socioeconomic Status

Moving Freely

White students of higher SES by far reap the most benefits from their enacting of learning privilege. There is specific behaviors they perform in classrooms that dictates the difference in reaping these benefits. Their advantageous behaviors are separate from teacher bias. They carry the most successful method for their best interest. One of these behaviors is strategic ways of moving freely around the classroom. Grace, a white girl of higher SES attempts this behavior by walking “over to Ms. Jennifer and asks her what to do” (71). Grace did not hesitate and took the initiative to get up and directly ask the teacher what the next assignment was. Her question, though prune, posed an academic query and did not appear reckless even though she never questioned herself whether she was allowed to do so. Knowing how to navigate space in this manner grants Grace for freedom to move freely and secure an academic benefit. Shawn, a Black student of lower SES, was not as savvy as Grace. Shawn walked up to Mrs. Miller to ask her to read for him and she says no to him (107). While Shawn did approach his teacher directly, his request would grant individual attention. Grace asked for a clarification that students would not perceive to be exclusive one-on-one time with the teacher.

The behavior that aided Grace to feel like having more access of movement in the class is replicated by other white girls in her social class. Harper attempted something similar. Not only was she up but she moved a stool without permission. Ms. Kathy asked her what she is doing and she responded that the stool was in her spot and belonged under the table (67). Harper, like Grace, did not doubt of being able to make these changes in space. Harper had an answer prepared when asked about it. Her response was brief, without emotional behavior, and defended her action by explaining a rule; that stool belonged in a certain spot. Harper had done so, right after Marcus, a Black boy of higher SES, was reprimanded for a similar action. Harper’s sharp response showing her being mindful of class rules granted her the freedom to continue to move the stool to her choosing.

White boys also know how to be able to move in the classroom to their liking. In fact, Hunter_wh_m has the right excuse of why he is elsewhere then where students are expected to be. He is asking a friend and Dr. Kozlowski for help with untying his shoe. Then he explains, “I would have been at my table earlier Ms. Janwari, but my shoes…”, as he positions himself at his table. “It’s ok Hunter_wh_m,” Ms. Janwari says (72). This feat did not grant him anything to boast about, yet this example allowed him special attention from the people around him and another excuse accepted by his teacher. Another white boy, Dylan, has done something similar. The teacher, Mrs. Cooper “stalls her progress” writing on the board around millipedes because “she cannot remember if there are two L’s or one. Dylan hops up and runs to a chart . . . and says that there are two L’s. After writing this on the board, she asks the students if they noticed anything else about the animals” (75). Here Dylan was fast enough to recognize the moment of pause in her instruction and the hesitation she indirectly showed. This was the clue he took to get up, uninvited, to showcase on the board how to spell millipede correctly. Analysis shows a feeling of ownership over space in combination with having a sense of being in fact equal to the teacher.

Nevertheless, white students of higher SES are not always successful in their moving in classrooms. Olivia, another white student of higher SES, chooses to get up in the middle of Mrs. Miller asking students a question. Olivia’s teacher states that, “this must be really important for [Olivia] to get up to ask” her (101). Olivia did not have a savvy response to why she could get up in the middle of instruction. This explains why she turned back around sat down. The teacher did not show favoritism to one group or another. When students performed these advantageous behaviors, they were able to move more freely unlike the peers that do not know about these behaviors. In a different example, Jennifer dismisses this last group from the center of home base, and says “what is it time for now?” Center time! Alexis_wh_f says. No, Jennifer says flatly (82). Alexis, a white girl of higher SES, attempts to command the space and activity of all students by enthusiastically suggesting the activity she wants to do. Jennifer, in fact, steps in and does not allow this to happen. Freedom of movement is also restricted or limited by teachers when the student is being too invasive to others in the space they are occupying. For example, while Alexis was trying to share, Hannah_wh_f must’ve been pointing to herself, or doing something squirmy as Alexis was struggling, because as soon Alexis said her name, Jennifer physically lifted Hannah_wh_f off of the ground and removed her from the group. She told Hannah_wh_f to go take a break and had to sit alone for a few minutes (83). White students are still trying to do this even in failure.

