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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.

Despite record levels of widening economic inequality in recent years (Saez & Zucman, 2014), adults in the United States tend to vastly underestimate current distributions of wealth (Norton & Ariely, 2011). This may be due to the fact that [social] class is not a central category of cultural discourse in America (Ortner, 1991, p. 169), a topical aversion that has led to an underdeveloped vocabulary for making sense of social class in relation to many Americans lived experiences (Rosenblum & Travis, 2003). Amid this misinformation and discomfort, dangerous stereotypes proliferate (in schools and beyond) that blame the poor for their poverty, credit wealthy peoples intelligence and hard work for their class positions, and ignore the influence of structural forces that impact the distribution of resources (Bomer, Dworin, May, & Semingson, 2008; Gorski, 2006, 2015; Ng & Rury, 2006). Such beliefs have real-world consequences for policy making and interpersonal interactions that exacerbate inequality (Bullock, 2008; Chafel, 1997; Cozzarelli, Wilkinson, & Tagler, 2001; Gorski, 2012; Leahy, 1983; Lott, 2002; Smith & Stone, 1989). For example, negative stereotypes about people living in poverty can impact their academic performance and abilities to successfully perform cognitive tasks (Beilock, Rydell, & McConnell, 2007; Croizet & Claire, 1998; Steele, 1997).

One way to better understand adults discomfort with and misinformation and stereotyping about social class is to explore how young people think about it. Examining childrens perceptions helps to document the formation of these beliefs at young ages and to identify possible opportunities to disrupt them. Although decades of research has documented how childrens socioeconomic status impacts their educational experiences, relationships, and identities in profound ways (e.g., Anyon, 1980, 1981; Calarco, 2011; Lareau, 2011), and scholars have examined childrens awareness of group differences related to other social categories like gender and race, very little research has explored how young people make sense of differences related to social class.

Social class is a complex and ambiguous concept that even well-established social scientists find difficult to define (Brantlinger, 2003). This complexity has led to a lack of consensus with regard to its meaning (Lareau, 2008) and even sparked debates about its relevance (Clark & Lipset, 1991; Van Galen & Noblit, 2007). For the purposes of this article, social class is framed as what Bourdieu (1987) called a social space, a set of relationships . . . which constitute a space of positions external to one another and defined by their relative distance to one another (p. 3). Rather than rely on a limited set of fixed and stable a priori characteristics, like income level or parents education, this conception of social class is fundamentally relational and given shape by the distribution of properties capable of conferring strength, power and consequently profit on their holder (Bourdieu, 1987, p. 4). Social class, then, is something embodied and enacted in response to intrinsic and relational conditions unique to historical moments and places (Howard, 2008).

In the real world, this phenomenon is better described as an active verb rather than a noun: classmaking. As a person experiences a particular class condition in social space, it imprints upon him or her a particular set of dispositionswhat Bourdieu calls habitus (Weininger, 2005). As individuals express habitus, they (re)produce symbolic boundaries that define class structures. These generative schemes are what enable people to make sense of their specific situation and to take actions and make choices within it. These schemes can be detected through a qualitative study of the various preferences and practices that tend to cluster in each sector of social space (Weininger, 2005, p. 93). Bourdieu, for example, highlighted how these schemes manifest themselves in consumption practices and aesthetic sensibilities (e.g., what music people listen to, what people wear, what people drink). Even through seemingly natural or trivial actions and preferences, people use these distinctions to constantly symbolize both their similarity to and difference from one anotherwhat Bourdieu called classification struggles.

These different classifications of lifestyles are not simply distinct but rather stand in hierarchical relation to one another. People operating within these symbolic boundaries that define class structures are very unequally armed in the fight to impose their truth, and have very different, and even opposed aims (Bourdieu, 1987, p. 11). Some classifications have more legitimacy and offer greater access to resources than otherswhat Bourdieu (1987) called the aces in a game of cards (p. 4). As such, they are the foundation of perpetual struggle (Weininger, 2005, p. 137) as people jockey to legitimize their positions or shift to others they perceive to be better. In other words, people continually make themselves and are made by their positions relative to each other in a complex web of material, social, and symbolic power that is variable over time and infused with differential power, which makes recognition quite easy for some and near impossible for others (Weininger, 2005). Even though they are bound and constrained by their constitutive axes, these are not permanent positions as the contours of the social classes . . . are undeniably porous (Weininger, 2005, p. 144).  To track these fluctuating contours, one must thus conceptualize the social world as a multi-dimensional space that can be constructed empirically by discovering the main factors of differentiation which account for the differences observed (Bourdieu, 1987, p. 3). Research can assist this process by uncovering these factors and tracing the process by which people learn about and enact their class positions.

For young people, this ongoing struggle of classmaking is a social process that takes place both in and outside of schools. How they think about their class positions represents socialized knowledge that is filtered through the images, dispositions, and myths that accrue from such sources as families, peers, and the media (Brantlinger, 1993, p. 4). They do not enter any school context as blank slates but as individuals who are already invested in their thoughts, beliefs, and desires (Kumashiro, 2002, p. 73), but with socialized senses of self that continuously influence how they think, act, and know. Although the meanings young people attach to their world views are very often molded to fit (and justify) the views of their home lives, these understandings are neither imposed nor stable (Bourdieu, 1977; M. Young, 2008; R. Young, 1990). Young peoples thinking is constantly being shaped and reshaped by the complex interactions of their everyday realities and lived experiencesnot only in the home context but also in other contexts. In school, for example, students receive important messages about themselves and the world around them through multiple sources: the formal and informal curriculum, rituals, organizational structures, and institutional rules (e.g., Eckert, 1989; Howard, 2008; McLaren, 1986). This process of socialization, of course, includes dimensions related to social class positions.

Although there exists some research literature on adolescents and adults understandings about social class (e.g., Brantlinger, 1993, 2003; Howard, 2008, 2010; Howard, Polimeno, & Wheeler, 2014; Mistry, Brown, Chow & Collins, 2012; Stuber, 2010; Swalwell, 2013a, 2013b; Woods, Kurtz-Costes, & Rowley, 2005), rarely have young childrens views been studied in the United States. One possibility for this dearth of research is the idea that childrens immature levels of cognitive development prevent them from understanding a complicated concept like social class (Short, 1988, 1991). Though limited and mostly dated, there is, however, research to suggest that young children are able to distinguish between different social class groups and do have some awareness of social class inequalities in the larger society as well as their own social class positions (e.g., Johnson & Hagerman, 2006; Naimark & Shaver, 1982; Stendler, 1949). Studies suggest that children as young as 6 make judgments about others socioeconomic status based on physical appearance (Naimark, 1983) and that preschoolers notice and identify concrete attributes relating to poverty and wealth (Ramsey, 1991).

