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?The cultural deprivation theory argues that many working class and black children do not acquire the basic values, attitudes and skills needed for educational success through primary socialisation in the family. Many cultural deprivation theorists claim that working-class families inadequately socialise their children and therefore their children are ‘culturally deprived’. There are three main aspects to cultural deprivation, one of them being intellectual development.

This refers to the child’s development of thinking and reasoning skills allowing them to solve problems and use ideas and concepts. Cultural deprivation theorists would argue that many working class homes lack the resources, such as books and educational toys, needed to stimulate a child’s intellectual development that would enable them to progress more quickly once the child has started school as they already have a prior knowledge and understanding. J. W.

B Douglas (1964) says that working class parents are less likely to support their children’s intellectual development through reading with them or other educational activities in the home after he conducted a study that found working class pupils to score lower on tests of ability than middle class pupils. Basil Bernstein and Douglas Young came to a similar conclusion and suggested that middle class mothers are more likely to choose toys that encourage the thinking and reasoning skills that’d prepare their children for school.

However, sociologists such as Bernstein and Young have not considered the fact that working class mothers may not have such choice in toys and books that’d be educationally beneficial for their children due to their financial state which would suggest that it is material deprivation that is more important here. Secondly, Carl Bereiter and Siegfried Engelmann (1966) highlighted the importance of language for educational achievement claiming that the language used in lower class homes is deficient.

Basil Bernstein also identified differences between the language influencing achievement used by working class and middle class families. He distinguishes between two types of speech code: restricted code used by the working class and the elaborated code typically used by the middle class. He argues that the differences in speech code give middle class children an advantage at school because this is the type of language used and encouraged by the education system through teaching, textbooks and exams. However, this theory is rejected by sociologists such as Barry Troyna and Jenny Williams

(1986) who say that the problem is not the language used by the children but the school’s attitude towards it. Similarly, Nell Keddie (1973) describes cultural deprivation as a ‘myth’ and sees it as a victim-blaming explanation, she argues that a child cannot be deprived of their own culture – they are culturally different not culturally deprived and they fail due to dismissal from an education system dominated by middle class values. The third aspect to cultural deprivation is the argument that the parents’ attitudes and values are a key factor affecting education achievement.

Leon Feinstein (1998) found that working class parents’ lack of interest was the main reason for education underachievement and was more important than material or internal factors. He suggests that middle class children are more successful due to their parents providing them with the necessary motivation, discipline and support. Likewise, J. W. B Douglas’ study ‘The Home and the School’ said that working class failure is due to a lack of parental interest and stimulation in the home.

He found that working class parents visited the school less often and were less likely to discuss their children’s progress with teachers resulting in their children’s decreased levels of achievement motivation. Although this view has been critiqued by Tessa Blackstone and Jo Mortimore (1994) who say the parents visit school less often and attend fewer parents evenings is due to longer or irregular work hours or are put off by the school’s middle class atmosphere not because of a lack of interest in their child’s educational progress.

Some sociologists argue that parental disinterest in their children’s education reflects the subcultural values of the working class; they say that large groups of the working class have different goals, beliefs and values from the rest of society and this is the reason for their children’s educational failure. Barry Sugarman (1970) says that working class subculture has four key features that act as a barrier to educational achievement: Fatalism, Collectivism, Immediate gratification and Present-time gratification.

Working class children internalise these beliefs and values of their subculture through the socialisation process and this results in their underachievement. Sugarman suggests these values exist due to working-class jobs being less secure and have no career structure to enable individuals to advance. Many sociologists disagree with the view that cultural deprivation is the main reason for education underachievement.

Peter Mortimore and Geoff Whitty (1997) argue that material deprivation has a much greater effect on achievement than internal factors however although it is clear that material factors play a part in educational achievement, due to the success of some children from poor families we can see that material deprivation is only part of the explanation. The cultural, religious or political values of the family are a strong part of sustaining a child’s motivation regardless of the child’s social class; similarly internal factors such as the quality of the school allow children from poorer backgrounds to gain educational success.


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