Knowing the Lingo

Students try in various forms to get the attention from the teachers. They do so, often times, to ask for preferential treatment or favors. For them to succeed at requesting these, they find themselves knowing the lingo or not. We have seen students show a level of strategic choice of words in their requests. Harper, for example, a white girl of higher SES, has secured extra direction from her teacher and was allowed to do what she wished. While Jennifer, the teacher, was aiding another student, Harper barged in and said, “I’m done. n I read a book at home base” (58), to which Jennifer agrees. Harper was able to interrupt and receive a positive response to her request. Harper shares concisely that she has completed their exercise by saying, “I’m done.” Additionally, she asks an academic request; that is to read a book at home base. Whether she in fact was looking forward to reading a book or not is hard to gage. What is clear is that through her question crafting she was able to interrupt and receive the teacher’s green light to go to home base. Harper’s accommodations achieved were to be able to get away with interrupting a moment of instruction of teacher and student and gain a movement benefit. Travis_wh_m also does similarly to Harper. Travis gets extra instructions when he tells Ms. Carter, “I’m finished” (73). He gets to walk to her and back to his desk when she elaborates, “leave it on your desk.” In this instance he is able to simply say out loud, “I’m finished,” and get the teachers attention to address his comment. In this example, Travis gains additional instructions.

Leah, another white student of higher SES performs a similar behavior when choosing her words in classrooms. Leah “comes up to Ms. Janwari holding a stick with a leaf attached to it. She asks if she can share now, and Ms. Janwari says that she can share later before lunch. ‘Well, it’s science,’ she says . . . ‘Ok,’Ms. Janwari relents” (89). Leah tries to get her teacher to let her share at the time she wants; now. Ms. Janwari may be reminding her of when such shares will happen, after lunch. But Leah negotiates with her that her share has some academic value; the one of science. Not only was Leah ready to negotiate and persist, but she also knew what kind of response could grant her the benefit of sharing at the time she wishes. Posing an academic share for her peers, Leah convinces her teacher to let her speak now. This action that Leah and others perform is academic manipulation; being able to get an accommodation if they proof able to make an academically savvy link.
This happens with Ellie also. In another instance, Ellie asks, “can we get new paper?” (75). Tyrone, a Black boy, asks Mrs. Miller the same question and is told to get his other work done first. Ellie_wh_f explains that she wants to write more, and Mrs. Miller asks, “about what?” Ellie_wh_f says that she doesn’t have enough room to write another sentence…” Mrs. Miller tells her it is ok for her to get another sheet of paper. In this example, Ellie, unlike Tyrone, persisted with her request by adding academic reasoning as to why it would be good for her to get more paper. She has ‘cracked the code’: knowing the vocabulary that can unlock the door.

Knowing the lingo is a patterned behavior that students learn to perform. Leah alone does this a myriad of times. In a different example, Leah brings a letter to her teacher, Ms. Janwari, and tells her to look at it, to look at how it is signed, that it is signed just like the opinion letters. Leah insists with excitement to which “Ms. Janwari said she was so amazed that she had found that connection, that she wasn’t even looking for that” (55). In an attempt to get time, attention, and praise, Leah knew to insist and point to the opinion letters previously mentioned in class. She knew that repetition and excitement around an academic topic would grant her praise to the point of “amazed” her teacher. Makenna is also able to knowing the lingo with Ms. Janwari. When she wants to use the Smart Board she tells her teacher that, “I want to do it here on the Smart Board, not anything else” (79). “Ms. Janwari tells her to take a worksheet and get started. Makenna cries for the rest of the 15 minutes they are in the classroom until she gets the opportunity to play with the Smart Board during the last two or three minutes of class” (79). Similar behavior happens in Ms. Janwari’s classroom with Emory and Leah. These white girls of higher SES manage to go to the bathroom with the teacher’s knowledge during instructional time. When Emory nears the carpet, she raises her hand and tells Ms. Janwari that her stomach really hurts. Ms. Janwari asks her if she would like to try going to the bathroom, and Emory nods, leaving the room. Leah immediately blurts out, “Ms. Janwari can I try going to the bathroom?” (81). We did not seem to hear an ‘okay’ from the teacher. In Emory’s case, we do not know whether her belly pain was in fact her issue or whether she knew the first thing Ms. Janwari would allow — or in this case even suggest — was to go to the bathroom. When Leah realized that this possible white lie was a way of getting to the bathroom she asked whether she could also go.