For example, Weinger (2000) found that middle-income and low-income children between the ages of 5 and 14 perceived pictures of differently valued homes in distinct ways and that their assumptions about who lived there influenced their friendship decisions. Middle-income children valorized middle-class life and could only imagine befriending a poor child out of pity, whereas low-income children had much more complex understandings of the causes of poverty and questioned whether a cross-class friendship was realistic, all the while idealizing a middle-class lifestyle. In a more recent study utilizing developmental intergroup theory, Mistry Brown, White, Chow, and GillenO’Neel (2015) used interviews and surveys with 10- to 12-year-olds to find that students relied primarily on their understanding of their families’ purchasing power to identify their socioeconomic status (as determined by parents income and education levels) and overidentified as middle class. They also found children using descriptive phrases and words (e.g., definitions and references to famous people), perpetually salient characteristics (e.g., material possessions and occupations), and inferred characteristics (e.g., affective terms about quality of life) when orally describing what constitutes poor, middle class, and rich, relying on extreme examples for the poor and rich. While all students expressed negative views of the poor, the children who self-identified with the lowest socioeconomic position expressed the most negative views.

There are also studies examining youth perceptions of class in countries other than the United States. These are primarily focused on how young people think about their own poverty. For example, Camfield (2012) found that the perceptions of Ethiopian children 14 and 15 years old include taking into account peoples clothing and appearances. Faulkner (2012) examined how Haitian children living in the Cité Soleil slum make sense of their impoverished conditions by denouncing their conditions and expressing fearlessness, compassion, and altruism that center their obligations to their families and communities. And Olson, Shutts, Kinzler, and Weisman (2012) found that South African children aged 3 to 10 showed an awareness of de facto racial hierarchies and their relation to class by mapping wealth differences onto racial groups.

There is also research rooted in psychological and cognitive science traditions showing evidence that children as young as 1 year have an inequality aversion and a preference for equally allocated resources (Geraci & Surian, 2011; Shaw, DeScioli, & Olson, 2012; Sloane, Baillargeon, & Premack, 2012), as demonstrated by their allocation behaviors, such as sharing toys or food, that tend to be based on principles of fairness and equality (Chernyak & Sobel, 2016; Fehr, Bernhard, & Rockenbach, 2008; LoBue, Nishida, Chiong, DeLoache, & Haidt, 2011; Olson & Spelke, 2008; Shaw & Olson, 2012). Li, Spitzer, and Olsons (2014) work, for example, found that children explicitly prefer to share resources with the disadvantaged but also prefer to affiliate with the advantaged and allocated resources to them when they lost conscious awareness of the inequality that existed.

Childrens understandings of differences in social class status seem to become more detailed and developmentally advanced with age (e.g., Leahy 1981, 1983). As they grow older, children seem to become more accepting of the extremes in economic inequality as natural in society (Stacey, 1987, p. 22), increasingly explain class inequality in terms of personal rather than structural factors (Leahy, 1983, 1990), and speak in ways that rationalize this inequality as inevitable and just (Chafel, 1997; Leahy, 1990). Overall, there is consensus that childrens ideas about social class become more complex and differentiated over time, with increasingly negative stereotypes attached to poverty (Chafel, 1995). This body of research suggests that, with increasing age, childrens beliefs about class inequality conform to societal ideology (Chafel & Neitzel, 2005) as children are socialized to accept the existing order (Furnham & Stacey, 1991).

Although the research on childrens perceptions of socioeconomic difference and preferences for resource allocation has generated consensus about the ways young children notice social class, the majority of this research occurred over 20 years agoand nearly all of it before the Great Recession of 2008. Do these patterns hold true regardless of shifting economic circumstances? In addition, this research has primarily used psychological and developmental perspectives to document what differences exist. How might applying a sociological lens help theorize what childrens preferences and perceptions reveal about the process of classmaking? What can the perceptions of children from a variety of backgrounds tell us about how class itself is constituted? And what does this mean for what children should explicitly learn about this subject matter?

To answer these questions, this study explores how students from elementary schools at different grade levels (i.e., kindergarten, third grade, and sixth grade) and from differently resourced schools (i.e., a high-income and low-income school) conceptualize rich and poor. It examines how they construct class through illustrations and what differences exist among these constructions across age, income level, and gender. In sum, the research trends documenting the class distinctions that young children make and their negative stereotypes about the poor seem to have remained quite durable despite the disruption of the Great Recession. However, when analyzed using a Bourdieusian sociological lens, childrens drawings reveal a more complex insight into the dynamics of classmaking in that they refer to at least four domains in which class identity is constructed: material, intersectional, emotional, and spatial. Interestingly, students drawings helped to illuminate the complexity and nuance of these four categories better than methods previously employed (i.e., surveys and interviews). Last, the article concludes with implications for possible interventions aimed at equipping young people with the tools for understanding class, being comfortable with explicitly attending to class as an important dimension of their identities, and engaging in meaningful deliberations about economic inequality as adults.




The study involved 133 children of mostly high-income and low-income family backgrounds between the ages of 5 and 10 who attended two schools located in Crestview (a pseudonym, as are all names of people and places in this article). Class bifurcation is evident in the residential life of this small, rural northeastern town, with low-income primarily living in the south and north edges and high-income people in the center. In this article, low-income is used to represent the nearly 23% of Crestview residents living below the federal poverty line, and another nearly 25% of working families earning less than twice the federal poverty line. High-income is used to represent the 19% of families whose annual household incomes place them in the top 20% economically in the United States. Though most elementary, middle, and high schools have similar class heterogeneous enrollments, the majority of students at the two private elementary schools come from high-income families. This study involved students attending one of these private schools, Seaton Academy, and a public school, Foss Elementary, which has the highest enrollment of low-income students in Crestview (see Table 1).

Table 1. Participant Demographics





Private Kinder-garden


3rd Grade


3rd Grade

Public 6th Grade

Private 6th Grade



















































Asian American

















Free/Reduced Lunch (Public School)








Tuition Assistance (Private School)

























Seaton Academy is a private Catholic coeducational school for students in kindergarten through sixth grade and considered the most prestigious elementary school in Crestview. Located in a state identified as one of the least religious in the United States (Pew Research Center, 2015), families chose Seaton, as the principal explained, mostly for our reputation and academic excellence and not our religious affiliation.1 The school enrolls approximately 158 students, of whom approximately 8% are students of color (i.e., 5% Asian American, > 2% Latino/a, and > 2% African American), 56% are female, and 10% receive need-based tuition assistance.2 Of the 61 students at Seaton who participated in this study, 18% received tuition assistance; all are White except one student who is Asian American; and 54% are female. Like the vast majority of Seaton students (71%), the participants are primarily from high-income families with characteristics of those whom Anyon (1981) classified as members of the affluent professional class.

