Assignment Questions (do ONE only)
1) If you were the principal of an elementary school, what reasons might you give for banning homework? Be sure to mention the connection between homework and the class system.

Additional instructions: Once you’ve chosen your questions, complete the readings below and take a look at the powerpoint. Form an opinion based on facts gathers, and you may also include your own standpoint. Your answer should be 1-2 pages, typed and double spaced.

Key Terms

gender and educational performance
reproduction of the class system vs meritocratic: tracking, homework, unregulated tuition for professional schools (e.g., medicine, law, dentistry), hidden curriculum, private schools

Homework and its Sociological Effects

Sociological analysis suggests that homework helps to reproduce the class structure. Children raised by educated, well-to-do parents have a number of advantages regarding homework. Their parents are more able to understand the instructions given, and to help their children (sometimes doing all of a project). They can provide a quiet dedicated space for doing homework, as well as a high quality computer and other equipment that aids their children.
Homework negatively affects family life. In 2008, Cameron and Bartel published Home-work Realities: A Canadian Study of Parental Opinions and Attitudes, based on the responses of over 1,000 parents to a questionnaire. Two conclusions related to family life: Homework reduced family time. One parent stated: “My children are in the educational institution for 6.5 hours per day. I feel this should be sufficient time to complete any school related tasks. I am with them for significantly less time and would prefer to use this time engaging in activities to promote our relationship and increase bonding in order to reduce their stress levels.” Homework was also seen as being “a primary source of arguments, [and] power struggles.” (2008:53-4)

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Math, Science and Reading Scores: Canadian 15 year olds (500 = International Average)
Year 2000 2006 2009
Female Male Diff. Female Male Diff. Female Male Diff.
Math 529 539 M+10 520 534 M+14 521 533 M+12
Science 531 529 F+2 532 536 M+4 526 531 M+5
Reading 551 519 F+32 543 511 F+32 542 507 F+35

International Education 2012: three highest were Shanghai, Hong Kong and Singapore

Year Math Science Reading
2000 7th 6th 2nd
[U.S. 20th 15th 16th
2003 7th 11th 3rd
2006 7th 3rd 4th
2009 10th 8th 6th
2012 13th 11th 7th
[US 36th 28th 24th ]

Jean Anyon: Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work (1980) Jean Anyon studied five New Jersey elementary schools. Two she termed working class. Most fathers had semi-skilled or unskilled jobs (e.g. assembly line workers). Less than 30% of mothers worked. Schoolwork there involved following the steps of a procedure:
The procedure is usually mechanical, involving rote [drilled memorization] behavior and very little decision making or choice. The teachers rarely explain why the work is being assigned, how it might connect to other assignments, or what the idea is that lies behind the procedure or gives it coherence and perhaps meaning or significance …Most of the rules regarding work are designations of what the children are to do; the rules are steps to follow …The children are usually told to copy the steps as notes. These notes are to be studied. Work is often evaluated not according to whether it is right or wrong but according to whether the children followed the right steps.

A 3rd school was middle-class. Parents worked in skilled jobs (e.g. plumbers or construction workers) or as professionals (e.g. teachers or accountants) or small business owners:
One must follow the directions in order to get the right answers, but the directions often call for some figuring, some choice, some decision making. For example, the children must figure out by themselves what the directions ask them to do and how to get the answer: what do you do first, second, and perhaps third? Answers are usually found in books or by listening to the teacher. Answers are usually words, sentences, numbers, or facts and dates; one writes them on paper, and one should be neat. Answers must be given in the right order, and one cannot make them up.

The fourth school she termed affluent professional, with parents employed as corporate lawyers, engineers and advertising executives:
Work involves individual thought and expressiveness, expansion and illustration of ideas and choice of appropriate method and material…. The products of work in this class are often written stories, editorials and essays, or representations of ideas in mural, graph, or craft form. The products of work should not be like anybody else’s and should show individuality…. One’s product is usually evaluated for the quality of its expression and for the appropriateness of its conception to the task.