There are instances when white students do not seem to get what they negotiated for. Sam, a white boy, asks if he can pick up the object from his backpack that he wants to use for his class share. Ms. Miller reminds him about the rules of ‘show and tell.’ She does so by telling him that he can share next week since he is not ready at the moment. The boy thinks for a second, and says well I can tell you about it. Miss Miller says okay. The boy says that his object is an old-fashioned phone where you turn the dial like “this;” he circles his finger in the air like he’s dialing a rotary phone. Miss Miller asked him where he got it, and he said that his mom got it from Bulgaria. Miss Miller says will that is a really special object (84). After being rejected, Sam is still able to share. He was able to do so because in the second he took to think he wondered how he could still do what he wanted to; to share about his object. His knowledge of the language necessary — to still tell the class about this object — allowed for him to bypass the rules of ‘show and tell.’ He was able to share in detail and receive praise from Ms. Miller in the form of pointing out that this must be a very special object. Even when students that know the success of this behavior seem to have failed at securing an advantage, they negotiate to still secure another. Sam did not manage to get teacher permission to retrieve his object but still finessed a commentary on it to his peers. In another example, Hannah blurts out while Emma is talking about her idea that “It might be confusing.” Jennifer hushes her while she is summarizing what she is hearing from Emma and Morgan. Eric blurts out to gain more clarification and Jennifer encourages for her to share more on her idea (80–81). At first, we would think that this is a case of how blurt outs may not work for white students of higher SES but right after Eric — another white student of higher SES — blurts out and this is accepted and his thought is reciprocated by Jennifer.
In a different example, Jennifer looks out for the fair participation of all students and does not allow the white girl of higher SES to overpower the conversation. “A white girl, black girl, and Sanjivan_as_m all trying to talk at once. The white girl over powers the group, talks about the scene first, and then Jennifer prompts the black girl, then Sanjivan_as_m, and then Morgan_as_f to share their perspective on the scene” (82). In fact, when the request may be worded to signal it being of an academic topic, it does not mean it will arbitrarily work. For example, when Gabby_wh_f hollers at Jennifer: “Call you help me spell brother?” Jennifer responds, “You know how to spell brother” (83). When the request is absurd or may simply be lazy, an academic cover up does not secure a benefit.

Not all students know the lingo. We have found Black students to fail at increased rates than white students of higher SES at securing benefits. This is partly attributed to not knowing the expectations of teachers from the hidden curriculum. For Marcus, a Black boy of lower SES ?, restricts her possibility of gaining CC rewards due to simply not knowing the right words to say at the right time. Jennifer, Marcus’ teacher, told a story about how far New Zealand is by pointing it out on the globe she has sitting beside her. Spinning the globe exactly halfway from New York to New Zealand, she demonstrates how far away it really is. “I’ve been to New York,” Marcus_bl_m says. “Stop,” Jennifer says, without even missing a beat (104). Marcus did not know that his word choice is distracting from the flow of instruction. His input mirrors a successfully implemented comment. It was not accepted because it did not benefit the content shared for peers. A student can link New York and New Zealand if the topic is geography or pointing out that both share the word “new.” Instead, Marcus chose words sounding like a personal story. Such a comment interrupts instruction and does not benefit others.

Aaliyah, a Black girl of SES, has repeatedly asked for numerous accommodations and has also not been very successful at securing many. For example, Aaliyah_bl_f walks up to Ms. Janwari and says, “Can I have a hug? I want a hug.” Ms. Janwari does not give her a hug. Aaliyah_bl_f wraps her arms around herself and gives herself a hug (95). Aaliyah does not realize at which point the class may be; whether play time, class time, or so forth. She asks for an individual favor that has no benefit to anyone; a request of no value in the schooling system. Additionally, she is persistent and crude in word choice which takes away from her already mismeasured word choice. Aaliyah, Marcus, and other students of color result of not knowing the lingo and securing significantly less accommodations than finesseful white students of higher SES that perform advantageous behaviors.