Foss Elementary is a public school for students in kindergarten through third grade. The school enrolls approximately 611 students, of whom 7% are students of color (i.e., 2% African American, 3% Latino/a, and 2% Asian American), 51% are female, and 66.5% are eligible for free or reduced lunches. Of the 72 Foss students who participated in this study, 71% are eligible for free or reduced lunches; 91.6% are White; and 54% are female. The participants come primarily from low-income families with characteristics of those whom Anyon (1981) classified as working-class.


The data reported in this article were generated from kindergartners drawings of the differences between rich and poor people, third graders drawings of the differences between wealthy and poor people, sixth graders drawings of the differences between upper-class and lower-class people, and observational notes. Two members of the research team met with 1013 students at the same grade level during school hours.3 For each gathering, one teacher was present but did not interact with the students. Students at different grade levels were provided slightly different prompts for their drawings (see Table 2). These were developed by the researchers in consultation with participants teachers in order to ask developmentally appropriate questions and to encourage children to illustrate different social and cultural dimensions of social class. In other words, it was the intent of the researchers to avoid asking the kinds of questions that would lead children to discuss only dimensions of social class related to economic factors. Therefore, the questions were developed to be as open-ended as possible.

Table 2. Drawing Prompts and Questions




Third Grade

Sixth Grade

Questions Before Activity

" Do you know what the words poor and rich mean?

" What is one thing you know about poor people?

" What is one thing you know about rich people?

" Do you know other words that could be used to describe poor and rich people?

Drawing Prompts

" On one side of the paper, draw what you think a rich person looks like?

" On the other side of the paper, draw what you think a poor person looks like?

" Please draw a line down the middle of the paper.

" On one side of the paper, draw what you think a wealthy person looks like?

" On the other side of the paper, draw what you think a poor person looks like?

" Please draw a line down the middle of the paper.

" On one side of the paper, draw what you think an upper-class person looks like?

" On the other side of the paper, draw what you think a lower-class person looks like?

Questions During Activity

" Could you tell me something about your drawings?

" What does [a specific part of the childs drawing] mean?

" Why are you drawing [a specific part of the childs drawing]?

" If a student makes a change that researcher notices, then the student is asked: Why did you make that change?

Two researchers also facilitated a general discussion about social class with all participants before leading the activity for the purpose of determining what terms would be most appropriate to use in eliciting their understandings of social class differences and beginning to establish rapport with the children. The researchers began the discussion by explaining what the children would be doing during the activity and then asking the entire class four questions about their understandings of the words poor and rich (see Table 2). For each question, researchers allowed two children to provide answers. Although the discussion, and especially the ideas the children shared, likely influenced their understandings (e.g., Coates & Coates, 2006; Gentle, 1985), the questions were focused on their knowledge of rich and poor. The researchers avoided establishing a relationship between the words or defining the words for the children.4 From information gathered during these prestudy discussions and from the classroom teachers, the researchers decided to use the terms rich and poor with the kindergarten students, wealthy and poor with the third-grade students, and upper-class and lower-class with the sixth-grade students in the prompts for the drawing.

Specifically, one of the two researchers present during the activity asked third- and sixth-grade participants to draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper; kindergarten participants were given a sheet of paper with a vertical line down the middle.5 All students were then asked to draw a person representing a rich, wealthy, or upper-class person on one half of the paper and a poor or lower-class person on the other side. The researchers discovered in the prestudy discussions that the sixth graders identified additional social class groups (e.g., middle class) and different levels of lower and upper classes, but the vast majority of the third-grade students and all the kindergarten students did not. Although the prompts for the dichotomy drawing did not fully account for the social class spectrum, the researchers used comparable prompts to explore more fully the comparisons among the groups.

Hall (1997) argued that research using visual images is bound to be interpretative because there is no single or correct answer to the question What does this image mean? or What is this image saying? (p. 9). Similar to other research (e.g., Ring, 2006), the validity of the meaning of the drawings was strengthened within this study by the second researcher taking observational notes to document what the participants said about their drawings and to each other as they created the drawings. This researcher also recorded childrens responses to questions posed by the other researcher (see Table 2). Guided by the belief that the childrens descriptions alongside their images make the drawings more analytically intelligible (Collier, 2001, p. 38) and enhance understanding (Prosser, 1998), the researchers asked the children questions to solicit their thinking and recorded their responses and other statements as they created their drawings. Because the children were doing the activity alongside their classmates and sharing their thinking with the researchers, and unavoidably their peers, the children were likely influenced by their peers during the activity. When children made changes to their drawings, they were asked to explain their reasons for making those changes. Researchers documented their responses and all communication (verbal and nonverbal) between participants.


The exchanges with participants before and during the activity were recorded and transcribed. Analysis began with all seven members of the research team collectively constructing descriptive summaries of the drawings. These summaries included descriptions of the figures physical features, gender and racial identity represented in the figures, clothing, background environment, color choices, material possessions, activities represented, words used, and all other content of the drawings. Participants responses to questions before and during the activity were also included to augment and, whenever possible, support the researchers descriptive summaries. To reduce biases during the construction of the descriptive summaries, the researchers did not have access to the childrens names, genders, or where they attended school. Moreover, when content was indecipherable (which occurred in the drawings of two kindergartners and one third grader), the researchers excluded this content from the descriptions. The researchers reached 100% agreement in what was included in these summaries.

Initial coding entailed two researchers independently reading and rereading descriptive summaries of the drawings for one grade level. Recognizing that a researchers level of involvement with participants impacts and filters how the researcher interprets and codes the data (Adler & Adler, 1987), the two researchers were not involved in collecting the data that they coded. The primary researcher, Howard, who did not gather data from the participants, also independently read all descriptive summaries. Using a semi-open coding strategy (Gaztambide-Fernández, 2009), the content of the drawings related to definitions of social class, the social and cultural dimensions of social class, class markers, and representations of different classes was closely examined. Through the process of coding, the researchers identified additional areas to be examined for the next phase of coding (e.g., ability, health, and gender). After completing initial coding, the two researchers came together to develop a list of codes. The primary researcher developed a list of codes for all grade levels. Each member of the research team also wrote an analytic memo based on reflections and thinking processes about the data (Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña, 2014).

The entire research team reconvened to plan for the next phase of coding. Researchers reviewed the lists of codes and discussed the analytic memos to develop a focused coding strategy for identifying recurrent themes within and across the grade levels and to streamline what could otherwise be an unwieldy list of codes (Miles et al., 2014). Through this process, researchers primarily collapsed codes to reduce overlap and redundancy and to keep analysis focused on the childrens understandings of social class. Researchers once again independently read and coded the descriptive summaries based on common codes (see the appendix for sample coding of these descriptive summaries). After completing coding, the two researchers for each grade level and the primary researcher met to review intercoder judgments and to resolve any disagreements for the purpose of ensuring reliability. There was at least 90% intercoder agreement in assigning a given code.

