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Making Class: Children’s Perceptions of Social Class Through Illustrations

by Adam Howard, Katy Swalwell & Karlyn Adler - 2018

Background/Context: Though there has been attention to how class differences impact children’s experiences in schools and how young people perceive racial and gender differences, very little research to date has examined how young people make sense of social class differences.

Purpose: In this article, the authors examine young children’s conceptualizations of differences between the rich and the poor to better understand children’s process of classmaking.

Research Design: To access young children’s ideas about social class, the authors examined kindergartners’, third graders’, and sixth graders’ (nN = 133) drawings depicting differences between rich and poor people and their corresponding explanations of their drawings. These children attended two schools, one public serving a majority working- class population, and one private serving a majority affluent population.

Findings/Results: Children understand social class to be inclusive emotions, social distinctions, and social status. Children’s drawings and explanations show that perpetuated ideology-justifying status quo of poverty and economic inequality. Children have complex sociocultural insights into how social class operates that manifest themselves through four domains: material, intersectional, emotional, and spatial.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Educators should provide more opportunities for teaching about social class, and can do so in ways that engages students in processes of classmaking that do not reinforce stereotypes and that interrupts inequality.

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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 7, 2018, p. 1-44
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22130, Date Accessed: 7/24/2021 9:14:29 AM

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About the Author
  • Adam Howard
    Colby College
    E-mail Author
    ADAM HOWARD, Ed.D., is professor of education and director of education at Colby College. His research interests include social class issues in education, privilege, identity development of affluent youth, and elite education. He is author of Learning Privilege: Lessons of Power and Identity in Affluent Schooling and co-author (with 23 of his undergraduate students) of Negotiating Privilege and Identity in Educational Contexts.
  • Katy Swalwell
    Iowa State University
    E-mail Author
    KATY SWALWELL is an assistant professor of education and team lead for the Elementary Education Program at Iowa State University. Her research focuses on how social studies education can serve as a tool for social justice with a focus on economic inequality and racism. She is author of Educating Activist Allies: Social Justice Pedagogy with the Suburban and Urban Elite
  • Karlyn Adler
    The School at Columbia University
    E-mail Author
    KARLYN ADLER is a lead kindergarten teacher at The School at Columbia University. She earned a bachelor of arts at Colby College and masters of arts at Teachers College, Columbia University.
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