Blurt Outs

The feature of knowing the lingo in a student’s speech in class is not a binary rule to getting their way. In fact, knowing the lingo is a facet of other behaviors of speech in students. One type of behavior is especially molded by knowing what to say and how to say so. Blurting out is something students do at varyingly success rates. Knowing the lingo and blurt outs come hand in hand Success from a blurt out can mean that comment to be accepted even though it meant an unexpected interruption. For example, when Jennifer asks her students why she cannot find a work in the index, Emma_wh_f adds, “Or it’s not in bold” (69). Jennifer continues by saying, “That’s an important point to distinguish” (69). Here, Emma showed us what knowing the lingo in a new setting. Emma was astutely perceptive of the doubts Jennifer had on why one cannot find any word. Emma used that hesitation to sneak in her comment of a mere five syllables. By using the conjunction “or,” Emma is not interrupting the flow of the teacher’s speech by appearing to be just finishing Jennifer’s sentence instead of giving an entire different statement. Not only is her input short but it is bolstering the topic of instruction. The appropriate delivery, astute perception of instruction time, and her knowledge of the content allows Emma to blurt out. She was, in a sense, successful because her comment was accepted and praised. Her ability of know how received a special praise from the teacher who shares with everyone that Emma’s comment is important to be distinguished.

A blurt out too long can stagnate the flow of the class and results in reprimand. This happened to Treasure, a Black girl, often in our study. When Treasure tried showing Mrs. Miller her expertise of the game, she was cut short. Treasure said, “I played it on the school bus,” “Ok,” Mrs. Miller says quickly to prevent Treasure_bl_f from talking any more, and then continues” (98). In this example, we can recognize that Treasure started her comment with words that would not allow her to finish her thought. I played it on the bus, are words that come across as a student trying to tell a personal story. Rarely do those stories have place in classrooms when they come in a blurt out. If she had inserted another rule of the game for example she would have had her comment allotted or validated. The lack of know how made Treasure not have a chance of sharing and being recognized by her teacher.

White boys of higher SES also perform these blurt outs and are often the best at them. For example, while Ms. Carter was drawing a shape on the board, Sam_wh_m blurts out “there’s the same shape inside it!,” to which she says that’s correct (68). Sam kept his blurt out short in how many words, and for that matter syllables, he blurt out. His comment was not only directly related to the instruction about to be given, but it was an accurate observation. He was aware of how to insert such a comment for teacher’s validation but also recognized the time of the classroom. A moment when a teacher refers to the board to aid their instruction may be a quiet moment that Sam recognized to be also a good moment to blurt out his thoughts. In another instance, Ethan_wh_m blurts out what calendars measure months, weeks, and so forth. Then, “Times,” Ethan blurts out. “Ethan you just said it!” Jennifer says excitedly (76). Adding correct academic inputs proofed to be enough for Ethan’s blurt outs to be accommodated and celebrated during what was intended to be call and response time.

When the student does not recognize if it is the right time to blurt out or uses the ‘wrong’ lingo the blurt out will get shut down. This happens to white boys of higher SES too. When Ms. Janwari asks the students why this is a how to book, Carter_wh_m right away blurts out things and Ms. Janwari tells him to raise his hand (68).

Students of color (Black students — review this) are also successful at timed blurt outs. These students attempt similar ways used predominantly by white students. In instances, such attempts are successful though similarly unsuccessful. A’Kierra (a Black girl) has managed to insert a comment and not get reprimanded for it. Once Hannah_wh_f was hushed for doing something similar to A’Kierra. The latter blurt out “She’s jumping,” as Jennifer showed them a picture. Then some white students tried to insert comments to which Jennifer stops them by making an “oop” sound and saying that “we’re just noticing” (87). A’Kierra’s comment was not reprimanded since she inserted it right at the beginning. It was brief and described the picture. Such a precise moment fits the idea of when blurt outs will have their space. Other attempts, though by white students may have come across as too intrusive since more blurt outs would stop the flow of classtime.

In examples like these we inquire now when do attempted blurt outs not get accepted when performed by white students. Even though this demographic of students is the poster example of how to blurt out knowing the lingo, they also fail. It is worth noting that their failing experience varies. Other students of color also struggle to gain positive attention from teachers. In the case of A’Kierra one would think that she would get this praise with all the energy and enthusiasm she shows. Harper passes A’Kierra the marker who was very eager to participate. When it was her chance to share she “did not have an answer” (62). A part of gaining cultural capital rewards is the know how in the right moment. A’Kierra was excited and proactive to get the teacher’s attention by raising the hand. When she got her chance she did not have a snappiness action to her energy. Moments like this are how students that lack the ability of when to blurt out and how to do so miss out on their opportunities for teacher’s praise.

