Articles one and two

I need to write two paragraphs for each article. I am attaching the two articles on pdf.
What happened to working-class New York?
What are the author’s conclusions about which factors have contributed to the shrinking of union power in New York and the financial challenges faced by middle- and lower-income New Yorkers today?
Coached for the classroom: Parents’ cultural transmission and children’s reproduction of educational inequalities
Provide specific details of the ethnographic method used in this study. Do you feel this was an effective research method? Why or why not? What do you think are the implications of the findings for understanding the impact of social class in the educational setting?
Cite any sources, including assigned readings, according to APA citation guidelines.
Write two paragraphs for each articles
What happened to working-class New York?
What are the author’s conclusions about which factors have contributed to the shrinking of union power in New York and the financial challenges faced by middle- and lower-income New Yorkers today?
Coached for the classroom: Parents’ cultural transmission and children’s reproduction of educational inequalities
Provide specific details of the ethnographic method used in this study. Do you feel this was an effective research method? Why or why not? What do you think are the implications of the findings for understanding the impact of social class in the educational setting?
· Cite any sources, including assigned readings, according to APA citation guidelines.
· Write two paragraphs for each articles
The Nation. 15May 6, 2013
H urricane Sandy pushed into view echelons of working-class New Yorkers normally hidden behind
workplace walls or in obscure neighbor-
hoods, or made invisible by familiarity and
indifference. There, suddenly center stage,
was the old, heavily Catholic, white work-
ing class. Some of the most devastated parts
of the city, like Breezy Point and Gerritsen
Beach, seemed frozen in time, neighbor-
hoods of Irish- and Italian-American police-
men, firefighters, blue-collar workers and
politicians, still reflecting a New York domi-
nated by European immigrants and their
children. As on 9/11, heroic rescue efforts
by the Fire Department exposed how white
and male it has remained, even as the city’s
population has become ever more diverse.
Newer immigrants, too, were thrust into
the spotlight, like Philippines-born Menchu
de Luna Sanchez , one of the nurses who car-
ried sick infants down pitch-black stairways
when flooding forced the evacuation of New
York University’s Langone Medical Center.
President Obama hailed her in his State of
the Union address. Even much poorer New
Yorkers received attention, like the thousands
of public housing residents stranded for days
and sometimes weeks in high-rise buildings
without power, heat, water or elevator ser-
vice. On the Upper East Side of Manhattan,
undamagedby the storm, well-heeled dads
and moms found themselves in the unac-
customed position of trying to amuse their
housebound children for hours on end,
as the low-paid, immigrant child-minders
who pour into wealthy neighborhoods each
morning were themselves trapped at home.
New York, at least numerically, has long
been a working-class city. Today, there are
far fewer manufacturing workers than a
generation or two ago and many more
service workers, far fewer immigrants from
Europe and many more from Asia and
Central America. But perhaps the biggest
change is that workers and their families are
less socially visible than in the past, except
when disaster hits or conflicts break out—
like Sandy or the school bus drivers’ strike
earlier this year. Increasingly, the image
of the city as the home to great wealth or
layabout hipsters (sometimes, as on Girls,
living off their parents’ bank accounts) has
camouflaged the struggle of middle- and
lower-income New Yorkers simply to get by.
Trouble Beneath the Surface
At first glance, workers in New York,
compared with most of the country, are
doing well. At the start of last year, nation-
ally only a third of the jobs lost to the Great
Recession had been regained, but New York
City had already bounced back to its pre-
recession employment level. In December
2012, the city had more than 3.9 million
jobs, the most ever. And more of those jobs
were unionized than almost anywhere else.
A recent report by Ruth Milkman and Laura
Braslow, put out by the City University of
New York’s Joseph S. Murphy Institute
and its Center for Urban Research, found
that more than 22 percent of NYC work-
b yJ O S H U AF R E E M A N
Joshua Freeman is the author of Working-Class
New York: Life and Labor Since World War II.
His most recent book, American Empire, 1945–
2000, will appear in paperback in July.
Low-wage workers rally for better pay in Times Square.
The Nation. 17May 6, 2013
ers belonged to a union, nearly twice the
national level. With its huge mass transit
system, government-regulated rents, low-
cost public university, large public hospital
system, generous Medicaid program, and
sprawling network of government and non-
profit social services, New York provides
working families with a set of benefits and
opportunities few cities can match.
But scratch a little and things do not look
so good. During the recession, the city had
big job losses in relatively well-paid sec-
tors, including government, construction,
manufacturing, finance and insurance, and
wholesale trade. The biggest gains since
then have been in low-paid industries: res-
taurants, retail trade and home healthcare.
Between July 2008 and July 2012, New York
City had a net loss of nearly 60,000 jobs
paying $45,000 a year or more, while gain-
ing more than 130,000 jobs paying less than
$45,000 [see chart, page 18]. The chang-
ing mix contributed to a nearly 8 percent
drop in real median wage earnings between
2008 and 2011. An analysis by Hofstra
University economists Gregory DeFreitas
and Bhaswati Sengupta suggests that many
newly created jobs have gone to commuters,
exacerbating the difficulty city dwellers face
in getting good jobs. For residents of the
five boroughs, the official unemployment
rate in February was 9.1 percent, well over
the national level of 7.7 percent. Though
New York is festooned with displays of lux-
ury, its median household income is below
the national median and falling. In 2011,
21 percent of New Yorkers lived in poverty,
compared with 16 percent nationally.
The public services that generations of
New Yorkers fought for are frayed, or worse.
In the face of chronic government under-
funding, CUNY has turned to raising tuition
to balance its budget, increasing student
costs (for those without scholarships) by
nearly a third over a five-year period. The
MTA just hiked bus and subway fares. Public
housing is in such miserable shape after cuts
in federal support and inattention by the city
that the backlog of repairs has reached two
years, with moldy walls, leaking ceilings, no
heat and chronically broken elevators com-
monplace. Portuguese photographer Ana
Brigida, who documented public housing
conditions during a visit to New York, told
The New York Times, “Sometimes you just
can’t believe that people live like that….
How a place can actually be so destroyed.”
Shrinking union power has contributed
to the slip in living standards and public
services. While union density in the city
remains high by national stand ards, it has
fallen by 13 percent since the mid-1980s,
when more than 35 percent of New York
workers carried a union card. All of the
recent decline has been in the private sector,
where now less than 13 percent of the work-
force is unionized. Some of the membership
drop came in industries like manufacturing,
where total employment fell, but much of it
occurred in sectors like wholesale and retail
trade and leisure and hospitality, where
employment has been rising.
Unions Lose Their Stride
The recent strike by 8,800 school bus
drivers and matrons exposed the weakness
of organized labor in New York. Mayor
Michael Bloomberg’s desire to lower the
cost of transporting students by rebidding
the city’s contracts with bus companies set
off the conflict. Amalgamated Transit Union
Local 1181 wanted the city to require the
bidders to accept a provision it won after
a three-month strike in 1979, mandating
that new vendors hire the employees of the
losing bidders according to seniority, thus
providing its members with job security. The
city refused, saying a recent court decision
would make doing so illegal. In response, the
workers called a strike, a rarity these days in
a metropolis where walkouts were once so
common that, in 1968, labor reporter A.H.
Raskin dubbed it “Strike City” in a New York
Times Magazine story. This time, however,
the mayor refused to budge; bus companies
began recruiting replacement workers; and
the strikers’ health insurance ran out. After
four weeks, the union threw in the towel,
returning to work with only a fig leaf to cover
its defeat: a pledge by the leading Democratic
candidates likely to replace Bloomberg that,
if elected, they would protect the job secu-
rity, wages and benefits of the bus workers.
In late March, the companies informed the
employees—who still lack a contract—that
they will be imposing a 7.5 percent pay cut,
eliminating pay during the Christmas and
Easter school breaks, and requiring larger
contributions for health insurance.
The striking bus union had some par-
ticular disadvantages. Linked to organized
crime until federal prosecutors stepped in,
it had weak ties to other unions and failed
to build community or political support
before the walkout. The lukewarm backing
from organized labor suggests a larger prob-
lem. The big unions that dominate New
York labor, like the building service work-
ers (SEIU Local 32BJ), healthcare workers
(1199SEIU), United Federation of Teachers
and electrical workers (IBEW Local 3), have
an unstated confidence that they can rely
on their own power to defend themselves.
The very success of organized labor in New
York makes it act less like a movement than
it does elsewhere. Vinny Alvarez, the presi-
dent of the New York City Central Labor
Council, thinks that situation is chang-
ing, as the big local unions—as large in
membership and capacity as some national
unions—“realize that as smaller unions get
annihilated, in the end it will expose them.”
The bus strike could be a wake-up call.
In recent years, power has been drain-
ing out of even some of the strongest New
York unions. In the construction, hotel
and communications industries—longtime
union strongholds—nonunion operations
have carved out big niches. In the public
sector, too, unions have been weakened,
as Bloomberg has taken a hard line oppos-
ing pay boosts. One municipal union after
another has decided to avoid open battle,
hoping for a friendlier successor and a
more hospitable fiscal environment. Every
one of the city’s 152 union contracts has
expired (though under state law their terms
remain in effect until new agreements are
reached). The stalling tactic—“recognition
we don’t have anyone on the other side to
negotiate with,” as Arthur Cheliotes, head
of a local that represents thousands of city
administrative workers, terms it—might
ultimately pay off, but it seems unlikely
that city employees will ever make up the
losses they have suffered from frozen wages
while living costs have kept rising. As
unions wait out the clock, their members
have become demobilized. With so few pri-
vate sector unionists to ally with, the once
mighty municipal unions are ill-prepared if
some future mayor or governor decides to
launch a Wisconsin-style attack on them.