The entire research team reconvened once again to explore whether and how different pieces of data came together and illuminated one another in the overlaps between various codes and groups and subgroups of codes, a process intended to generate increasingly complex and more complete explanations of how individuals make meaning (Gaztambide-Fernández, 2009, p. 238). Through the process of identifying overlaps and then collapsing codes, primary themes within and across the grade levels were identified.


Consistent with other studies on childrens perceptions of social class (e.g., Ramsey, 1991), the childrens drawings reflected a higher level of knowledge about class divisions in society with advanced age. More specifically, older children illustrated their perceptions with more detail, content, and images. However, children at all levels demonstrated that they have formed some level of awareness about class inequality, as evidenced through their drawings. At all levels, childrens understandings reflected stereotypical conceptions of different social class groups and the extremes of social class stratification. For all three age groups, students drawings of people living in poverty were physically smaller and had less color than their drawings of wealthy people. These drawings also included people with unhappy facial expressions who were often located in rainy or snowy weather. In contrast, the figures that represented wealthy people were drawn with bright colors and more detail. They also emphasized material possessions and often were drawn wearing business or formal attire.

Although differences were expected between Foss and Seaton students, given the social class differences, there were only minor differences in their understandings within each grade level.6 The children at both schools demonstrated through their drawings that they not only were aware of social class but also had formed clear perceptions of differences between social class groups. Unsurprisingly, material possessions and money play a pronounced role in childrens conceptualizations of social class across the grade levels. Unexpectedly, themes of emotions, social distinctions, and social status also emerged from the childrens illustrations, though particular themes figured more prominently in the drawings than other ones at each grade level.


Kindergartners highlighted stark differences between poor and rich people through their drawings and mainly relied on extremes in economic inequality and emotional states to establish these differences. In their depictions of social class differences, the kindergartners used symbols of money, possessions, and the color green to represent economic disparities between the two figures.7 Unsurprisingly, they associated rich with higher monetary means than the poor. More specifically, 35 of the kindergartners used the color green or a symbol of money to establish the primary differences between rich and poor. In Figure 1, for example, the female student illustrated these distinctions with 11 and 2 green dollar bills swirling around the figure representing rich and provided the poor with only a couple of coins and one green bill. This emphasis on economic disparities is evident throughout most students drawings. Even though 22 students did not emphasize money in their drawings, 16 of these students drew symbols of money and/or used the color green in establishing the differences between rich and poor. Therefore, all except 6 students used economic disparities as a primary or secondary theme in representing social class differences.

Figure 1. Drawing by Kindergartner of Social Class Differences


Figure 2. Drawing by Kindergartner of Social Class Differences


Students also tended to use more detail and a greater variety of colors in their depictions of the rich in order to represent the rich as happier and experiencing more positive emotions than the poor. For example, in Figure 2, a male student illustrated the rich as a smiling pirate holding a sword with different colors, whereas in his drawing of a poor person, he only used the color brown to draw a frowning stick figure. When a researcher asked the child to explain his drawing, he simply said, This [rich person] likes more fun [than] this [poor person]. Pirates are happy and this [poor person] is sad. He doesnt have a sword. He associated a possession (in this case, a sword) with social class status and happiness. In so doing, he established relationships between rich and happiness, and poor and sadness. As with 42 other students, this child also spent more time drawing the rich figure than he devoted to his drawing of the poor person because, as he explained, drawing the pirate is more fun [because] pirates are more fun. In fact, when researchers asked children about their drawings, nearly half reported that they enjoyed representing the rich more than the poor. As a female child explained, Its good to draw [the rich person] and not [as good] for [the poor person].

The kindergartners often associated positive emotions with the rich figure and negative ones with the poor figure. More specifically, 46 children illustrated the rich person as smiling, and 35 drew the poor person frowning. Four of these children initially represented both figures as happy but eventually changed the figure depicting the poor person to establish a difference in the emotional states between the figures. In Figure 3, for example, a female child initially drew the figure representing poor as a girl smiling with no money, but then she changed her mind. She drew over the smile to make it a frown. When asked why she made this changed, she explained, It didnt look right. Shes sad, not happy. A male student who similarly changed his drawing representing the poor person added, You cant be happy if you [dont have] any money. It doesnt look right for [poor people] to be happy. First time I messed up on [my drawing of the poor person]. He cant smile. Hes sad.   

Figure 3. Drawing by Kindergartner of Social Class Differences


Figure 4. Drawing by Kindergartner of Social Class Differences


Most of the kindergartners (56%) established an implicit relationship between the emotional states of the poor person and rich person; that is, the emotional state of the rich person differed from that of the poor person in some way.8 However, 14 children made this relationship explicit; that is, the happiness of the rich person was directly connected to the sadness of the poor person. In Figure 4, for example, the child represented the rich person as a happy queen wearing sunglasses and a bright yellow shirt giving money to the poor person. The student drew a large house behind the figure representing the rich person and currency at the figures feet with the description Im queen. [Give him money]. The child drew arrows from the rich person to the poor person to represent the rich person giving money to the poor person. Although the figure representing the rich person is clearly smiling, the emotional expression of the figure depicting the poor person is, to a certain extent, ambiguous, neither smiling nor frowning. When asked about the emotional state of the poor person, the child explained, She was sad, but shes getting money so now shes not sad anymore. After a researcher asked if that meant the poor person was happy, the child responded, No, not . . . shes not happy or sad. Shes somewhere in the middle. Although the child indicated an influence that the rich person had on the poor persons emotions through their interaction, the child, as did the vast majority of kindergartners (81%), established distinctions between the emotional states of the two figures. Emotions remained tightly associated with social class.

Figure 5. Drawing by Kindergartner of Social Class Differences


To a much lesser extent, the kindergartners linked physical appearance to social class. Seven children drew squiggly lines across mainly the faces of the figures representing the poor person. When asked the reason for doing so, a male student explained, Theyre ugly. In contrast, these children provided more details, such as a mouth, eyes, and nose, for figures representing the rich person. Similarly, 12 children drew the wealthy person as having hair and the poor person as bald. A female child explained, This [poor person] is a baby and dont have hair yet like this [rich person]. Another female student sitting next to her during the drawing activity, who also drew the poor person without hair, added, Theyre a big baby and ugly. This [rich person] is pretty. This [poor person] is funny [looking] with no hair. Furthermore, 16 children represented the poor person as overweight while representing the rich person as physically fit. In Figure 5, for example, the poor person has a much larger body than the rich person. While drawing the figures, the male child explained, Poor people are fat, pointing to his drawing. He continued, [This poor person] eats sweets and is lazy. [This rich person] doesnt eat too much and exercises a lot. This student attributed physical appearance to choices and actions; in so doing, he linked social class with these individual qualities. Of the 25 students who associated physical appearance with social class, only 3 children explicitly linked social class to individual choices and actions.