At a later time, A’Kierra attempts something differently and is successful doing so. When the teacher, Jennifer, shows a picture, A’Kierra blurts out, “She’s jumping” (87). Right after, another student attempts a similar comment without raising their hand to which Jennifer makes a noise to get them to stop. A’Kierra here did insert a blurt out comment that was short and was contributing to the image Jennifer was showing. What made A’Kierra’s comment was being the first blurt out comment. When other students attempted that right after A’Kierra they were sushed. Unfortunately, students like A’Kierra have some successful attempts but not in a consistent pattern showing us they are not planning on doing so. This shows us that their loose successes may be attributed to coincidence. For example, a black boy is met with nothing but silence when blurting out. Wait, Mrs. Miller told students. No talking. I’m waiting for everyone to be quiet, so I can give the instructions. One of the black boys in the class shouts, Ms. Miller I did all my homework! Miss Miller is focused on the others right now, waiting for the students to quiet down (84). While his blurt out was not reprimanded, and had space to be performed in the classroom, why was his blurt out ignored and the white boys accepted or even encouraged?

In a first step, if one may, white students when unsuccessful at blurting out are verbally discouraged. Travis, a white boy, is discouraged by his teacher Mrs. Williams after a blurt out. She shares that she won’t have time for everyone to answer. When Travis shares “One time I was a little scared at Disney World…,” “Travis, I’m sorry to interrupt, but could you answer the question?” as she asks politely (96). Travis started telling a personal story instead of answering her question. In other instance, Harry blurts out and gets reprimanded for it. “What about 15?” Henry_wh_m asks midway through the explanation. “I am talking,” Mrs. Miller says, glaring at him (99).

A second step is when teachers do not accommodate blurt outs through mere silence. Olivia, a white girl, is subtly reproached by demonstrating competence through blurting out. Near the end of the story, when Mrs. Skinner says something about boulders, Olivia_wh_f exclaims, “boulders! That’s a type of rock.” Mrs. Skinner glares at her for a second, then continues to tell the story (101). The glare was a nonverbal way of communicating that that interrupting does not have place to interrupt the flow of the story.

A third step is when the teacher takes initiative to put the white student in their place for their behavior. Mrs Miller stops Henry for his disrespectful comment. Henry_wh_m blurts out, “Can we go ahead and start the next thing instead of talking about the accident?” Mrs. Miller glares at him, looking a bit dumbfounded. “What I mean was…” Henry_wh_m stars, and Mrs. Miller cuts him off. “Was that really necessary to say?” she asks him. The class is silent. “I’m not going to answer your question because I thought it was important for the class to understand how to be safe in the classroom. . . . “Next time, raise your hand, and think about whether you should say something before you say it” (103). Henry no longer inserted a smart tailored comment but was reckless in his input and Mrs. Miller let him know.

A fourth, and last step, is when a teacher restricts the behavior besides reprimanding. This was the case when Nicholas continued to loudly blurt out that he would want a million $100 bills. “Nicholas, take your body and sit in Rhianna’s chair.” He gets up and goes to the wrong chair at first (112). His personal story not only was long but persisted with more than one comment to the point that he was removed from the space.

These last two steps of white students being reprimanded are rare and seem to occur when the teacher feels as if the comment is extreme. Nevertheless, these comments do not happen from one day to the next. White students of higher SES have gained accumulated access through teachers.

Accruing Credit

Cultural capital is not exclusively classed there is also racialized things that make students try things in different ways. Theorizing how students accrue credit marries the reaction of the teacher with what students are doing. Students have a certain credit score with their teachers, more able to push boundaries, ask for more — this happens with all of us, with bosses, family members, and those favorites can get away with more. These have racial implications for inequality — what we are trying to uncover is process. Accruing credit results to be the process by which the cultural capital matters.

Students attempt in different ways to get what they want. At times we even noticed similar attempts receive different results. After recognizing that teachers may have favoritism towards certain students, it did not match across the demographic of said favorite students. In other words, white students of higher SES have accumulated a tab with their teachers. This is a long-term behavior of favors and accommodations that their teachers now expect to be asked from. This group of white students of higher SES have accrued benefits throughout time as one would accrue a higher credit score. Hannah was allowed to interrupt and gain whatever she wanted at a mid-point of our study. In the middle of instruction, Hannah_wh_f interrupts to say “Ms. Jennifer I want [something.]” “Go get it,” she says (58). Jennifer did not need further explanation or security about what Hannah may have planned to do. She knows the standard of questions Hannah asks and no longer inquires.