The Nation.18May 6, 2013
A Cold Climate for Organizing
The revitalization of the New York labor
movement requires organizing private sec-
tor workers, and lots of them. That’s a
heavy lift. An effort by the Communications
Workers of America to unionize Cablevision
has been what Bob Master, a union official,
called “a textbook example of how difficult
it is to organize.” A year ago, nearly 300
technicians and dispatchers in Brooklyn—
almost all African-American or Caribbean—
voted to unionize, only to have the company
spurn serious bargaining. In January, it fired
twenty-two workers for requesting a meet-
ing with managers. After seven weeks of
pressure from the union, community groups
and local politicians, Cablevision rehired the
workers, but a contract is nowhere in sight.
At least the CWA is trying. Ed Ott, for-
mer executive director of the Central Labor
Council, sees no “culture of organizing in
the labor movement of New York.”
A few innovative efforts are under way,
targeting low-wage workers in jobs that can-
not be relocated. The Retail, Wholesale and
Department Store Union (part of the United
Food and Commercial Workers) won rec-
ognition votes last fall for workers at five car
washes, an industry notorious for low wages,
long hours, unsafe conditions, and violations
of wage and hour laws [see Lizzy Ratner’s
article on]. SEIU Local
32BJ, which already represents 15,000 secu-
rity guards from Connecticut to Washington,
DC, has been organizing low-paid secu-
rity workers at New York–area airports. Fast
Food Forward, backed by the national SEIU
and community and civil rights groups, led
a one-day walkout during the holiday sea-
son at Wendy’s and other restaurant chains,
demanding higher pay and better conditions,
and staged another in early April.
The militancy and innovative tactics of
these normally invisible workers have pro-
vided labor with a much-needed charge,
but the resources involved and the gains so
far have been modest. Any transformative
effort—like a push to organize bank employ-
ees tied to a campaign against bank lending
and fee practices, promoted by Stephen
Lerner before he was forced out of the SEIU
leadership—would require a much greater
commitment of money and political clout.
Ott thinks the greatest promise for reviv-
ing labor may lie with nontraditional worker
organizations like the Taxi Workers Alliance,
which represents nominally self-employed
cabdrivers in their dealings with govern-
ment regulatory agencies and the com-
panies from whom they lease their cars;
Domestic Workers United, an organization
of Caribbean, Latin and African caregivers
and housekeepers, which won a major victory
in 2010 when the state legislature passed the
Domestic Workers’ Bill of Rights, mandating
overtime, vacation pay and protection against
sexual harassment for workers previously
uncovered by labor law; and the Restaurant
Opportunities Center, which charged some
high-profile restaurants, like Mario Batali’s
Del Posto, with labor law violations and won.
But as impressive as these well- publicized
groups are, their gains have been limited and,
except for the taxi workers, their dues-paying
memberships small.
Worker alliances, some traditional unions,
community groups like Make the Road New
York, the union-backed Working Families
Party and the Faith Caucus of religious
leaders have joined to pursue another strat-
egy to improve life for low-wage workers:
“living wage” laws that set minimal wage
levels (above the general minimum wage) and
mandate benefits for employees of companies
and nonprofit agencies receiving government
funds. A 2002 city ordinance, according to
Stephanie Luce, a leading scholar of living-
wage efforts, was one of the “most extensive”
in the country, pushing up the wages of
50,000 home healthcare workers and thou-
sands of others. But it has been harder going
since then. A 2012 law intended to ben-
efit workers at developments subsidized with
public money was greatly whittled down. A
proposed ordinance requiring employers to
provide paid sick leave was bottled up for
years by City Council president Christine
Quinn, before she finally relented early this
spring and agreed to allow a weakened ver-
sion of the original proposal to come to a
vote. Luce believes that living-wage coali-
tions have not been as successful in New York
as they have in California because some pow-
erful unions have cut their own deals with the
city, dropping out of broader initiatives.
In some respects, working-class New York
is thriving. With more than 40 percent of the
workforce foreign-born, it has a cultural
vibrancy only occasionally noted in the main-
stream media (except in reviews of ethnic res-
taurants), but evident to any casual visitor to
immigrant neighborhoods. People still flock
to New York from all over the world seeking
economic opportunities and personal free-
dom. (At more than 8.3 million people, the
city is as large as ever.) With the city’s streets
extraordinarily safe, with municipal services
under Bloomberg generally well run, if you
own a home with an affordable mortgage or
have a rent-regulated apartment, and if your
children are lucky enough to go to schools
that are not failing and you have managed to
keep steady work at decent pay, you might
well be better off than you were a dozen
years ago. But for hundreds of thousands of
working-class families with unsteady work,
low wages, unaffordable housing, crummy
schools and no union representation, New
York City has failed miserably—a wealthy,
self-congratulatory metropolis, whose pride
of place rests on willful blindness.■ IM
Source: Fiscal Policy Institute
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American Sociological Review
2014, Vol. 79(5) 1015 –1037
© American Sociological
Association 2014
DOI: 10.1177/0003122414546931
Children are not passive players in the repro-
duction of social inequalities. We know that
children’s behaviors vary with social class
and generate stratified profits in school
(Calarco 2011; Farkas 1996; Streib 2011).
Less clear is how children learn to activate
class-based strategies and how those lessons
contribute to stratification. Scholars typically
treat cultural acquisition as an implicit pro-
cess in which class-based childrearing prac-
tices automatically shape children’s behavior
(Arnett 1995; Heath 1983; Lareau 2011).
Given parents’ active management of chil-
dren’s lives (Edwards 2004; Lareau 2000;
Nelson 2010) and children’s active resistance
to parents’ desires (Chin and Phillips 2004;
Pugh 2009), however, cultural transmission
may involve more agency than implicit
socialization models imply. Furthermore,
while scholars assume that parents’ cultural
coaching reproduces inequalities (e.g., Lar-
eau 2011), research has not linked these
efforts to their payoff for children in school.
To investigate these possibilities, this
study examines how parents actively transmit
culture to children, how children respond, and
how those responses generate stratified prof-
its. I base these analyses on a longitudinal
ethnographic study of middle- and working-
class families in one elementary school. I
conducted observations and in-depth
interviews with the children, their parents,
546931ASRXXX10.1177/0003122414546931American Sociological ReviewCalarco
aIndiana University
Corresponding Author:
Jessica McCrory Calarco, Indiana University,
Department of Sociology, 1020 East Kirkwood
Avenue, Ballantine Hall, 744 Bloomington, IN
Coached for the Classroom:
Parents’ Cultural Transmission
and Children’s Reproduction
of Educational Inequalities
Jessica McCrory Calarcoa
Scholars typically view class socialization as an implicit process. This study instead shows
how parents actively transmit class-based cultures to children and how these lessons reproduce
inequalities. Through observations and interviews with children, parents, and teachers, I
found that middle- and working-class parents expressed contrasting beliefs about appropriate
classroom behavior, beliefs that shaped parents’ cultural coaching efforts. These efforts led
children to activate class-based problem-solving strategies, which generated stratified profits
at school. By showing how these processes vary along social class lines, this study reveals a
key source of children’s class-based behaviors and highlights the efforts by which parents and
children together reproduce inequalities.
culture, inequality, education, family, children
1016American Sociological Review 79(5)
and their teachers. I found that parents con-
tributed to social reproduction by actively
equipping children with class-based strategies
that generated unequal outcomes when acti-
vated at school. Parents’ relationships with
the school varied by social class and shaped
their beliefs about teachers’ behavioral expec-
tations. Those beliefs led parents to adopt
contrasting strategies for managing problems
at school and to coach their children to do the
same. Specifically, working-class parents
stressed “no-excuses” problem-solving,
encouraging children to respect teachers’
authority by not seeking help. Middle-class
parents instead taught “by-any-means” problem-
solving, urging children to negotiate with
teachers for assistance. These ongoing and
often deliberate coaching efforts equipped
even reluctant children with the tools needed
to activate class-based strategies on their own
behalf. Such activation, in turn, prompted
stratified responses from teachers and thus
created unequal advantages in school.
This study has important implications.
First, it clarifies class-based socialization
models by showing that children’s acquisition
of class-based behaviors is neither implicit
nor automatic; rather, cultural transmission
involves active efforts by both parents and
children. Second, it helps explain class-stratified
childrearing patterns, suggesting that parents’
efforts reflect beliefs stemming from their
positions in the social hierarchy. Third, it
demonstrates that by examining how cultural
transmission varies along social class lines,
and by linking these processes to their payoff
in schools, we can better understand the
mechanisms of social reproduction.
ClAss, CulTuRE, And
REPRoduCTIon of
Scholars conceptualize culture in myriad ways
(Small, Harding, and Lamont 2010), but here I
view culture as a “tool kit” that includes both
“strategies of action” (Swidler 1986) and “log-
ics of action” (DiMaggio 1997). Strategies of
action are skills or behaviors used in social
situations (Bourdieu 1990; Lareau and
Weininger 2003). Logics of action are frames
for interpreting situations (Harding 2007;
Small 2004). This view of culture recognizes
that individuals might behave differently in the
same situation because they possess different
strategies for use in that situation, or because
they interpret the situation differently and thus
choose to activate different strategies.
While cultural tool kits have numerous
dimensions (e.g., gender, age, race, and eth-
nicity), research on tool kits generally focuses
on social class (Bourdieu 1990; Lareau 2000).
To identify social classes, tool-kit scholars
typically use educational and occupational
attainment (Aschaffenburg and Maas 1997;
Condron 2009).1 In doing so, they find that
middle- and working-class individuals per-
ceive themselves differently in relation to
dominant institutions and also possess differ-
ent strategies for navigating those settings
(Lamont 1992, 2009; Lubrano 2004; Stuber
2012). Compared to their working-class coun-
terparts, middle-class individuals experience a
stronger sense of belonging in schools and
other institutional arenas (Carter 2005; Khan
2010; Lareau 2000; Lubrano 2004). They also
see their status as equaling or surpassing that
of institutional professionals and are thus
more comfortable demanding accommoda-
tions from institutions (Brantlinger 2003;
Cucchiara and Horvat 2008; Lareau 2000).
