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Deprived children : an ethnographic study of identity through the schooling process Mason, Graham Archdale

Abstract

The problems faced by schools with respect to the education of low-income children have been with us for many years. Basic to the education of these children are the problems arising from the socioeconomic environment in which they subsist. Despite widespread concern and proliferation of literature pertaining to low-income children in school their relative position among school children has not changed appreciably. Thus even though we have developed a sophisticated repertoire of characteristics concerning the qualities of low-income populations, and particularly the educational deprivation experienced by children from such homes, educators have exhibited inability to make up this social deficit through schooling. This even though "significant" changes have been effected in school policies from the testimonials of "experts". The initial perspective of this study was that it might be more useful to find out how the child in th8 context of the school perceived the educational process. Thus the purpose of the study became to determine how deprived children interpret their school experiences. An inner-city school was selected for the indepth study following the declaration by the school administration that a disproportionate number of its children were from low socio-economic origins. This is the group generally acknowledged as being deprived--a definition from the social class origin of the child which forms an important educational category in school. All the children in the school were classified by the teachers as to being: non-deprived; partially deprived; or severely deprived. This provided a delimitation of the larger school population as the researcher was not concerned with non-deprived children. During the first three months of the inquiry the researcher sought to elicit the concerns of the children relating to their perceptions of schooling. The major domain isolated from the children was the pervasive feeling of "failure". Failure has deep-rooted consequences for identity and the sources of the generation of this feeling were sought. From further ethnographic investigation it was determined that the identification of students as failures was from three major school policies. These categories mere: "repeating a grade," "ability grouping," and "differential treatment". The final three months of the study involved interviews with all grades 3, 5 and 7 children classified by the teachers as being deprived. The selection of these grade levels enabled a further delimitation of the population and involved some 79 children. The interview data relating to the intra-school policies isolated were analyzed by utilizing three analytical constructs: self concept; self and others’ interaction; and self and school performance. The data are analyzed in terms of the child's perception of his self in the role of student. This is derived from the child's perception of other students in their roles and his position relative to others and how he is treated by them, and by teachers. Finally the material is analyzed according to the feelings the child has developed toward his ability in school work. The three intra-school policies were found to be central determinants of student identity as perceived by the children. The policies served to separate and "label" children and acted as important evaluative criteria for the child and for others. Thus the ascription as a "grade repeater", a "low ability group" member, or as one in need of "special" treatment served to reinforce feelings of being a failure. For low-income children entering the school system the social category, "deprived," becomes an ascription pertaining to the individual's educability; and frequently, by the segregative effect of the treatment the child receives, "deprived" becomes a sign and reinforcement of the individual's personal failure in school.

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