Students are gaining these entitled behaviors that stem partly from the evaluation from teacher’s on students. Harper for example, gets extra attention, care and accommodation from Jennifer. She got up from her chair to ask Jennifer to do her hair, and she reluctantly agreed (73). No child appears the first day and asks for such a personal request with full confidence that she will get that accommodation. This alone represents how it is not the first time she’s done this and it has grown over time. If Aaliyah, a Black girl, who also tends to ask for many benefits asks for something like this she would not have gotten as she has not been granted such benefits along the time Dr. K observed her. In another example, Alden still does not understand Mrs. Cooper’s directions. She asks Mrs. Cooper again, “What words do you copy?,” to which she replies, “Honey, we’ve done this a million times,” and shows her the practice words that need to be copied (69). When white girls of higher SES how Alden have gotten their teachers used to getting additional instruction and explanation, they accrue credit even when the teacher is visible ticked off. Regardless, these students do get this benefit. In another case, Leah_wh_f drops her back in the doorway, then comes over to Ms. Janwari to show her the letter. Look at it, she said, and Ms. Janwari said I looked, but I didn’t see what was special about it. Look at the way it’s signed, Leah_wh_f said to Ms. Janwari. It’s just like the opinion letters! Ms. Janwari said she was so amazed that she had found that connection, that she wasn’t even looking for that (55). Through interactions like this, we notice that the student treats their teacher at this point as a friend instead of a person above them with power. The white students of higher SES have built these low-barrier interactions throughout repetition of having their accommodations granted. One time when Leah was sharing to the class about some special soap with a marble inside she brought, Ms. Janwari even helped her to find the right words. Her teacher asked her, “Were you thinking about our fossil and layers museum trip?” (58). Ms. Janwari is nudging her to use the specific lingo that fits this cultural capital moment. Ms. Janwari draws the connection for her and then proclaims it by stating that she “love[s] how she is always connecting what we learn” (58). To a certain degree, Leah was able to accrue credit to the point that her teacher even reminded her. Ms. Janwari even projects onto Leah that surely she must be thinking of an advantageous input. We see a clear distinction of which students get their behavior addressed; white students of higher SES. In this example, Tyrone_bl_m, but then a white boy’s blurted out questions are answered)She asked them again to remain quiet for the instructions. Tyrone_bl_m and Shawn_bl_ms tart moving around, and a white boy and Tyrone_bl_m blurt out questions. Ms.Miller does answer the white boy’s question but does not address Tyrone_bl_m (84).

In instances where students do not seem to be rewarded, distracting conversations are allotted space and attention. For example, when Jennifer read something about disliking peas, some of the students were surprised that anyone seemed to dislike peas, because some blurted out “I like peas” and “I love peas!” . . . Jennifer told those students who were sharing their affinity for peas that this was not important for the story and to focus more on the sketching (83). This in fact shows again the importance of knowing the lingo. These students did not know the lingo, but since these white students of higher SES have accrued credit with Ms. Jennifer, the conversation has space to take place even though told that it is unimportant.

Boys Disrespect

White boys are as successful if not more than girls at forcing themselves into cultural capital rewards. These boys dare to question teachers on a regular basis and often successfully. Ms Janwari, a teacher of color, is constantly being interrupted and even disrespected by the white boys in her class. What makes them successful is the blatant disregard for respect by directly accusing the teacher. Henry (a white student) accuses his teacher Mrs. Miller of favoring another student and does so publicly in the middle of the activity, “Henry_wh_m accuses Mrs. Miller of taking Seth_mu_m’ star out of the bag. Mrs. Miller patiently says that every once in a while, if someone has a bad week and doesn’t deserve to be the star of the week I might, but that is my prerogative, and it doesn’t happen too often…. The star of the week has nothing to do with good and bad behavior. I have pulled some stars out of the bag before but the person picking has nothing to do with it.” (Interesting because later once the students leave) Once the students have left, Mrs. Miller complains about how Henry_wh_m always questions everything she does (67). Henry is one that consistently questions her yet Mrs. Miller still accepts this form of disrespect. Possible because she is used to him questioning her authority and decision making. It is clear that Henry has been emboldened after doing this often to disrespect teachers.