Class-based cultural tool kits are closely
linked to inequalities (Bourdieu 1990; Lareau
and Weininger 2003). Within a social setting,
behaviors will generate profits if they con-
verge with the culture of that setting. Poorly
aligned behaviors, in contrast, will produce
few or no advantages, and may even result in
Research shows, for example, that chil-
dren’s activation of class-based tool kits can
generate unequal advantages. In school, chil-
dren tend to behave in class-patterned ways
that produce stratified consequences (Heath
1983; Nelson and Schutz 2007; Streib 2011).
Middle-class children more readily voice
their needs and, in doing so, attract more
immediate attention and more complete sup-
port from teachers (Calarco 2011). These
Calarco 1017
inequalities reflect teachers’ and administra-
tors’ expectations that students will behave in
“middle-class” ways (Carter 2005; Farkas
1996; Mehan 1980; Wren 1999). While
working-class students must play catch-up,
middle-class students come to school ready to
meet these expectations (Bernstein 1990;
Foley 1990; Lubienski 2000) and to reap the
benefits—including higher grades and higher
competence ratings from teachers (Farkas
1996; Jennings and DiPrete 2010; Tach and
Farkas 2006). What research on culture and
classroom interactions has not examined,
however, is how children learn these different
strategies or why they activate them in the
fAMIlIEs And
REPRoduCTIon of
Socialization scholars imply that children’s
class-based behaviors emerge automatically in
response to class-based childrearing practices
(Arnett 1995). Middle- and working-class
parents typically adopt different childrearing
styles, and their children behave in different
ways (Chin and Phillips 2004; Edwards 2004;
Heath 1983). Lareau (2011:6), for example,
shows middle-class parents allowing children
to negotiate and assert themselves and their
children displaying an “emerging sense of
entitlement.” Working-class parents, in turn,
emphasize obedience and deference to author-
ity, and their children demonstrate an “emerg-
ing sense of constraint.” Lareau concludes that
children’s behaviors are likely an implicit and
automatic response to class-based childrearing
Such explanations, however, have two
important limitations. First, they ignore the
possibility of more active cultural transmis-
sion (Elder 1974; Pugh 2009; Thorne 1993).
Research shows that parents and children can
both be very strategic in their actions. Middle-
class parents, for example, intervene for their
children at school (Brantlinger 2003; Lareau
2000; Nelson 2010), and working-class par-
ents try to manage how their families are
perceived by others (Edwards 2004). Yet,
because scholars pay little attention to the log-
ics of action that guide childrearing decisions,
it is unclear whether or how parents deliber-
ately try to equip children to manage their
own challenges. Similarly, while scholars
have documented children’s rejection of par-
ents’ wishes (Chin and Phillips 2004; Pugh
2009; Zelizer 2002), they have not fully
explored how children come to accept and
utilize parents’ class-based lessons. Lareau
(2011), for example, observed children only in
interactions with parents and did not conduct
interviews with them. Thus, she cannot say
how children behave in their parents’ absence
or how children make sense of and internalize
what they learn.
Second, socialization research has done
little to link class-based cultural transmission
to social reproduction. Lareau (2011), for
example, assumes that class-based childrear-
ing patterns matter for inequalities. Yet, she
does not show how children’s entitlement or
constraint generates stratified profits. Overall,
while existing research highlights important
social class differences in childrearing, chil-
dren’s behaviors, and classroom advantages,
we know little about how the active efforts of
parents and children contribute to cultural
transmission or how this transmission repro-
duces inequalities.
This study examines these possibilities,
considering how parents prompt children to
activate class-based behaviors and how those
efforts contribute to social reproduction. I do
so by answering the following research
1. How do parents’ understandings of
appropriate classroom behavior vary
with social class?
2. How do parents actively teach children
class-based behaviors?
3. How do children come to activate par-
ents’ preferred behaviors?
4. How does this activation reproduce
social inequalities?
I answer these questions with data from a
longitudinal, ethnographic study of middle-
1018American Sociological Review 79(5)
and working-class, white families whose chil-
dren attended the same elementary school.
Research Site and Sample
Maplewood (all names are pseudonyms) is a
public elementary school near a large, Eastern
city (see Figure 1). While most of Maple-
wood’s families are middle-class, many (~30
percent) are working-class. This allowed me
to compare how middle- and working-class
parents and children interact with each other
and with the same teachers. My connections
to the community (a close relative is a Maple-
wood employee) facilitated access to the site
and acceptance of the project.
At Maplewood, I chose one cohort (four
classrooms) of students to follow from 3rd to
5th grade. The minority population at Maple-
wood was small and stratified, including middle-
class Asian Americans and working-class
Latinos. Thus, to avoid conflating race and
class, I focused on white students. I also
excluded students who moved away. See
Table 1 for sample characteristics and recruit-
ment procedures.
I used surveys and school records to iden-
tify students’ social class backgrounds,
Public School
500 students
Grades K–5
82% White
9% Latino
6% Asian American
3% African American
Home Types: Apartments, mobile
homes, small single-family homes
Home Values: $150K to $250K
Jobs: Plumber; daycare provider;
sales clerk; waitress; truck driver; etc.
Home Types: Medium to large
single-family homes
Home Values: $250K to $2M
Jobs: Doctor/nurse; lawyer; teacher;
business manager; accountant; etc.
figure 1. Research Site
Calarco 1019
grouping them by parents’ educational and
occupational status (Aschaffenburg and Maas
1997; Condron 2009). Middle-class families
had at least one parent with a four-year college
degree and at least one parent in a professional
or managerial occupation. Working-class fam-
ilies did not meet these criteria; parents typi-
cally had high school diplomas and worked
in blue-collar or service jobs. These were
“settled-living” working-class families
(Edwards 2004; Rubin 1976) with steady jobs,
stable relationships, and neat, clean homes.
There were, however, a few single-parents in
both class groups. While these parents some-
times felt overwhelmed with responsibilities,
their efforts to teach their children closely
paralleled those of two-parent families from
similar class backgrounds.
Data Collection
The longitudinal study included in-school
observations; in-depth interviews with chil-
dren, parents, and teachers; parent surveys;
and analyses of students’ school records.
Table 2 provides details. I observed during
the students’ 3rd-, 4th-, and 5th-grade school
years, visiting Maplewood at least twice
weekly, with each observation lasting approx-
imately three hours. I divided time equally
between the four classrooms in each grade
and rotated the days and times I observed
each class. During observations, I used ethno-
graphic jottings to document interactions I
observed and to record pieces of dialog from
informal conversations with teachers and stu-
dents. After each observation, I expanded
these jottings into detailed fieldnotes.
Ethnographers must make hard choices. In
this study, I focused my three years of obser-
vations in classrooms so as to see the payoff
of parents’ efforts. As a result, the study does
not include systematic home observations.
Still, I was able to observe parent-child inter-
actions during school events and during inter-
views in family homes. These observations
corroborated the numerous reports of parent-
child coaching that I gathered from inter-
views with children, parents, and teachers.
All interviews were audio-recorded and
transcribed. I used these interviews to under-
stand children’s home lives, school experi-
ences, and interactions with parents, teachers,
and classmates. When speaking with parents
and students, I concluded each interview by
asking interviewees to respond to four
Table 1. Participants by Role and Type of Participation
Observationsa In-Home Interviewsbc
White, Working-Class 14 9
White, Middle-Class 42 12
White, Working-Class 9 14
White, Middle-Class 15 42
Teachers 17 12
aI solicited parents’ consent for observation of all students in the target cohort at Maplewood, receiving
permission for all but 19 children. For this analysis, I excluded minority students (n = 10) and children
who moved away during the study (n = 12).
bI interviewed parents and children from the same families, selecting families from those who were
already participating in the observation portion of the study. I contacted all 14 working-class families
and a randomly selected group of 15 middle-class families to participate in interviews. Although 27
families agreed to participate, scheduling conflicts prevented some interviews from taking place.
cMost parents interviewed were mothers (I asked to speak with children’s primary caregivers). The
sample includes two single fathers (both working-class) and three married fathers (all middle-class) who
participated in interviews with their wives. Most participants were in married, two-parent families; six
parents were divorced (three working-class, three middle-class).
1020American Sociological Review 79(5)
vignettes. These vignettes described typical
classroom challenges (e.g., “Jason is strug-
gling to understand the directions on a test”)
and were based on situations I had observed
or learned about through conversations with
teachers. With each vignette, I asked inter-
viewees to describe how the characters should
respond to the situation (e.g., “What do you
think Jason should do?”). I also asked partici-
pants to discuss similar experiences in their
own lives. I then coded these open-ended
responses and used them to compare respond-
ents’ attitudes across social class and genera-
tional lines. I present some of these
comparisons to highlight patterns documented
in the larger ethnographic study.
Data Analysis
I conducted an ongoing process of data analy-
sis, regularly reviewing fieldnotes and
interview transcripts and writing analytic
memos (Emerson, Fretz, and Shaw 1995). I
used the memos to identify emerging themes
in the data, discuss connections to existing
research, and pose additional questions. After
creating a preliminary coding scheme from
themes in the memos, I used ATLAS.ti to
code sections of fieldnotes, interview tran-
scripts, documents, and seating charts. While
coding, I also developed data matrices (Miles
and Huberman 1994) to clarify comparisons
and identify disconfirming evidence.
PAREnTs’ undERsTAndIngs
Before examining parents’ coaching of class-
based strategies, it is important to understand
how social class shaped these efforts.