The fifth school Anyon called executive elite. Most of the fathers held positions such as presidents and vice-presidents of major corporations. In this school, work involved:
…developing one’s analytical intellectual powers. Children are continually asked to reason through a problem, to produce intellectual products that are both logically sound and of top academic quality. A primary goal of thought is to conceptualize rules by which elements may fit together in systems and then to apply these rules in solving a problem.

Tracking: A Form of Cultural Reproduction?

Jeannie Oakes’ Keeping Track: How Schools Structure Inequality (2005) addresses the issue of tracking in junior and senior high schools. She defines tracking as “the process whereby students are divided into categories so that they can be assigned in groups to various kinds of classes” (Oakes 2005:3). Tracking is hierarchical, with both classes and students being labelled at different ability and ultimate goal levels (e.g., high school diploma, college or university entrance). Oakes studied 297 classrooms in 25 schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Her work demonstrated that: sorting is based as much or more on class, race and ethnicity as it is on perceived ability; lower tracks offer lower quality of education than the higher tracks do, and that, as a consequence the tracking system reproduces inequality.
Oakes found that lower class and nonwhite students were disproportionately represented in the lower track, while White and upper- and middle-class students were disproportionately represented in the higher track. She believes this reflects the cultural biases of testing and the prejudices of counsellors and teachers. The lower quality of lower track education came in part from the lower occupational focus of academic (e.g., punctuation and form-filling as opposed to exposure to and analysis of great English literature, and basic computational skills as opposed to problem solving, critical thinking and abstract logic in Math) and vocational courses (e.g., clerical skills as opposed to the managerial and financial skills taught in high-track courses).
Also important is the time spent on instruction or learning activities as opposed to class administration routines and discipline. The teachers gave information that produced the following average in English and Math courses, a difference in figures supported by trained observers and by student assessment.

high track English 82% instruction
high track Math 77%

low track English 71%
low track Math 63%

Relationship differences between teachers and students, amongst students and between students and the institution generally are significant. Bowles and Gintis point to the “close correspondence between the social relationships which govern personal interaction in the work place and the social relationships of the educational system” (1976:12), that in terms of social relationships the education system trains students in the lower track to become lower class workers. Oakes summarized this as follows (pp119-20):

[‘Lower class’] workers will be subordinate to external control and alienated from the institutions but willing to conform to the needs of the work place, to a large extent because of the way they were treated in school….Bowles and Gintis suggest that the absence of close interpersonal relationships is characteristic of both lower-class work environments and class-room environments for lower-class children. In contrast, upper- and middle-class students, destined for upper-status and middle-level positions in the economic hierarchy, are more likely to experience social relationships and interactions that promote active involvement, affiliation with others, and the internalization of rules and behavioral standards. Self-regulation is the goal here rather than the coercive authority and control seen as appropriate for the lower class.
Oakes found that teachers were more punitive in lower-track classes and that more trusting relationships were established between teachers and students in higher-track classes, that, “[t]rust, cooperation, and even good will among students were far less characteristic of low-track classes than of high. More student time and energy were spent in hostile and disruptive interchanges in these classes” (p132).
Oakes believes that with the deep class, ethnic and racial distinctions existing in the U.S., a tracking system can only reproduce inequality. She argues for more of a common curriculum shared by all high school students and for more mixing of students of different ability levels.

Student Examples from Oakes’ Study

“What is the most important thing you have learned or done so far in the class?”

High Track:

Vocational Education Junior High (p68)
“We’ve talked about stocks-bonds and the stock market and about business in the U.S.A”

English Junior High
“Learned to analyze famous writings by famous people, and we have learned to understand people’s different viewpoints on general ideas.” (p69)

Social Studies Junior High
“The most important thing is the way other countries and places govern themselves economically, socially, and politically. Also different philosophers and their theories on government and man and how their theories relate to us and now.” (p69)


English Junior High
“Learns to fill out checks and other banking business” (p71)

English Junior High
“to spell words you don’t know, to fill out things where you get a job” (p71)

English Senior High
“I learned that English is boring.” (p71)


Higher Track: draws mostly from more privileged classes and race
provides education that leads to greater success
Lower Track: draws mostly from less privileged classes and races
provides education that leads to lesser success

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