On the whole, the third-grade illustrations revealed that the children primarily held a materialistic understanding of social class that emphasized stark contrasts between the haves and have-nots. They equated wealth with what an individual has acquired, such as cars, houses, pools, and luxury items, while depicting poverty as someone who lacks those possessions. For example, in Figure 6, the student drew a wealthy man with money, a large mansion, and a private soccer field with his friends playing. In contrast, he illustrated a poor man with no money, no house, and a burning trash barrel surrounded by other homeless people. Seven of the Seaton students used the possession of water7 to represent social class differences. As seen in Figure 7, the child emphasized the point that the wealthy person has water in two places (speech bubbles and bottom of page) and the poor person does not, even though it appears to be raining on the person. Moreover, similar to 26 other drawings created by students at both schools, the wealthy person also possesses a house, whereas the poor person is homeless. As with nearly all of the third graders drawings, the child used possessions, including an essential resource, as prominent social class indicators.

Figure 6. Drawing by Third Grader of Social Class Differences


Figure 7. Drawing by Third Grader of Social Class Differences


Figure 8. Drawing by Third Grader of Social Class Differences


In Figure 8, another student included a road in the middle of the page to emphasize a clear distinction between the two drawings. Although researchers instructed the children to draw just a line down the middle of the page as a means of separating their two drawings, 18 other third graders similarly used a road, fence, wall, wide shaded border, or multiple and/or thick lines to separate the wealthy person from the poor person. When a researcher asked one of these participants about the wide shade border he drew between the two drawings, he responded, These [two drawings] are really different [from each other]. Im drawing how different [they are]. These various representations that nearly half of the third graders used to separate the drawings provided means for the children to add emphasis on the distinctions between the poor person and the wealthy person. Similar to what was reflected in all third graders drawings, the children fixed boundaries between poverty and wealth.

In addition to possessions, third graders often associated social class with ability and gender and, to a much lesser degree, race. All children drew the wealthy person as able bodied, and all males and 64% of females represented the wealthy person as male. In contrast, most of the children (82%) depicted the poor person as female, physically challenged or injured, and/or racial minority. For instance, in Figure 8, the child represented a wealthy person as a man wearing a top hat with a briefcase full of money, and the poor person confined to a wheelchair, frowning, and without money. Ten other third graders represented the poor person as having some form of a disability, most often preventing that person from walking. Moreover, 4 Seaton Academy students associated academic performance with social class by having the wealthy person hold a report card or assignment with an A or A+ grade and the poor person holding a report card or assignment with a F grade (see, for example, Figure 9). When a researcher asked one of these four students about the letter grades, she responded, This [wealthy] person is smart and does good in school. And this [poor person] doesnt try and doesnt learn. They get bad grades. Although this student, and possibly the other three as well, attributed more than ability to academic performance by indicating the poor persons lack of effort, she established an explicit association between social class and ability in her drawing of a wealthy person.

Figure 9. Drawing by Third Grader of Social Class Differences


Figure 10. Drawing by Third Grader of Social Class Differences


Figure 11. Drawing by Third Grader of Social Class Differences


The third graders associated social class more explicitly with gender than ability. More specifically, 14 female students and all male students represented the wealthy person as a male. Moreover, all female students and a little over half of the male students similarly represented the poor person as female. In Figure 10, for example, a female third grader used a male figure to represent a wealthy person and a female figure to represent a poor person. The majority of all students (67%) associated maleness with wealth and femaleness with poverty.

Given that 95% of the third graders are white and had little daily contact with racial minorities, it is not surprising that the children mostly used white or nonspecific race figures to represent both the poor person and the wealthy person. However, four white third graders from Foss Elementary represented the poor person as a racial minority, while depicting the wealthy person as white. In Figure 11, for example, a female child drew a white male dressed in business attire as the wealthy person and a female with brown skin as the poor person. This child, similar to three others, established a more direct relationship between whiteness and wealth than most of the children by explicitly associating poverty with racial minorities or, more specifically, women of color. In most of the childrens drawings, however, the connection between race and social class was not as explicit as in the drawings of these four students.


The sixth graders illustrations of social class demonstrated similar themes of money, possessions, and emotions as reflected in the younger childrens drawings. Their drawings, however, demonstrated more detailed representations of these themes. Instead of simple representations of money, for example, they contrasted expansive mansions with meager living conditions and included commentary to emphasize economic differences. They also added more specifics about the figures possessions and more depth to the emotional states of their figures. Although the sixth graders drawings communicated similar understandings of social class differences as the younger students, albeit with more details, they primarily used these common themes to communicate the differences in social status between the upper and lower classes.

Unlike the younger students, the majority of sixth graders (62%) made social status an overarching theme in their drawings, connecting popularity to upper class and social rejection to lower class. In Figure 12, for example, a student illustrated these connections by drawing a group of middle-school girls wearing designer clothes socializing and gossiping to represent upper class, and a frowning-faced girl alone with Silence! in bolded letters written above her to represent lower class. The contrasting emotional states (e.g., happy versus sad) and money and possessions as represented with clothing were used to highlight the lonely status of the lower-class girl and popularity of the upper-class girls. When asked about this status distinction, the student explained, These girls [on the left] are popular and cool and this girl [on the right] is by herself and nobody likes her. She isnt popular like they are, as she pointed to the figures representing upper class.    

Figure 12. Drawing by Sixth Grader of Social Class Differences


Figure 13. Drawing by Sixth Grader of Social Class Differences


A total of 14 of the 20 sixth-grade girls similarly established this social status distinction between upper and lower classes. In Figure 13, a girl once again used contrasting emotional states and clothing to represent this distinction. The figure representing upper class had designer clothes, a smile, and a smooth face, which the student described as attractive and popular when drawing the figure. In contrast, the lower-class girl is wearing a Barney and Friends shirt, wears glasses, is frowning, and has dark moles on her face, which, according to the student, showed that shes really ugly and no one wants to hang out with her. In Figure 14, another girl highlighted social status distinction by making the upper-class figure a king and the lower-class figure a frowning early adolescent girl, around the same age as me, she described; the lower-class figure was represented as a baby leaning against a garbage can in the shape of a baby bottle to emphasize that shes really immature, she further explained. When asked about the significance of being immature, the girl noted, Immature girls are not popular and alone. As with most of the sixth-grade girls (70%), high social status was equated with upper class, and rejection and unpopularity were connected to lower class. Moreover, nearly half of the sixth-grade girls drew a male figure to represent high social status/upper class, while all except one girl drew a female figure in their depictions of low social status/lower class.

