Harvard Educational Review
  1. The Way Class Works

    Readings on School, Family, and the Economy

    Edited by Lois Weis

    New York: Routledge, 2008. 390 pp. $36.95.

    The Way Class Works: Readings on School, Family, and the Economy is a compelling edited volume that explores the often overlooked influence class has on the lives of young people, their outlook, and their future opportunities. Editor Lois Weis suggests that while recent trends in educational scholarship have veered away from engaging questions on social class, shifts in the global economy and deepening social inequalities require a better understanding of social class and schooling. This volume contains recent empirical and theoretical work, and its quantitative and qualitative research articles and commentary focus primarily on the U.S. context. The collection provides a critical foundation for researchers and practitioners interested in understanding how class influences youths’ experiences and the perspectives of their families, teachers, and community members.

    Lois Weis has arranged the book into four sections and twenty-four chapters written by researchers from diverse disciplinary backgrounds and theoretical positions. The first and last sections consider how scholars conceptualize class inequality and its relationship to other constructions of difference. The middle sections examine parenting and schooling practices, respectively, and their relationship to the production and experience of class. Throughout the volume, the authors are mindful of the complexities of the overlapping categories of class, race, and gender, and they take a variety of theoretical approaches in their analysis. The diversity of approaches provides a wealth of opportunity for scholars and practitioners to explore their own assumptions about the influence of class in the classroom and beyond.

    In section one, Thinking/Living Class, five chapters evidence a variety of ways of contemplating class—from exploring the basis, salience, and maintenance of class, to its connection to other social categories. This diverse grouping begins with Robert Reich’s overview of shifts in the global economy. Erik Olin Wright then revisits theoretical debates over class in sociology. The remaining chapters consider the complexity of the subjective experience of class. Wendy Luttrell revisits her work on the schooling of pregnant teens. She writes that these young women experience class and race through the objectification and condemnation of their pregnant bodies and their internalized feelings of pain, loss, and longing, suggesting that class functions “from the outside in and the inside out” (p. 72).

    Section two, Parenting Class, includes five chapters that interrogate the role of parenting practices in reproducing and negotiating social class. In an ethnographic account of the parenting experiences of a middle-class black family, Annette Lareau argues that while this family faces particular obstacles because of racism, they use the class resources of middle-class families more broadly—including individual entitlement, voicing concerns, and pursuing interests through authorities. Several authors in this section then reference and complicate Lareau’s claims through their analyses. Kimberly Maier, Timothy Ford, and Barbara Schneider suggest, through a quantitative analysis of family time use, that there is little evidence of consistent efforts of “concerted cultivation” across middle-class families and that this strategy may be more established among upper-middle-class families. Guofang Li argues that family history, race, culture, and locality are also important considerations in determining the parenting practices of immigrant families.

    The third and largest section in the volume, Schooling Class, probes the connections between social class and education. The chapters in this section investigate how schooling practices, tracking, educational outcomes, and teacher preparation are tied to class inequality. Adam Gamoran revisits his claim that “social class inequality would persist through the next century” (p. 169). Other noteworthy scholars, including Henry Levin, Jean Anyon, and Michelle Fine and her colleagues, analyze the public benefit of educational investment, social stratification of knowledge, and students’ perspectives on inequitable conditions of schools, respectively.

    The chapters in section four, Complicating Class, Race, and Gender Intersectionality, trouble traditional ways of examining how categories of difference overlap and constitute each other. Julie McLeod and Lyn Yates suggest that scholars should move beyond the concept of intersectionality to explore how class produces inequality through identifications, desires, and political effects. They show that the differing values, practices, and cultures of schools, even within the same class category, can distinctly inform how students understand their own and others’ identity, opportunities, and accomplishments.

    Globalization and immigration exert new class-based pressures and demands on schools. As social inequality persists and expands, it is imperative for researchers and practitioners to explore more deeply the influence of class on students, schools, and global communities. The promotion of inquiry around class inequality can advance instructional, political, and global initiatives that more effectively address and challenge inequalities. The Way Class Works takes an important step toward this worthy goal.

    — E.E.B.
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    Book Notes