Research highlights social class differences in
parents’ interactions with their children (Chin
Table 2. Study Overview and Timeline
Grade 3 Grade 4 Grade 5
Period of Study March 2008 to
June 2008
August 2008 to
June 2009
August 2009 to
June 2010

Observationsa 4 Classrooms 4 Classrooms 4 Classrooms
(~20 students each) (~20 students each) (~20 students each)
Twice weekly Twice weekly Twice weekly
3 Hours per visit 3 Hours per visit 3 Hours per visit
Interviews 4 Teachersb 4 Teachers 4 Teachers
21 Studentsc
24 Parentsd
Parent Surveyse 56 Families
School Recordsf 52 Students 52 Students 52 Students
aI observed students in their regular classes and ability-grouped math classes; during enrichment
activities (art, gym, library, music, and Spanish); during lunch and recess; and during assemblies and
other school activities.
bTeacher interviews were conducted mid-way through each school year. Interviews took place in
teachers’ classrooms and lasted approximately 60 to 90 minutes.
cStudent interviews were conducted during the summer after 5th grade, when students were 10 or 11
years old. Interviews took place in children’s homes and lasted about 60 to 90 minutes.
dParent interviews were conducted during the summer after 5th grade. Interviews took place in parents’
homes (except one, which took place in a parent’s office) and lasted approximately 90 to 120 minutes.
eParent surveys collected information on students’ family backgrounds, school achievement,
friendships, and after-school activities.
fStudents’ school records included grades, standardized test scores, and teacher comments, as well as
records of e-mail, phone, and written contact between parents and teachers. Four families closed access
to their children’s school records.
Calarco 1021
and Phillips 2004; Lareau 2011) and with
their children’s schools (Cucchiara and Hor-
vat 2008; Lareau 2000; Nelson 2010). Yet,
scholars say little about the origins of such
patterns. At Maplewood, I found that middle-
and working-class parents had different strat-
egies for managing problems at school. Those
differences reflected parents’ positions in the
status hierarchy, which influenced their com-
fort interacting with the school and led them
to adopt different class-based logics of action
for interpreting the “appropriate” form of
behavior in those settings.
Middle-Class Parents: Modeling
By-Any-Means Problem-Solving
Middle-class parents adopted a by-any-means
approach to solving problems with their chil-
dren’s schooling. They actively intervened to
request support and accommodations, lobby-
ing to have children tested for gifted or spe-
cial needs programs and often writing notes
excusing their children from homework and
other activities. Ms. Bell sent this note to her
son’s 3rd-grade teacher, Ms. Nelson, when he
left his homework at school:
Dear Paula,
Aidan forgot his homework folder yester-
day. As a result, he was not able to do his
homework last night. I will have him com-
plete it this evening. I apologize for the
inconvenience. Last night I had him read
and do math problems from a workbook to
replace homework time. Again, sorry he
won’t be prepared today.
Middle-class parents seemed to expect their
interventions to generate benefits, and they
were usually correct in that assumption. Ms.
Nelson, for example, generally required stu-
dents to stay in for recess if they forgot their
homework. Given Ms. Bell’s note, however,
Ms. Nelson allowed Aidan to submit the
homework the next day with no penalty.
Middle-class parents adopted this by-any-
means approach to problem-solving because
they interpreted classroom interactions through
a logic of entitlement. Given their educational
and occupational attainment, middle-class par-
ents appeared to perceive themselves as equal
or greater in status relative to children’s teach-
ers. As a result, they were very comfortable
intervening and questioning teachers’ judg-
ments regarding classroom assignments, abil-
ity group placements, testing procedures, and
homework policies. One interview vignette
described a student, “Brian,” who came home
complaining about being “bored” in math
class. As Table 3 shows, parents’ responses to
this vignette divided sharply by social class.
While all the middle-class parents saw the situ-
ation as requiring immediate requests for
accommodations, working-class parents
tended to view deference to teachers’ judg-
ments as the appropriate response.
When asked open-ended questions about
how Brian’s parent should respond in this
situation, all the middle-class parents said
they would talk to the teacher or encourage
Brian to talk to the teacher. Ms. Matthews’s
response was typical of middle-class parents:
I would ask for a higher math class. I think
that would be the obvious first step. And if
that’s not a possibility, then I think asking
for additional work, or asking if Brian could
mentor one of the other children. That way
he could use the knowledge that he has to
help another child learn. I think that would
be a good lesson for him.
Although the teachers worked hard to deter-
mine the appropriate math level for each stu-
dent, Ms. Matthews, like many middle-class
parents, perceived herself as a better judge of
her child’s needs. These parents also believed
they were entitled to negotiate with teachers,
seeing such requests as an “obvious first
step.” At Maplewood, teachers were reluctant
to change students’ placement. Yet, many
middle-class students (but no working-class
students) were moved up due to their parents’
persistent requests.
This entitlement to intervene prompted
middle-class parents to be highly involved at
1022American Sociological Review 79(5)
school and granted them insider status at
Maplewood. Many middle-class mothers at
Maplewood were full-time parents, but even
employed mothers helped run volunteer pro-
grams, bake sales, and evening events that
raised more than $50,000 annually for the
parent-teacher organization (PTO). In light of
their involvement, middle-class parents were
often deeply familiar with school expectations,
procedures, and personnel. They also readily
exchanged this information with other (typi-
cally middle-class) parents during play-dates,
soccer games, school events, and phone con-
versations. As a result, middle-class parents
knew the sequence and timing of state assess-
ments, the weekly school schedule, and the
procedures for requesting accommodations.
That insider status shaped middle-class
parents’ beliefs about teachers’ behavioral
expectations. They understood that—unlike
when they were in school—teachers valued
questions and requests from both parents and
students. As Ms. Shore, who works full-time
but contacts her children’s teachers regularly
by e-mail, explained:
It’s become more than just a gentle encour-
agement. It’s official. You’re a high-quality
learner if you’re willing to ask questions
when you have one, and [the teachers] actu-
ally reward the asking.
Middle-class parents recognized that although
their own teachers might have balked at such
requests, school expectations had changed.
They assumed that teachers would reward
proactive help-seeking, and thus they adopted
a logic of entitlement in managing problems
at school.
Working-Class Parents: Modeling
No-Excuses Problem-Solving
Unlike their middle-class counterparts, working-
class parents adopted a no-excuses approach
to educational challenges. In light of their
limited educational and occupational attain-
ment, working-class parents generally trusted
the school to decide what was best for their
children. Even when working-class parents
were frustrated with teachers’ decisions, they
Table 3. Summary of Open-Ended Responses to Vignette 1 by Social Class
vignette 1: Brian, a 5th grader, usually gets good grades in math and does well on tests.
Brian comes home from school one day and tells his mom that he is often bored during
math class.
Prompt: What do you think should happen with Brian?
Middle-Class Working-Class
Response by descriptive category Parents Children Parents Children
Brian’s mother should ask the teacher to move
him up or give him extra work
9 5 2 0
Brian should ask the teacher to give him extra
3 4 0 0
Brian’s parent should ask for the teacher’s
advice at conferences
0 0 2 0
If it’s really an issue, the teacher would notice
and help Brian
0 0 3 1
Brian just needs to be more focused 0 2 2 5
Brian just does not like the material 0 1 0 3
Total 12 12 9 9
Note: Responses to vignettes were open-ended. I coded responses into categories to highlight patterns.
Coded responses are presented here for ease of comparison.
Calarco 1023
tended not to intervene. Ms. Campitello’s son
Zach, for example, often went to school with
incomplete assignments. In our interview, Ms.
Campitello explained that while she tried to
help Zach with his homework, both she and
Zach struggled with the material. Tears brim-
ming in her eyes, she recalled:
Zach gets so frustrated that he just won’t do
it. And I tried, but it was really, really hard. It
got to the point, honestly, where I just gave
up. . . . I wish the teachers would just help
him at school. Cuz they get this stuff. They
know what the kids are supposed to be doing.
Ms. Campitello believed the school could do
more to help Zach with homework and with
his understanding of the material. Yet, like
other working-class parents, she did not
inform Zach’s teachers or ask for additional
Working-class parents adopted this no-
excuses approach to problem-solving because
they interpreted classroom interactions through
a logic of constraint. Given their educational
and occupational attainment, they perceived
themselves as less knowledgeable than “expert”
educators and thus avoided questioning teach-
ers’ judgments. Responding to the Brian
vignette, for example, none of the working-
class parents said they would ask the teacher to
move Brian to a higher math level (see Table
3). Similarly, in 2nd grade, Ms. Trumble noticed
that her son, Jeremy, was not reading as well as
his older siblings had at that age. Ms. Trumble
worried, but she did not intervene:
I thought maybe there was something
wrong, but I didn’t wanna say anything. I
think the teachers are pretty good. If there’s
any kind of problem, I think they’d jump on
it right then and there to help. Like [in kin-
dergarten] they figured out that Jeremy had
some speech problems and they got him into
speech therapy.
Even when their children were struggling,
working-class parents “didn’t wanna say any-
thing.” They assumed that teachers had a
better understanding of children’s academic
needs, and that they as non-professionals
were not equipped to influence decisions
about children’s schooling.
This reluctance to intervene prompted
working-class parents to be less involved at
school and relegated them largely to outsider
status at Maplewood. Working-class parents
occasionally attended conferences or con-
certs, but they spent relatively little time vol-
unteering. Even the few working-class parents
who did not work full-time were not a regular
presence at school. As a result, working-class
parents tended not to be very familiar with
school expectations, procedures, and person-
nel. This lack of familiarity was compounded
by the fact that working-class parents gener-
ally had few social connections with teachers
or other Maplewood parents.
That outsider status shaped working-class
parents’ beliefs about teachers’ behavioral
expectations. Without inside information,
working-class parents tended to rely on their
own experiences in school as a guide. During
an interview, Mr. Graham remembered a
formative incident from 5th grade:
The teacher gave us a test and none of us
understood. We were like, “What are you
talking about?” I mean, it was like she
thought she explained it clear as day. And
we read it, but it just didn’t jive.2
When I asked Mr. Graham what happened
next, he continued, shaking his head:
Well, she was upset because we asked her
about it. She yelled at us, cuz she just didn’t
understand why we didn’t get it! That was a
rough little time in school. I mean, a number
of us were upset about it, crying upset about
it. I think I probably took the brunt of it, cuz
I was the one that challenged her.