This is not the only way these white students of mid to high SES question teachers. Ethan (a white student), while asking for extra help how other students do “by any means necessary” (?), called the teacher by her first name instead of using the appropriate Ms., “Ethan_wh_m comes up to Jennifer and asks her if he can write a sentence. (I notice when he addresses her, he only says Jennifer and not Miss Jennifer.) She tells him that yes he can write a sentence, and then paint in on the brown paper (55). This stems from a greater issue of entitlement. A facet that white students of higher SES have developed through the skills of knowing the lingo and blurting out; using these to accrue credit and develop their sense of entitlement. A white student makes a mean comment out of touch. He says “it’s a sad face. It’s because of Darnell.” Darnell is a black boy, and I noticed that he has a hard time keeping control of himself throughout my visit time. Ms. Miller scolds the boys for saying that Tyrone_bl_m is responsible for creating a sad face. This is not a sad face, this is a team, Miss Miller say (84). While racial differences prevail in the use of these behaviors, white students of higher SES have a great deal of entitlement to feel the self-empowerment to belittle a fellow student like that.

Asian Students of Higher Socioeconomic Status

Asian students together with white higher SES students share the benefit of better academic performance than other groups. Asian students of higher SES, on the other hand, also gain cultural capital rewards but in very different ways. Like white and Black students are reckless while Asian students are rarely ever. White and Asian students are by far the highest performing group academically. The group of “Asian higher SES” is so different because of the origin of their nationality and generational, when did those cultural values start getting lost through the generations of new immigrants. White and other students attempt many things from different angles, sometimes overwhelming, while Asian students pick small holes and stick to them to account for opportunity hoarding maybe.

Asian higher SES students can also adapt their requests or needs to the right time to ask. Sanjivan has done this numerous times for example when “Sanjivan_as_m stays back to talk with Jennifer” (9). After which Jennifer grants them the benefit of creating a book club that can better meet their reading learning curve. Higher SES Asian students are known to have their finesse linked to academic performance. This is seen across all different personalities. Ian and Sanjivan who have stronger characters and are more engaged gain similar benefits than Morgan, and Avni who are reserved and quiet. Similar qualities of finesse such as reading the teacher or the class do not have to be expressed the same way to get a benefit granted.

An example of this variance in personality can be seen in terms of defiance. Some students like James, a higher SES Asian, would never question their teacher. Ian, another higher SES Asian student behaves in the same way. He appears 19 times in our report and is known for being cautious and even not complaining about his teacher. Sanjivan on the other hand is much more engaged and proactive. He is known for getting a great deal of benefits and additional accommodations, possibly due to his academic smarts. His proactive personality is also mirrored by the number of times he appears in the report; a stunning 55 times. At times he even is oblivious that he is performing classist behaviors such as assuming he needs to rework homework or devote additional time to an assignment. He has managed to secure favors but often linked to a willingness to do more. His status is a smart student is at times more apparent like when Jennifer, his teacher, starts a book club with him and other more advanced readers in the class. This pronunciated performance is standard for the higher SES Asian students we encountered yet in no instance does he put a teacher’s action is ridicule or up to debate. The bravest behavior he shows is suggestions in class such as this one, “Sanjivan_as_m calls out that she should put an “!” at the end of “free choice centers.” Jennifer says that free choice centers does sound like something to be excited about” (29). Sanjivan blurts out and gets his idea recognized. This happens often and Sanjivan is not the only higher SES Asian student to do so. Morgan, often alongside Sanjivan, has her blurted comments granted. She appears in our report over 80 times also symbolizing how vocal she can be. Both do not sound condescending when acting out forms of cultural capital such as procedural knowledge. This is something that most higher SES students have over the lower SES students, but the Asian students in this class do so without a challenge to the teacher. Avni is less present in the report and has not challenged authority nor surpassed bureaucratic boundaries such as taking a shot at the teacher.

This manuscript represents my contribution to a larger working project. My research was developed under the guidance and revisions of sociologist Dr. Karen Kozlowski, who gathered the ethnographic field notes.

Researcher interested in international law and migration governance; Graduate student at the London School of Economics

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