Figure 14. Drawing by Sixth Grader of Social Class Differences


Figure 15. Drawing by Sixth Grader of Social Class Differences


The emphasis on social status distinctions continued to be prominent in the drawings created by the sixth-grade boys. A total of nine of the 17 boys similarly emphasized social status distinctions between the upper and lower classes but established different associations than the girls. For them, athletic ability and involvement in particular activities were directly connected to social status. As evident in Figure 15, the student drew a muscular football player with the headline, Breaking News: Cool guy makes winning touchdown to represent upper class. In contrast, he represented lower class as a much thinner boy wearing glasses with the headline, Breaking News: Nerd becomes chess champ. Similar to the other boys who emphasized social status, this student equated upper class with possessing the athletic abilities and likable qualities to be popular, and lower class with possessing unfavorable traits and engaging in unpopular activities. Nobody wants to hang out with the nerd; hes a complete loser, the boy explained while drawing. Pointing to the figure representing upper class, he continued, If youre like him, everybody likes you. Similar to over half the boys and girls, he understood social class distinctions as being primarily about the separation between who is considered popular and who is not.

Of the 23 students who made social status an overarching theme in their drawings, 15 were from Foss Elementary, which means that 83% of the Foss sixth graders similarly situated popularity or social rejection in their understandings of social class distinctions, as compared with 42% of those at Seaton Academy. Foss students commentary while drawing gave some indication of their thinking behind this association. For example, one girl said, Youre popular if you got money and you always want more money. You dont want to be the loser everybody hates. In response to this girls comment, a boy added, Yeah, you want to be the cool kid and this is the cool one, as he pointed to the upper-class figure, and [you dont want to be] like this one who everyone picks on, pointing to the lower-class figure.

Figure 16. Drawing by Sixth Grader of Social Class Differences


Figure 17. Drawing by Sixth Grader of Social Class Differences


Figure 18. Drawing by Sixth Grader of Social Class Differences


The majority of the wealthier Seaton students (63%) instead illustrated, through their drawings, how social class status affects behavior and aspirations and determines how a person acts and thinks. For example, 8 Seaton sixth graders depicted the lower-class figure as a criminal, engaged in such acts as stealing (see, for example, Figure 16) and hurting others, whereas none of them depicted upper-class figures performing such actions. Most of these students included words or thought clouds to capture the thoughts of the people in their drawings. In Figure 17, for example, the upper-class girls thoughts center on money and cars, whereas the thoughts of the lower-class woman and her daughter, both of whom are crying, focus on living in a nice home and owning better clothes, respectively. Similarly, in Figure 18, the thoughts of the upper-class figure focus on work and earning money, while the lower-class boys thoughts are about food and earning less money. Moreover, the male sixth grader who created this drawing wrote [Laid] Back next to the lower-class male to emphasize laziness. As he explained while drawing, This boy doesnt care about making money; hes lazy and doesnt work to get more money. Hes hungry and doesnt do nothing about it. As with nearly all the sixth graders from both schools, he primarily attributed choices, attitude, personal qualities, and actions to social class differences.


What is to be made of these themes, both those that were common across all age groups and sites and those that differed? First, these findings suggest that the trends documented over 60 years of research are remarkably durable despite the fluctuations in the overall economy. Many of the same patterns documented in studies before the Great Recession of 2008 are evident here: The students in this study showed increasing complexity with advanced age and few significant differences when disaggregated for gender or income level. It also appears that, as previous research has shown (e.g., Ramsey, 1991), even very young students have ideas about class distinctions, and they have internalized or expressed negative connotations with poverty and positive connotations with wealth.   

That said, the findings from this study reveal how students thinking is actually much more complex and insightful than previously documented in that their drawings highlight the social dynamics of classmaking. These drawings challenge the claim that class is too complex a subject for young children to understand and should thus be avoided by indicating the depth to which children possess a sophisticated sense of how class is constituted. Through a Bourdieusian lens, the students drawings reveal how intuitively they are making sense of habitus, generative schemes, and classification struggles. Their pictures depict the main factors of differentiation (Bourdieu, 1987, p. 3) and symbolic boundaries that form the contours of the classmaking processnot just what class differences exist but how class identities are generated through preferences, particular displays of gender and ability, dispositions, and physical locality. In other words, young childrens understandings of differences between rich and poor are not simply about how much money a family has or what kind of house they live in (though, certainly, these factors play a role). Instead, the childrens drawings point to at least four domains in which class identity is constructed: material, intersectional, emotional, and spatial. Through these domains, even very young children show keen observation skills and awareness of the multidimensional social world constructed by factors of differentiation to which Bourdieu (1987) referred. What is also revealed is the power of classmaking as a social processhow it operates among even very young children who construct and experience complex class identities that position them within a dynamic hierarchy offering varying degrees of access to resources that will help them to challenge or justify the status quo.

In terms of materiality, all students, regardless of age, race, gender, or income level, demonstrated an awareness of differences between rich and poor people that had to do with material wealth or possessions. A common theme among all students was that these differences were value laden: The rich had more and better things while the poor had fewer and lower quality possessions. It is conceivable that a student could draw a rich and a poor person meeting the same need in a different way or perhaps highlighting the resourcefulness of the poor person to do so, but the drawings did not include any such examples. This is perhaps unsurprising, but important to note nonetheless, and reinforces the idea that classmaking takes place within a nexus of power relations and includes forms of capital, which are more or less valuable (Bourdieu, 1987).

In terms of intersectionality, students conscious highlighting of particular combinations of gender, ability, and, to a lesser degree, race was striking and in line with sociologists work that has combined Bourdieus ideas about habitus and social spaces with feminist theories (e.g., Skeggs, 2004) and disability studies (e.g., Edwards & Imrie, 2003). How students depicted rich and poor in terms of intersectionality could be read as both an expression of perpetuating damaging stereotypes and an awareness of current unjust disproportionalities. For instance, research has found that women (especially older women) are more likely to be poor in the United States (DeNavas-Walt & Proctor, 2015), that there is a growing relationship between poverty and disability rates (Fujiura & Yamaki, 2000), and that low-income people are at a greater risk of obesity (Wang & Beydoun, 2007). Students drawings of poor people as women, as people with disabilities, or as people who are obese seem to reflect these trends but also highlight the ways that this information can lead to dangerous reductionism and stereotyping. In addition, of the handful of students who drew people of color, all drew the rich as White men and the poor as women of color. Though the majority of people living in poverty are White, most categories of people of color are disproportionately poor (DeNavas-Walt & Proctor, 2015). These few students drawings indicate that they understand race and class (and gender and ability) to be linkedthough it is likely that they have naturalized this connection rather than believe it to be the product of long-standing structural and institutional oppression.