While the teachers at Maplewood did repri-
mand students for offenses like being off-
task, name-calling, and running in the
hallways, I never saw a teacher punish a stu-
dent for seeking help. Middle-class parents,
1024American Sociological Review 79(5)
by virtue of their insider involvement, recog-
nized that school expectations around question-
asking had changed over time. Working-class
parents, drawing only on their own school
experiences, assumed that teachers would
perceive requests as disrespectful, and thus
they adopted a logic of constraint in manag-
ing problems at school.
Parents’ class-based logics shaped not only
their comfort interacting with teachers, but
also their beliefs about how to manage chal-
lenges appropriately at school. Such beliefs
prompted parents to coach their children to
activate similar strategies when interacting
with teachers. Although parent-child coach-
ing exchanges were generally serendipitous
rather than planned, their messages were
more deliberate and their intended conse-
quences were more explicit than research on
social class and childrearing typically implies
(Arnett 1995; Heath 1983; Lareau 2011).
Middle-Class Parents: Coaching By-
Any-Means Problem-Solving
Middle-class parents actively coached their
children to adopt a by-any-means approach to
dealing with classroom challenges. In 1st
grade, Danny Rissolo was being bullied by a
classmate. As Ms. Rissolo explained:
The kid he was sitting next to was a bully,
and was making fun of him. Danny wanted
me to fix it for him, but I said to him, “You
know what Danny, I’ll do that for you, but I
want you to do something first. I want you
to go to Ms. Girard, and say something like
‘Ms. Girard, can I talk to you for a min-
ute?’” I said, “Ask her what she thinks you
should do.” At first [Danny] was like: “You
want me to do all that?” And I said: “You
can do it! You’re a smart guy. You’re very
articulate. You can do this. And if it’s still a
problem, I’ll call her also, but you need to
do this first.”
Smiling, Ms. Rissolo went on to describe
proudly how Danny—barely 7 years old at
the time—successfully convinced Ms. Girard
to change his seat and move him away from
the bully:
Well, he did it. He talked to Ms. Girard and
asked her what she could do. And she was
able to say: “You know what, I’m gonna be
changing where you’re all sitting next week.
Why don’t we change tomorrow instead?
And no one has to know why.” And his
problem went away. And so he saw, he
learned, early on, how to advocate for
Ms. Rissolo could have just contacted
Ms. Girard on Danny’s behalf. Instead, and like
other middle-class parents at Maplewood, she
coached her son to seek assistance for himself.
Middle-class parents’ coaching efforts
reflected their belief that children should
draw on all available resources when manag-
ing problems at school. In interviews, these
parents stressed that children should be com-
fortable approaching teachers with questions
and requests for individualized support. These
beliefs were particularly apparent in middle-
class parents’ responses to an interview
vignette describing “Jason’s” struggles to
understand a science test question. As Table 4
shows, parents’ responses to this vignette
divided sharply along social class lines. Middle-
class parents all stressed that Jason should
solve the problem by-any-means, whereas
working-class parents all emphasized a no-
excuses approach.
When asked “What should Jason do?”
middle-class parents all said that Jason should
“go to the teacher” for help. Ms. Long, for
example, expressed sentiments commonly
echoed by middle-class parents:
Jason should ask the teacher to clarify for
him. Cuz if Jason was having the problem
then everybody else is probably having the
same problem. You want a kid to be able to
answer the question, to make sure that he
understands, rather than just not doing
Calarco 1025
anything. So I think Jason should ask the
teacher and the teacher should tell the whole
The middle-class parents at Maplewood
expressed that children should readily seek
assistance, and that teachers are obligated to
provide such support.
As with Danny and the bully, the coaching
efforts that stemmed from these beliefs
equipped middle-class children to activate
by-any-means problem-solving strategies.
Similarly, when Gina Giordano began getting
Bs and Cs on tests in 4th grade, Gina’s par-
ents coached her to go to her teacher for help:
We always tell her, “You go up and you talk
to the teacher. You find out—you don’t use
your friends. You go to the teacher and find
out.” Like, Gina was [struggling] . . . and I
told her, “Well, go ask your teacher what
that means. That’s your resource.”
Parents’ active coaching efforts inspired
middle-class children to “use their resources”
when confronting problems in school. As
Gina explained:
Like, I was having trouble staying orga-
nized, and I kinda talked to my parents
about it. They told me to go talk to my
teacher, Ms. Hudson. . . . [So] I asked her if
she could help me with my organization and
stuff, [and] . . . she just brought me to the
back of the class and showed me a few
Gina recognized that her parents taught her
valuable strategies for managing problems,
and she regularly enacted those strategies at
school. During a 5th-grade math class, Gina
was working with her (middle-class) partner
Beth. Following instructions, Gina and Beth
found a recipe (for six servings), and using
what they had learned about multiplying frac-
tions, tried to determine how much of each
ingredient they would need to feed 25 people.
These complex calculations soon had the
girls arguing. Frustrated, they sought out
Ms. Dunham:
As they approach, Gina calls out loudly,
“Ms. Dunham!” Ms. Dunham turns, and
Gina begins to explain: “We don’t really get
how to do this. We don’t know what we
Table 4. Summary of Open-Ended Responses to Vignette 2 by Social Class
vignette 2: Mr. Patrick’s 5th-grade class is working on a science test. Mr. Patrick is at his
desk, grading papers. Jason, one of the students, gets to the third question and reads it
silently to himself. It says: “Make a chart comparing the atmospheres on the earth and on
the moon.” Jason is confused—he isn’t sure how to answer the question, or what to include
in the chart.
Prompt: What do you think Jason should do?
Middle-Class Working-Class
Response by descriptive category Parents Children Parents Children
Jason should go to the teacher for help 12 10 0 2
Jason should try his best 0 0 5 4
It depends on the teacher’s rules 0 2 2 2
Jason should wait; the teacher will likely
notice him struggling and offer help
0 0 2 1
Total 12 12 9 9
Note: Responses to vignettes were open-ended. I coded responses into categories to highlight patterns.
Coded responses are presented here for ease of comparison.
1026American Sociological Review 79(5)
need to multiply by to get to 25 servings.”
Ms. Dunham walks them through the pro-
cess of multiplying the amount of each
ingredient by 25/6, and then reducing each
fraction to its simplest form.
Gina could have continued working or asked
a classmate for help. Instead, she went straight
to the teacher. In doing so, Gina drew on the
by-any-means problem-solving strategies she
learned at home. As with most of the middle-
class students, I also observed Gina become
more confident in deploying those strategies
over time.
Working-Class Parents: Coaching
No-Excuses Problem-Solving
Unlike their middle-class counterparts,
working-class parents coached their children
to adopt a no-excuses approach to problem-
solving. Ms. Trumble, for example, noted that
her son Jeremy sometimes “will forget stuff.”
She went on to describe how she uses these
situations to teach Jeremy to be more
And I’ll say, “You have to tell your teacher
that you forgot it, and stay in for recess and
get it done then.” And that’s what he ends
up doing. Because I tell him, “There’s noth-
ing I can do. You forgot your homework. I
don’t know what it was.”
These explicit messages seemed to lead Jer-
emy to activate a no-excuses approach when
managing problems at school. In 5th grade,
the day his book report was due, Jeremy
arrived without it:
Slumping into his seat between Riley and
Alan (both middle-class students), Jeremy
laments, “I finally finished my book report
last night, and then I left it at home . . . ”
Riley, head cocked, looks at Jeremy. She
asks, puzzled, “Can’t your mom bring it for
you?” Jeremy drops his chin down and
shakes his head. “She has to work, so if I
forget things, she says it’s my responsibility.”
Riley blinks, bewildered. Later, when Ms.
Dunham checks his homework, Jeremy apol-
ogizes and admits that he does not have his
project. Ms. Dunham says disappointedly:
“You’ll have to stay in for recess.”
In similar situations, middle-class students
generally adopted a by-any-means approach,
asking to call a parent to bring in the assign-
ment or to receive an extension on the dead-
line. Like other working-class students,
however, Jeremy followed his mother’s
instructions and accepted his punishment
without excuse.
Working-class parents’ coaching efforts
reflected their belief that children should
draw only on their own resources and avoid
inconveniencing teachers by seeking help.
These beliefs were particularly apparent in
working-class parents’ responses to the inter-
view vignette describing Jason’s struggles
with the science test. After reading this
vignette, working-class parents typically
responded by saying that Jason should work
hard and try his best (see Table 4). As Ms. Marrone
Jason should just try his best. I tell my kids
to work hard. And they all learned how to
do it. Like with Shawn, he reads better now.
So he doesn’t ask me for help as much.
Like, he can do his homework by himself
Some working-class parents believed that help-
seeking would undermine their children’s will-
ingness to work hard. Others noted that children
might “get in trouble” for seeking help, and
thus they encouraged their children to “skip it
and come back” or wait for the teacher to offer
assistance. Although they varied somewhat in
their reasoning, working-class parents consis-
tently emphasized that children should avoid
proactively making requests.
As with Jeremy and the forgotten project,
the coaching efforts that stemmed from these
beliefs prepared working-class children to
activate no-excuses problem-solving strate-
gies. This can also be seen with an example
Calarco 1027
from the Graham family. In an interview,
Mr. Graham recounted a problem with his
daughter Amelia’s 3rd-grade report card. He
described how they read the report card
together, and how Amelia noted that one of
the teacher comments “didn’t seem to make
sense.” As Mr. Graham recalled: “I told Ame-
lia not to ask about it, cuz the teacher proba-
bly wouldn’t be too happy.” Explaining this
approach, Mr. Graham noted:
I just want my kids to be respectful and
responsible. . . . My kids, I always told ’em:
“Look, if you’ve gotta give somebody a
hard time, give it to me. Don’t give it to
your teachers. Don’t give it to other par-
ents.” And I’ve never had a teacher com-
plain. Or, if my kids go and play at somebody
else’s house, I’ve never had a parent say:
“Your child can’t come back.” You know?
My kids are good for the teachers and for
other parents.
