Finn discusses the reasons for the inequity in Literacy with an Attitude" in an interesting way. He first starts by explaining the social implications for allowing certain populations access to literature, such as keeping poorer people from reading. He also claims that this wasn't an aim of the US, but it has become that status quo.
One of the first things that stood out to me was the use of Jean Anyon's study, Social Class and the Hidden Curriculum of Work. I was intrigued by the use of the question "can you make knowledge?" and how the answers differed between schools.
In the working class school: "When Anyon asked these fifth grade students, 'what do you think of when I say the word knowledge?' Not a single child used the word think. When asked if they thought they could make knowledge, only one of them said yes."
"When children in the middle class school were asked what knowledge is, seventeen of twenty used words like learn, remember, facts, study, smartness, intelligent, know, school, study and brains. When asked if they could make knowledge, nine said no and eleven said yes. When asked how, they said they'd look it up or listen and do what they're told or they'd go to the library."
"The children in the affluent professional school had the least trouble answering the question, 'what is knowledge?" Many of them used the word think and several alluded to personal activity having to do with ideas. ('Figuring stuff out.' 'You think up ideas and then you find out things wrong with those ideas.') When asked 'can you make knowledge?' sixteen said yes; only four said no.
"When asked, 'can you make knowledge?' half the children in the executive elite schools said yes, half said no. Compared with affluent professional school children, these children took a more passive view toward the creation of knowledge. For many of them, knowledge comes from tradition. It's 'out there' and you are expected to learn it."
I thought this question and the answers it produced were an eye-opening reflection on how we teach students in each of these schools. Students in working-class areas were basically just made to regurgitate information on a worksheet instead of being challenged academically the way that their more elite counterparts were.
I may be misguided here, but I think it's important to acknowledge that students in working class schools may have more issues going on at home than those in elite schools. For example, an eighth grade student in my old school was kicked out of her house on a Tuesday night. On Wednesday, the student's English teacher told her that she needed to take an oral quiz. The student didn't even respond - not a word. The teacher was, as expected, very frustrated when this student barely acknowledged her presence when she tried to get the student to take the quiz. The teacher didn't find out until later what the situation was at home, so what should she have done? Would the same thing have happened in an elite school? I think its unrealistic for us to say that we can make the kids forget or ignore what's happening outside of school walls - so what do we do about this? How does this contribute to students perceptions of school work? Might students in working class schools buy into their own education more if they thought that working on a debate or science experiment or measuring the classroom was more important than a worksheet? (Peterson would likely say yes.)
I also want to point out a huge strength that my former school had in this regard; it really pushed students from the working class to succeed in engaging ways like the projects and assignments discussed in the affluent and elite schools. Students participated in "Mad Science Days" in which they conducted experiments in front of their peers, competed in writing and History Day competitions and had a full semester long debate class. While the focus of the school was definitely on scores and data, I truly believe that our academic mission was being fulfilled. We touted a rigorous, inquiry based curriculum with a focus on math and science and a strong foundation in the humanities. Our graduates have gone on to wonderful schools and are succeeding there (we haven't had a class graduate from college yet, but will this year). I wonder if some of the things like what I mentioned above were implemented in other schools if it would make a difference.