Students from all subgroups also made purposeful decisions to depict the emotions of people in different class categories. This was demonstrated in symbolic ways, such as sunny or stormy weather, but also in very literal ways, as in smiling or frowning faces. Though students may be making assumptions about the rich being happy and the poor being sad, they are noting an affective dimension to class that is often overlookeda dimension of habitus that highlights how people feel about their positions within social spaces. Reay (2005), for instance, maintained that emotions and psychic responses to class and class inequalities contribute powerfully to the making of class (p. 912) and mapped the powerful emotional consequences (p. 916) of varying class positions, noting, for example, the fear and anxiety (compounded by shame and the fear of shame) expressed by 10-year-old working-class children negotiating intense surveillance and testing in schools. In contrast, the middle-class students exhibited more excitement, optimism, satisfaction, and pride. She also highlighted the petty mundane humiliations and slights (p. 917) that are so common for children in povertyobstacles that rarely exist for people in other class positions. These emotional dynamics, or psychic economy (p. 913), are often overlooked in accounts of class and class consciousness, though it was clearly evident in these young childrens drawings. Similar to their expression of intersectionality, this could be read as both an expression of damaging stereotypes that children had internalized (i.e., someone is happy if he or she is rich or sad if he or she is poor) and an insightful reflection on the affective domain of differently classed peoples lived experiences.

Last, the finding that many students drew stark dividing lines between their rich and poor stick figures that located them in starkly different physical landscapes suggests an understanding that class differences are spatially constituted. The social spaces to which Bourdieu pointed have a locational quality to themclassmaking depends in large part on where people learn and practice their preferences that generate habitus. Sparked in large part by the work of William Julius Wilson (1987), sociologists have been interested in economic segregation for decades, and a vast number of studies examine its effects (e.g., educational outcomes, mortality rates, friendship formation, and so on). As residential income segregation increases, its exacerbation of disadvantage for low-income families and accentuation of advantage for high-income families is particularly impactful on children given their limited independent travel across boundaries and use of local public facilities like schools and parks (Bischoff & Reardon, 2013). Sampson, Morenoff, and Earls (1999), for example, examined how spatial inequality in a metropolis can translate into local inequalities for children (p. 657). This salience of place and space in classmaking was present in many of the childrens drawings that depicted the rich and poor as physically separate or segregated. When distinguishing between the rich and poor, it is not simply what one has, but where one is that is a contributing factor in childrens minds.


Fears that class is too complex a topic for young children to understand or beliefs that it is something about which they have no prior knowledge are unfounded. This study revealed that young children are very much aware of stratification and are developing strongly held ideas about social class differences. More research is needed to identify and understand more fully, however, the sources of influence that give shape to their awareness and ideas. Although this study focused exclusively on students understandings rather than these influences, the childrens drawings revealed multiple sources influencing their understandings, such as teachers (e.g., in the classroom context, students learned that water is a resource and some people lack this resource), media (e.g., students assigned television characters to a particular social class group), peers (e.g., students understood social status within peer groups as a class marker), family (e.g., students represented aspects of their family life), and community (e.g., students represented places, people, and events within their local community), that warrant further research.  

Knowing that students are already thinking about and experiencing class in various ways inevitably raises the question of how educators could and should make space in the curriculum for teaching about social class. It is not a question of whether or not students should learn about social class, but what educators should explicitly teach them. What opportunities should students have in schools to unlearn the negative and pernicious stereotypes represented in their drawings? What should be explicitly taught to children about social class? What effect does this have not only on their understandings of themselves and others but on their abilities to ultimately address these inequalities in ways big and small? As mentioned earlier, teachers of all content areas and all ages have a responsibility in helping students to be more conscious and reflective of the classmaking process at workto contextualize their perceptions and critically analyze evidence that challenges, confirms, or complicates the ways in which they draw boundaries around different social groups.

Classroom instruction about these issues could happen in a variety of ways, though there are currently few resources to guide elementary teachers. One suggestion is that they could use the data collection techniques detailed in this article as a starting point for having conversations with students about classmaking. Using student work could generate conversations about what patterns students notice and what themes emerge as they review each others drawings. It would also be important to think carefully about which resources teachers use in classes that implicitly reinforce these deficit stereotypes. They could be mindful about books whose happy endings always feature the accumulation of wealth and that see poverty as a consequence of peoples actions and decisions, pay attention to how students treat each other in class, or think carefully about what prompts during sharing time like morning meetings elicit unchecked habitus. Beyond taking stock of what messages are being transmitted in efforts to limit damaging ideas, teachers could also work toward choosing resources that actively work against them. For example, they could choose books that show White people as poor and people of color as wealthy, or books that explicitly address issues related to poverty and wealth. Field trips, guest speakers, and other classroom activities could be designed around inquiry into the stereotypes that give shape to dominant ways of thinking and knowing about social class.

Of course, teachers need professional development opportunities to increase their own understandings of classmaking in order to create pedagogical possibilities for their students that transform their understandings and perspectives of social class. There is little evidence, however, that teachers are currently provided these opportunities in either teacher education programs or in-service workshops. In addition, prominent frameworks for multicultural education used to educate teachers about how to respond to and incorporate differences among students pay little attention to social class issues (Sleeter & Grant, 2003). Consequently, teachers are typically not provided with activities, readings, and strategies that focus on increasing their class language, class awareness, and ability to address social class with their students. Educators need more opportunities to develop a greater capacity to question their assumptions about themselves and others, to acknowledge the significant role that social class plays in peoples lives, to work toward a deeper understanding of the concept of social class, and to gain an interest in learning more. Using drawings to gain insight into how young children make sense of social class is a preliminary first step that points to the need for teachers to develop and teach intentional lessons that not only advance their students understandings but also productively influence their students classmaking process that is already well under way.  


1. This assistance is limited to students whose family income is less than $70,000 per year for a family of four. The median household income is $35,048, and therefore, 82% of students participating in this study come from families that earn, at least, twice this median.

2. The researchers met with each year group of students two times, prestudy discussion and activity, during a regularly scheduled class in the space where that class was normally held; therefore, instruction was suspended so that the researchers could meet with students. Students who did not participate in the study were included in the prestudy discussion and activity. Their drawings and responses were not included. Specifically, 1 kindergartner, 3 third graders, and 1 sixth grader at Foss Elementary and 2 third graders at Seaton Academy participated in the discussion and activity but were not participants in the study. These students did not provide explanation for not participating in the study.

3. In his study of childrens perceptions of inequality, Short (1991) found that children were more likely to take issue or disagree with their peers understandings than with those of adults. Following this thinking, the researchers facilitated the discussion with the assumption that the discussion would have little impact on the childrens understandings.

4. Researchers followed the advice of kindergarten teachers and avoided asking the children to draw the line themselves. The teachers felt that this would keep students on task more easily. Moreover, the researchers acknowledge that asking the third- and sixth-grade students to create a line (or, for the kindergarten students, a predrawn line) to separate their depictions of rich/wealthy/upper-class and poor/lower-class potentially influenced the ways students perceived the two terms by emphasizing a difference between the two.