These active coaching efforts taught working-
class children to work hard and avoid “com-
plaining” when confronting problems in
school. In my conversations with teachers,
they would often bemoan middle-class stu-
dents’ “lack of problem-solving skills” and
their reluctance to tackle difficult challenges.
In these same conversations, teachers would
often praise working-class students like
Shawn and Amelia for their “work-ethic.”
This willingness to work hard and avoid
excuses was readily apparent in working-
class students’ management of challenges at
school. Near the end of the year, the 5th grad-
ers invited their parents to attend an outdoor
rocket-day event marking the culmination of
their study of space exploration. The students
had spent class time assembling and decorat-
ing plastic model rockets, readying them for
launch at the event. On the big day, the stu-
dents, giddy with excitement, waited in four
lines on the field behind the school. Teachers
and parent volunteers helped them load tubes
of explosives into their rockets. The children
launched the models using a remote device.
After watching their rockets fly about 100
yards across the playground, they retrieved
them and rejoined the line to try again:
Although there are many parents milling
around, Amelia’s parents are at work. After
her launch, Amelia retrieves her rocket and
jogs slowly back toward the line, a crest-
fallen look on her face. Amelia is holding
her rocket in one hand and the rocket’s
parachute in the other. The string attaching
the parachute to the rocket broke during the
flight. Rather than rejoin the line, Amelia
sits down in the grass by herself. Her face
set tight with concentration, Amelia tries to
fix the rocket, carefully tying and retying
the broken string.
As Amelia worked, Ted Peters, a middle-class
student, ran toward the line. Instead of joining
his classmates, Ted veered off, approaching
his mother, who was chatting with other
Ms. Peters turns, smiles broadly, and praises
Ted for a “great flight.” Ted, frowning,
holds out his rocket and explains that the
string attaching the rocket’s parachute has
broken. After inspecting the broken string,
Ms. Peters says encouragingly, “Go ask
Mr. Fischer for a new string. I’m sure he’ll
be able to help.” Ted’s grim expression
brightens. He turns and dashes toward his
teacher. When Mr. Fischer sees the broken
string, he retrieves an extra string from a
supply bin and helps Ted reattach the para-
chute. Ted then immediately rejoins the line
to launch his rocket again.
While Amelia eventually succeeded in tying
the two broken ends of string, it took her
much longer. Ted immediately rejoined the
line, stepping in behind the friend who had
gone before him in the first round. As a result,
Ted got to launch his rocket four times, while
Amelia only got to launch her rocket twice.
Despite this setback, however, Amelia did not
complain or ask to move ahead in line. In
doing so, and like other working-class stu-
dents, Amelia drew on the no-excuses
1028American Sociological Review 79(5)
problem-solving strategies that she learned
from her parents’ instruction at home.
Given the possibility of children’s resistance
to parents’ intentions (Chin and Phillips 2004;
Pugh 2009), parents engaged in deliberate
and ongoing efforts to teach children not only
different strategies of action for managing
challenges, but also different logics of action
to use in deciphering the “appropriate” strat-
egy for a given situation. Effectively, parents
taught children to see the world—or at least
the classroom—through their eyes. These
coaching exchanges were rarely planned;
instead, they tended to occur as a natural
response to situations as they arose. Yet, par-
ents did convey their messages deliberately,
not only by passively modeling different ori-
entations, but also by actively shaping how
children viewed themselves and their teach-
ers. Through repeated exposure to such mes-
sages, even reluctant children tended to
gradually adopt their parents’ logics and to
use them as a guide in activating “appropri-
ate” strategies of action.
Middle-Class Parents: Teaching
Middle-class parents actively encouraged
their children to adopt a logic of entitlement
in their interactions at school. They did so by
teaching their children first, to feel deserving
of support, and second, to recognize the ben-
efits of entitlement and its by-any-means
approach to problem-solving. Ms. Matthews
described this approach:
I really feel like [my kids] need to have
those skills . . . to be able to talk to [the]
teacher to understand and to work through
those problems. When you get into a boss
situation, your mom doesn’t call and say,
“Sorry my daughter doesn’t understand
what she’s supposed to come and do today
at work.” You know, you need to learn how
to do that! And if you don’t start at this
stage, it makes it more difficult and then you
get fired! So I tell my kids, “It’s okay to ask
those questions in that setting. This is a
place where you go every day. You talk to
this teacher every day. He’s invested in your
interests.” And once they learn to overcome
that hurdle, it becomes easier to then deal
with asking for [other things].
Like other middle-class parents, Ms. Mat-
thews stressed to her children both the bene-
fits of help-seeking (e.g., you might get fired
if you do not seek help) and their deserving-
ness of support (e.g., the teacher is invested in
your interests). In doing so, she worked to
develop her children’s sense of entitlement to
assistance at school.
These entitlement-oriented messages
helped middle-class children—especially shy
children—overcome reluctance around help-
seeking. Keri Long’s mother, for example,
realized early on that Keri was hesitant to
seek assistance from teachers. She recounted
this incident:
Keri was doing well in 3rd grade. She had
straight As until this one math test [on
which Keri got a C]. She came down [from
studying in her room] and said, “I’m con-
fused about this.” And I said, “Go talk to
your teacher about it! You need to tell your
teacher this is what you need help with.”
Despite her mother’s strategy-based coach-
ing, Keri did not ask for help. Ms. Long,
shaking her head in exasperation, continued:
She didn’t have the power in her to do it. To
say: “I need help.” . . . And that brought her
grade down! She got a C on the test and it
brought her down. . . . Which, to me, was
very upsetting, because I told her, “Go! Get
help!” And she just . . . I dunno. Keri’s very
timid, very shy. I’m trying to teach her to
look up and shake hands. That adults aren’t
scary and that the teachers are there to help
her. It’s getting better, but it’s taken her a
really long time.
Calarco 1029
Although Keri was reluctant to follow her
mother’s instruction, Ms. Long was not
deterred. Like other middle-class parents,
Ms. Long continued to work with Keri, repeat-
edly stressing that Keri deserved assistance
and that the “teachers are there to help her.”
Over time, and in light of such persistent
encouragement, even very shy middle-class
children became more comfortable negotiat-
ing with teachers. From 3rd to 5th grade, for
example, I watched Keri grow more confident
in these interactions. One day, Ms. Dunham’s
5th graders were working on a social studies
test, using their books to complete short-
answer essay questions about the Civil War.
One question asked students to identify a
main event and describe its significance:
Before setting the students to work,
Ms. Dunham calls out: “Use your resources.
But it’s open book, not open neighbor!”
After working for a few minutes, Keri picks
up her textbook and carries it with her as she
approaches Ms. Dunham’s desk. Pointing at
a passage in the book, she asks quietly,
“Does this count as a main event?” After
glancing at the book, Ms. Dunham explains,
“This is a good event, but you probably
want to look for something larger.” Ms.
Dunham then helps Keri recall some signifi-
cant events they discussed in class.
In an interview, Keri linked her increasing
comfort with help-seeking to her mother’s
encouragement, explaining: “My mom tells
me that I should do it [ask for help]. And so I
usually go and ask Ms. Dunham.” With time
and intensive coaching from their parents,
even very shy middle-class children gradually
adopted a sense of entitlement to support. In
doing so, they also developed the confidence
needed to activate a by-any-means approach
to problem-solving.
Messages about the benefits of by-any-
means problem-solving also helped alleviate
reluctance among middle-class children who
worried that help-seeking might cause others
to perceive them as “dumb.” With a worried
frown, Ms. Dobrin described how she and her
husband regularly remind their son Ethan of
the importance of help-seeking:
Ethan’s teacher evaluations always said,
“He’s a joy. He’s bright. He’s making great
grades, but he needs to ask for help some-
times.” Now, I don’t think asking for help is
comfortable for Ethan, but what we try to
impress on him is, “Think about how impor-
tant it is that you get that information. If you
need that information to do the job cor-
rectly, then you need to ask the teacher.”
Initially, Ethan did not like seeking help: as a
high-achieving student, he worried that help-
seeking would prompt others to question his
abilities. Given Ethan’s reluctance, his par-
ents worked with him repeatedly. They would
stress the importance of help-seeking and
“coach him to flag a teacher down, or get up
and go talk to the teacher during a test.”
These messages, in turn, helped middle-
class children to adopt a logic of entitlement
and to view help-seeking primarily through
its benefits. By 5th grade, for example, Ethan
seemed very comfortable voicing his needs. I
regularly watched him ask teachers to extend
deadlines, clarify directions, and even pro-
vide assistance during tests. During the spring
of 5th grade, Mr. Fischer’s class was taking a
math test. Mr. Fischer circled, glancing at
students’ work and answering questions about
the test:
Ethan taps his pencil eraser lightly against
his cheek, frowning. As Mr. Fischer circles
past, Ethan calls out quietly but hopefully,
“Mr. Fischer?” Mr. Fischer immediately
stops and turns toward Ethan, asking with
genuine concern, “You okay?” Ethan shrugs
and admits that he is not sure if he is inter-
preting a question correctly. Squatting
down, Mr. Fischer does not give Ethan the
answer, but helps him recognize his mis-
take. Ethan nods, quickly finishing the
problem correctly.
Ethan’s logic of entitlement seemed to prompt
him to activate this by-any-means approach
1030American Sociological Review 79(5)
to problem-solving. Responding to my ques-
tion about why he asked for help on occasions
like that one, Ethan explained:
I didn’t want to guess and risk getting it
wrong. I don’t want to get it wrong, because
then I won’t get as high a grade as I should
have gotten. So it’s just better to go up and
ask the teacher. And then normally I would
get it right.
Like other middle-class students, Ethan was
initially reluctant to seek help. Through his
parents’ repeated, active encouragement,
however, Ethan eventually came to recognize
the benefits of help-seeking. In doing so,
Ethan was able to draw on a logic of entitle-
ment to overcome his fears and to feel com-
fortable voicing his needs.
Working-Class Parents: Teaching
Working-class parents actively encouraged
their children to adopt a logic of constraint in
interactions at school. They did so by teach-
ing their children, first, to perceive their own
needs as secondary to those of others, and
second, to recognize the importance of hard
Working-class parents equated help-seeking
with selfishness and sought to discourage
such behaviors by actively downplaying their
children’s individual needs. Ms. Webb, for
example, did this with her daughter Sadie.
While I was interviewing Ms. Webb in the
kitchen of the Webb’s mobile home, Sadie
entered the room to ask (politely) for the
powdered iced tea mix:
Ms. Webb gives Sadie a skeptical look and
laughs, “Get it yourself! What’re you asking
me for?” Sadie nods and pulls a chair out
from the kitchen table, using it to climb up
and retrieve the can of iced tea mix from the
cabinet over the refrigerator. As Sadie does
this, Ms. Webb, turning to me, says play-
fully, “She’s a spoiled brat. Not gonna make
it in the real world.”
Although Sadie tried to ask for help, her
mother quickly denied this request. Like other
working-class parents, Ms. Webb stressed
that assistance would “spoil” her daughter.
Over time, and in light of such messages,
working-class children appeared to perceive
help-seeking as selfish and disrespectful of
others. Sadie, for example, was loud and out-
going with her friends, but very polite and
deferent to her teachers. As Sadie explained
in an interview, she rarely asked for help:
If you have a question about homework,
you should just skip it. You don’t wanna go
up and bug the teacher. And then, if she [the
teacher] says: “Did anybody have any prob-
lems with the homework?” Then you can
raise your hand.
With time and coaching from their parents,
working-class children gradually came to
view classroom challenges through a logic of
constraint. Doing so prompted working-class
children to adopt a no-excuses approach to
problem-solving and to avoid seeking help.
Working-class parents also equated help-
seeking with laziness. To discourage such
behaviors, they emphasized the importance of
hard work. Ms. Compton, for example, strug-
gled to help her son Jesse with homework. She
described, close to tears, how overwhelmed
she felt by frequent, complex assignments and
by her own work schedule, which prevented
her from being home in the afternoons. Given
those challenges, Ms. Compton tried to moti-
vate Jesse to do his homework on his own. As
Ms. Compton explained:
Jesse can be lazy. He’s very, “I can’t do it. I
don’t know what I’m doing.” But he just
needs a push to do it on his own. I just tell
him, “You can do it. I know you can do it.
I’ve seen you do this. I want you to try.”
Then he gets his confidence up and he snaps
out of that low moment.
Jesse hated homework, but, like most working-
class parents, his mother repeatedly encour-
aged him to just keep trying.
Calarco 1031
Such messages helped Jesse and other
working-class children adopt a logic of con-
straint and view help-seeking primarily
through its drawbacks. Jesse, for example,
worked very hard but still struggled with
schoolwork. Despite these struggles, how-
ever, Jesse believed he should not seek help:
Some of the stuff Ms. Dunham told me, it
didn’t really make sense, but I just had to
say: “Okay, I’ll try.” Like, sometimes I feel
like I can’t do it, but my mom says I can’t
say that. And I don’t wanna get in trouble.
In interviews, other working-class students
also stressed the importance of hard work and
the potential drawbacks of help-seeking, say-
ing things like:
You need to work hard and learn things.
Like, teachers give you homework to learn
things. And then if you get help from your
mom and dad, you’re not learning that stuff.
And if you get it from a calculator, you still
don’t learn it.
In light of parents’ active encouragement,
working-class students came to view class-
room interactions through a logic of con-
straint. They recognized the benefits of hard
work and the possible negative consequences
(social and academic) of actively voicing
their needs.
This recognition tended to prompt working-
class students not to ask for help at school. In
the classroom, for example, I rarely saw
either Sadie or Jesse seek assistance. As I
learned from a conversation with Ms. Dun-
ham, she took her 5th graders to the school
library one Monday to take out books on
African American historical figures. She gave
her students until Thursday to find 10 facts
for a biography project. Jesse was absent on
Monday, so Ms. Dunham left the assignment
on his desk. On Tuesday, however, Jesse did
not ask for permission to go to the library.
Instead, he asked his mother to take him to
the public library. Ms. Compton did not have
time; she said he would “just have to figure it
out.” On Wednesday, however, Jesse did not
explain the situation to Ms. Dunham or ask to
go to the school library. Instead, he came to
school on Thursday without his facts:
Jesse is slumped low in his seat, his shoul-
ders sagging. When Ms. Dunham [who is
checking students’ homework] approaches,
she asks, “Do you have your facts?” Jesse
shakes his head but does not look up. Sens-
ing that something is wrong, Ms. Dunham
squats down next to Jesse, asking softly,
“You okay?” Jesse waits for a long moment,
and then whispers, “I tried to do them, but
my mom got mad, cuz I said we needed to
go to the library.” Ms. Dunham’s eyes
widen, as if recalling that Jesse was absent
when the class went to the library. She reas-
sures Jesse, promising to “give mom a call”
to explain the mix-up and giving him a
library pass and an extension on the assign-
ment. Jesse thanks Ms. Dunham earnestly,
giving her a tentative smile.
Like other working-class students, Jesse often
concealed his challenges and tried to manage
them privately. This was a risky strategy. Had
Ms. Dunham not intervened, Jesse would
have received a lower grade on his project,
and he might not have turned it in at all. Ironi-
cally, while Jesse likely wanted to avoid
appearing lazy or disrespectful by asking for
help, his failure to explain the situation could
have led Ms. Dunham to see him as lazy and
disrespectful for not completing his work.
how ACTIvATIon
As such examples suggest, the active transfer
of class-based culture from parents to chil-
dren helped reproduce social inequalities. We
know from prior research that children’s acti-
vation of class-based strategies can generate
stratified profits in the classroom (Calarco
2011; Farkas 1996; Streib 2011), and those
profits result from teachers’ responses to par-
ticular behaviors (Mehan 1980; Tach and
Farkas 2006; Wren 1999).
1032American Sociological Review 79(5)
This study provides further evidence of
such patterns, showing that teachers reacted
differently to by-any-means and no-excuses
problem-solving, and those reactions had sig-
nificant consequences. During art class one
morning, the students were taking an assess-
ment that would determine part of their grade.
For the assessment, students had 15 minutes
to choose a print of a famous painting and
answer a series of questions about its mood,
tone, and style. During the assessment, Ted,
Melanie, Kelly, and Kal, all middle-class stu-
dents, raised their hands, and Ms. Cantore
circled around, answering their questions:
Melanie thrusts her hand high in the air,
twisting around in her seat to look for
Ms. Cantore. Spotting her, Melanie calls out
in a loud whisper: “Ms. Cantore!” Ms. Can-
tore, who was across the room, strides
quickly toward Melanie. As Ms. Cantore
approaches, Melanie explains: “I’m not sure
what to write for the mood part. Like, I
know the tone is light, but I’m not sure how
to describe the mood.” Ms. Cantore smiles,
asking: “Well what do you feel when you
look at all of those pastel colors?” Melanie
thinks for a moment, scrunching her fore-
head before asking: “Um . . . happy?” Ms.
Cantore nods vigorously, adding: “Now you
just need to think about other ways you can
tell this is a happy painting.” Melanie nods
confidently, saying: “Okay, got it!”
Meanwhile, Zach Campitello, a working-
class student, appeared to be struggling with
the assessment, but never asked for help:
Zach is sitting hunched over his paper, a
deep-set frown on his face. Zach glares at
the print for a long time before eventually
starting to write. When Ms. Cantore cir-
cles past, she notices that Zach has only
brief answers for each question. Ms. Can-
tore reaches down and taps Zach’s paper.
She explains quietly but firmly: “You
need to write more than one sentence for
each answer.” Zach nods, but does not
look up.
Ms. Cantore hesitated, as though she might
ask Zach if he needed help. Simultaneously,
however, Colin, a middle-class student, called
out for help, and Ms. Cantore went to assist
Zach lets out a harsh sigh. His face red with
frustration, Zach begins furiously erasing
everything he has written. With forceful
swipes of his hand, Zach then begins to
scatter eraser dust all over the table. As
Zach finishes erasing, Ms. Cantore calls out
to inform the class that they have five min-
utes left to work. Zach groans and begins
writing a longer answer to the first question.
When time is up, however, Zach has not
finished the other questions. Rather than
explain, he simply drops his assessment in
the box, submitting it incomplete.
As with Melanie, by-any-means problem-
solving prompted teachers to quickly recog-
nize students’ struggles and to respond with
immediate assistance. No-excuses approaches,
on the other hand, were harder for teachers to
diagnose, and thus prompted less frequent,
less immediate, and less complete support.
Those differences in teacher support, in turn,
generated stratified profits in the classroom.
Middle-class students like Melanie were able
to use the help they received to finish assign-
ments more quickly and more accurately.
Working-class students, on the other hand,
often took longer to finish assignments, did
them incorrectly, or, like Zach, never com-
pleted them at all.
Working-class students did sometimes over-
come challenges on their own (as with Amelia
in the rocket example), and they often took
pride in their do-it-yourself attitudes. In
Mr. Potter’s math class, for example, students
were working on a set of tricky word problems:
As Mr. Potter circles around, many of the
middle-class students call out to ask for help
with number 29. Mr. Potter eventually
decides to give a hint to the whole class
rather than help each student individually.
He announces: “If you’re stuck on 29, you
Calarco 1033
need to think about . . . ” Before Mr. Potter
can finish, Jared, an outgoing working-class
student, interrupts, calling out: “Wait! I
wanna try it first!” Mr. Potter smiles broadly
at Jared, nodding approvingly, and then
explains to the class: “If you get stuck on
29, skip it, and we’ll go over it together.”
Although it took him much longer than class-
mates who got help, Jared smiled proudly
when he eventually completed the assignment
on his own.
Other times, however, working-class stu-
dents failed to overcome problems on their
own, and those setbacks often left them dis-
couraged. Zach, for example, was clearly
struggling with the art assignment, but he did
not voice his needs. Instead, Zach tried to
work hard on his own. Eventually, though, the
frustration became too much to bear. In the
face of such setbacks, Zach chose to submit
his assessment incomplete. As a result, Zach
was one of only three students to receive an
“unsatisfactory” in art for the marking period.