5. Studies on adolescents understandings (e.g., Brantlinger, 1993; Howard, 2008) document that there are significant differences between low-income and high-income students in how they understand social class and class differences. The researchers went into this study thinking that these differences would be present with younger children as well. On the advice of their teachers, the researchers decided to have the students draw the two drawings on one sheet of paper to give the students opportunities to more easily compare their drawings as they were creating the drawings. Moreover, the line was used to assist the researchers in distinguishing between the two drawings and to avoid the children blending the two drawings together.

6. During the activity, researchers asked children to explain why they chose the color green for their drawings. Their answers indicated that they associated the color green with money. For instance, when asked why the color green was selected for drawing the figure representing a rich person, a child replied, Because his money. Other children offered similar responses.

7. Only 19% of the third graders represented the two figures as having the same or similar emotional state.

8. Third graders at Seaton Academy had a series of lessons on water resources a few weeks before the research study.


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Codes are as follows: Academic and Work Performance = AWP; Activity = AC; Bright Colors (Other than Black, Brown, Gray, White, Beige) = BC; Clothing = CL; Dark or Neutral Colors (Black, Brown, Gray, White, Beige) = DNC; Detailed Features = DF; Family = FA; Gender: Female = GF; Gender: Male = GM; Gender: Non-specific = GN; Homelessness = HL; Intellectual Ability = IA; Lack of Material Possessions = NP; Material Possessions = MP; Mental Health = MH; Mental State = MS; Money = MO; Negative Behaviors = NB; Negative Emotions = NE; Nonspecific Racial Identity = NR; Occupation = OP; Physical Appearance = PA; Physical Disability PD; Physical Health = PH; Positive Behaviors = PB; Positive Emotions = PE; Racial Majority = RMA; Racial Minority = RMI; Social Interactions = SI; Social Standing = SS; Undetailed Features = UF; Weather Conditions = WC.

Figure 2: Participant 44 [Male, Kindergarten, Seaton Academy)

On the left side (figure representing rich person), the participant uses seven colors (green, yellow, brown, orange, blue, black, gray) BC, DC to draw a male figure GM that represents a pirate SS, CL. The figure is holding a sword MP. The figure has a smiling face PE, a patch over eye, a brown beard, and orange hair PA. The body of figure is filled out DF. The child draws a green background on this side of paper BC. On right side of paper (figure representing poor person), participant uses one color (brown) DNC to draw a figure. The figure is not holding anything NP. The figure has a frowning face NE that is above the nose. The figures hair is longer than the other figures hair and is shoulder length PA. The figure has a small left hand but not a right hand PA. There is not enough detail in the drawing to determine gender GN. It is a stick figure with not much detail provided about the figure UF. The background is blank UF. Racial identity represented in both figures is nonspecific NR.


Participant did not talk during pre-activity discussion.

During the activity, researcher had an exchange with participant:

Researcher: Could you tell me something about your drawing?

Participant: This one [figure representing rich person] likes more fun AC, not this [figure representing poor person] NE. Pirates are happy PE and this one [figure representing poor person] is sad NE. He doesnt have a sword MP.

Figure 11: Participant 71 [Female, Third Grade, Foss Elementary]

On the left side (figure representing wealthy person), the participant uses two colors (black, beige) to draw a male, White RMA figure GM that is dressed in all-black DNC business attire CL, OP. The figure is holding a briefcase MP. The figure has a slanted smile on face PE, black hair PA, and something around the neck that looks like a bowtie CL. The body is filled out DF. The face, neck, and hands are not covered by what the figure is wearing PA. The background is blank UF. On the right side (figure representing poor person), participant uses four colors (brown, black, blue, red) DNC, BC to draw a female GF, racial minority RMI figure. The figure is not holding anything NP. The figure has a frowning face NE, no arms or hands UF, and red hair that reaches nearly to the feet PA. The figure is earning a blue dress with a X across the chest area and is not wearing shoes CL, NP. The body is filled out DF. The background is blank UF.

Participant did not talk during pre-activity discussion.

During the activity, researcher had two exchanges with participant:

Researcher: Could you tell me something about your drawing?

Participant: Hes successful AWP businessman OP going to work (pointing to the figure representing wealthy person) and shes unsuccessful AWP, homeless HL (pointing to the figure representing poor person).

Researcher: What does the cross on the woman mean?

Participant: It just means she has an old dress PA, MP. She dont have money MO to buy a new one NP.

Researcher: I have one more question. Why is the woman different color than the man?

Participant: Cause shes poor person and hes wealthy person RMI, RMA.

Figure 14: Participant 106 [Female, Sixth Grade, Foss Elementary]

On the left side (figure representing upper-class person), the participant uses seven colors (yellow, purple, brown, black, red, orange, beige) BC, DNC to draw a male figure GM that represents a king SS. The figure has a golden crown on head MP. The crown has orange jewels lining the bottom. The figure is holding what appears to be a cane (however, since this figure represents a king, it is likely meant to represent a scepter) MP, SS. The figure has a smiling face PE, brown hair PA and is wearing a purple shirt, red pants, a lighter red cape with a yellow border at the bottom, and black shoes CL. The body is filled out DF. In the background, there is a mixture of green and light brown on the lower third of the page to represent the ground the figure is standing on (most likely to represent grass). In the top right-hand corner, there is a partial sun with lines to represent beaming rays WC. On the right side (figure representing lower-class person), the participant uses five colors (purple, green, brown, black, beige) BC, DNC to draw a figure that represents a young adolescent girl GF. The figure has a frowning face NE and medium-length brown hair PA. The figure is wearing a shirt and pants that have patches on them and is not wearing shoes CL, NP. The figure is sitting on the ground leaning against a large (nearly the size of the figure), what appears to be, baby bottle MS. The body is filled out DF. In the background, there is a mixture of green and light brown on the lower fourth of the page to represent the ground the figure is sitting one (most likely to represent grass). There are also four gray-colored DNC mud puddles on the ground. In the top fourth of the page there are gray clouds WC. There are also six star-shaped images around the figure, representing something about the weather WC. Both figures are represented as white RMA.

Before the activity, participant responded to one of the researchers questions:

Researcher: What is one thing you know about rich people?

Participant: They have a lot of money MO and buy what they want MP. Theyre happy PE and have a lot of fun with people SI.

During the activity, researcher had an exchange with participant:

Researcher: Could you tell me something about your drawing?

Participant: This one [figure representing lower-class person] is around the same age as me. But shes really immature for her age MS. She doesnt act like shes other girls her age AC.

Researcher: Whats important about her being immature?

Participant: A lot. Immature girls are not popular and alone SS. They dont have many friends SI.

Researcher: Whats she leaning against?

Participant: A garbage can and looks like a baby bottle.

Researcher: And what are those gray circles on the ground?

Participant: Its really muddy WC.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 7, 2018, p. 1-44
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 22130, Date Accessed: 10/18/2021 12:14:01 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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