Such patterns, in turn, provide further evi-
dence of the stratified profits that can result—
at least in the short-term—from students’
activation of class-based strategies of action.
While we know that social class differences
in children’s classroom behaviors contribute
to inequalities (Calarco 2011; Farkas 1996;
Streib 2011), existing research says little
about how children learn to activate class-
based strategies. Instead, and despite evi-
dence that parents actively manage children’s
lives (Edwards 2004; Lareau 2000; Nelson
2010) and that children actively resist par-
ents’ wishes (Chin and Phillips 2004; Pugh
2009), scholars tend to imply that children’s
habits are an implicit response to parents’
class-based childrearing styles (Heath 1983;
Lareau 2011). Thus, it is unclear how or why
parents coach class-based strategies, or how
children respond to those efforts. Existing
research often neglects to link class-based
cultural transmission to inequalities in chil-
dren’s lives, focusing on the advantages
parents generate for children (Brantlinger
2003; Cucchiara and Horvat 2008; Lareau
2011) and not on how parents teach children
to secure advantages for themselves.
Exploring these possibilities, I found that
middle- and working-class parents adopted
different approaches to interacting with edu-
cators and taught their children to do the
same. Specifically, middle-class parents
coached children to problem-solve “by-any-
means,” including seeking assistance from
teachers. Working-class parents instead
stressed a “no-excuses” approach to problem-
solving, teaching their children to manage
challenges on their own and to avoid pester-
ing teachers with requests. These lessons, in
turn, had important consequences for stu-
dents. While many children were initially
reluctant to heed parents’ instructions, their
reluctance prompted more active and ongoing
coaching from parents. Such efforts eventu-
ally led children to adopt class-based logics
of action and to use them in activating class-
based problem-solving strategies.
These findings are important in that they
highlight the agency in cultural transmission
processes. Scholars of cultural transmission
typically rely on top-down socialization mod-
els to explain similarities between parents and
children (Kohn 1969; Lareau 2011). Child-
hood scholars critique these models for being
overly deterministic (Corsaro 1994; Pugh
2009; Thorne 1993) but focus on children’s
peer groups and thus offer little evidence of
intergenerational exchange. By examining
how children acquire and activate class-based
strategies of action, I find that both children
and parents have more agency in cultural
transmission than class socialization models
imply. Parents, for example, worked to equip
their children with the skills and orientations
they believed were most appropriate. Further-
more, while children generally came to accept
their parents’ lessons, that process was far
from automatic. Rather, it took an ongoing
process of coaching, reluctance, and rein-
forcement to help children gradually acquire
the skills and orientations needed to manage
challenges in the “appropriate” (i.e., class-
based) way.
1034American Sociological Review 79(5)
Such findings also suggest that cultural
transmission plays a critical role in reproduc-
ing social inequalities. Research on cultural
transmission (e.g., Chin and Phillips 2004;
Edwards 2004; Lareau 2011) rarely shows the
payoff of parents’ class-based socialization.
Similarly, studies of classroom behavior show
that children’s activation of class-based strate-
gies of action generates unequal outcomes
(Calarco 2011; Farkas 1996; Streib 2011), but
say little about how children acquire or learn
to activate those strategies. This study bridges
these gaps by linking parents’ lessons to their
stratified profits in school. In doing so, I found
that middle-class children’s by-any-means
approach to problem-solving generated more
advantages than did working-class children’s
no-excuses approach. Specifically, teachers
tended to recognize middle-class students’
needs more quickly. They also provided
middle-class students with more attention and
assistance in overcoming challenges they
faced. As a result, middle-class students typi-
cally completed their assignments more
quickly and more accurately than did their
working-class peers (see also Calarco 2011).
Additional research is needed to under-
stand how the payoff of parents’ lessons
might vary across contexts and over time. In
college or in the workplace, for example,
individuals who use no-excuses problem-
solving might do better than those who are
used to having parents or teachers solve prob-
lems for them. In the short-term, however,
there are clear benefits to by-any-means problem-
solving. As research shows, help-seeking and
other non-cognitive skills are closely linked
to school achievement (Farkas 1996). Fur-
thermore, by attracting attention and support
from teachers, these strategies may also bol-
ster students’ sense of academic competence
and their attachment to school (Karabenick
1998; Stanton-Salazar 1997). By tracing these
profits to their origins, this study illuminates
the mechanisms of social reproduction, show-
ing how parents’ lessons contribute to aca-
demic inequalities.
In doing so, this research may also clarify
how social class influences childrearing. Cer-
tainly, there are many possible explanations
for parents’ class-stratified lessons. They may
stem, for example, from the values and beliefs
about success that parents acquire in their
work roles (Kohn 1969), or from parents’
familiarity with dominant institutions
(Bourdieu 1990; Lareau 2011). While more
research is needed to investigate these possi-
bilities, my observations and interviews sug-
gest that parents’ coaching efforts stem, at
least in part, from their positions in the status
Parents’ status positions shaped their rela-
tionships with the school and their comfort
interacting in those settings. Because of their
educational and occupational attainment,
middle-class parents saw themselves as
equally or more qualified than teachers to
make decisions about their children’s educa-
tion. That sense of expertise also compelled
middle-class parents to ensure their children’s
needs were met, leading them to be highly
involved at school and to demand accommo-
dations on their children’s behalf (Brantlinger
2003; Cucchiara and Horvat 2008; Lareau
2000). That involvement, in turn, gave
middle-class parents insider knowledge of
school procedures and personnel. They saw
first-hand (or learned through their networks)
that schooling had changed over time, and
they recognized that teachers were generally
willing to help and even “reward the asking.”
Middle-class parents used that knowledge in
teaching their children to solve problems “by-
any-means.” Working-class parents, on the
other hand, generally saw teachers as experts
who could be trusted to make decisions about
their children’s educational needs (Cucchiara
and Horvat 2008; Lareau 2000). That sense of
deference led working-class parents to be less
involved at school and to avoid speaking up,
even when they questioned teachers’ judg-
ments. That outsider status left working-class
parents less familiar with the contemporary
structure of schooling and led them to rely on
their own school experiences as a guide (e.g.,
recalling being reprimanded by teachers for
seeking help) when teaching their children a
no-excuses approach to problem-solving.
Taken together, these patterns suggest that
positions in the status hierarchy may
Calarco 1035
influence the logics of action that parents use
in determining what counts as “appropriate”
or beneficial behavior in school settings.
Tracing cultural transmission to its conse-
quences required years of observations cou-
pled with lengthy interviews triangulating key
patterns. Those in-depth methods, in turn, nec-
essarily involved tradeoffs (Hammersley and
Atkinson 1995). It would have been interest-
ing, for example, to examine how race and
ethnicity contribute to within-class variations
in cultural transmission and their consequences
for inequalities. Maplewood, however, had
few African American students, and the other
minority groups (Asian American and Latino)
were divided along social class lines. Thus,
with reluctance, I focused only on whites.
Given these limitations, I can only speculate
about similar cultural transmission processes
in minority families. While some scholars
show that class-based parenting patterns per-
sist across racial and ethnic lines (Lareau
2011), others find important cultural differ-
ences between African American and white
parents from similar class backgrounds (Dia-
mond 1999). Given evidence of broader cul-
tural differences in help-seeking (Mojaverian
and Kim 2013), parents’ lessons about manag-
ing problems at school might vary with fami-
lies’ race, ethnicity, or immigrant status. Thus,
future research should explore how class-based
cultures are transmitted in other settings.
Social class differences in children’s behav-
iors have real consequences for their opportu-
nities and outcomes (Calarco 2011; Farkas
1996; Streib 2011). Yet, because scholars
typically treat class-based socialization as an
automatic process (Arnett 1995; Heath 1983;
Lareau 2011), it is less clear how children
learn to behave in class-based ways or how
lessons learned at home reproduce inequali-
ties. Through observations and interviews
with middle- and working-class children,
their parents, and their teachers, I describe the
active processes by which class-based cul-
tures are transmitted across generations, and I
show how these processes contribute to social
reproduction. First, I link parents’ beliefs
about schooling to their cultural coaching
efforts, describing how parents’ beliefs reflect
their status in relationship to the school. Sec-
ond, I link parents’ coaching efforts to chil-
dren’s activation of class-based behaviors,
demonstrating that children use what they
learn at home to manage problems in school.
Finally, I link this activation process to its
payoff in school, explaining how teachers’
responses to children’s problem-solving strat-
egies affect their opportunities for support
and success. By showing how each mecha-
nism varies along social class lines, this study
clarifies the origins of children’s class-based
behaviors and highlights the active processes
by which parents and children together repro-
duce inequalities.
A previous version of this manuscript was presented at
the 2012 meeting of the American Sociological Associa-
tion. I am deeply grateful to Annette Lareau, Brian Pow-
ell, Melissa Wilde, Elizabeth Lee, Laura Napolitano,
Weihua An, Steve Benard, Youngjoo Cha, Jennifer C.
Lee, and Cate Taylor for their feedback on various drafts,
as well as to the editors and anonymous reviewers for
their thoughtful recommendations.
The research reported here was supported by the Depart-
ment of Sociology at the University of Pennsylvania, by the
Gertrude and Otto Pollack Fellowship, and by the Institute
of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education,
through Grant R305C050041-05 to the University of Penn-
sylvania. The opinions expressed are those of the author
and do not represent views of any supporting agencies.
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Jessica McCrory Calarco is an Assistant Professor of
sociology at Indiana University-Bloomington. Her inter-
ests are in the areas of social inequality, social interac-
tion, education, family, social class, children, and youth.
Her research is primarily ethnographic and explores how
culture and social interactions contribute to inequalities
in children’s experiences and outcomes.
Copyright of American Sociological Review is the property of Sage Publications Inc. and its
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