Unequal Childhood by Annette Lareau Term Paper

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Unequal Childhoods

Lareau, Annette. (2003) Unequal Childhoods. Berkeley: University of California Press.

The theoretical under-pinning of the author's study

America may be the land of opportunity, but it is also a land of inequality," writes Annette Lareau at the beginning of her text entitled Unequal Childhoods. As perhaps is indicated by the title of the text, the theoretical underpinnings of her study is somewhat along the lines of the notion of 'two nations, Black and White,' in one America. In other words, the author has the hypothesis being a child in America is invariably affected by one's culture and background. This is true regardless of the initial, hopeful legal intents of the 1950's and 1960's civil rights movement of a supposedly equal society. Lareau suggests that this duality creates a state of inequality in childhood education and opportunity that begins in the home, not just in the schools, and is difficult to remedy because it is cultural as well as institutional. Segregation begins in childhood. However, rather than speaking of two nations or two groups of children, currently divided by race, the Lareau study suggests that the primary divisions of today are based in class and culture, not drawn upon color lines, even though race may affect one's class in America. The middle-class cultivates their children as natural 'resources,' while the lower and working classes do not have the resources to do so. If they did have the time and money to do so, such a notion is not part of the culture of many neighborhoods and cultural and community environments.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Term Paper on Unequal Childhood by Annette Lareau Assignment

Thus the divisions of the American nation that exist from childhood onward, despite civil rights and more recent efforts to introduce multiculturalism to the classroom, begin in the home, not in racial divisions. In one of the earliest examples chronicled by Lareau, in an emerging Black middle class neighborhood studied by the author, a Lexus containing a boy named Alexander Williams, only ten minutes away from an affluent White suburb, ferries the Black fourth grader home from a school open house. Alexander's mother thinks about her business meeting the next day, and Alexander chatters about his piano lessons.

Thus, Lareau also adds the important idea of class and locality to intentionally complicate the ideas teachers, educators, parents, and politicians have about the acknowledged inequality in the condition of childhood in America today. As this anecdote illustrates, it is interesting to note how Lareau's study was not done in a purely quantitative fashion. Rather, as Lareau (2003) notes in Chapter 1, the adults in the lives of all of these children want the best for the next generation. This is not true simply of the carefully ferried White 'soccer son,' who opens the book, "laughing and yelling," as the "white fourth-grader named Garrett Tallinger splashes around in the swimming pool in the backyard of his four-bedroom home in the suburbs on a late spring afternoon." Lareau always uses anecdotes to illustrate her points from real life, as well as statistics, giving her book the excitement and emotionally persuasive power of a novel.

Because Lareau's thesis is about culture as well as demographics like race, her use of qualitative as well as quantitative methodologies is crucial. We see the children she describes. When we as readers are introduced to Alexander Williams and Garrett Tallinger simultaneously, the reader understands and is emotionally as well as intellectually persuaded that some Black children's tastes and talents are being nurtured and cultivated in a concerted manner by their parents just as much as White children. We see how in both children's locations other adults (some paid instructors, others simply presences) in their local community cultivate the children's talents, regardless of the children's race.

But for poorer families such as the white, Italian Yanelli family, they must face economic constraints of class and finances on a daily basis that make it a major life task for the family put food on the table (much less nutritious foods), arrange for safe or sometimes any housing at all, to negotiate unsafe neighborhoods in cars that are not a Lexus or without cars at all, to take their children to the doctor (where they are often left waiting for city buses that do not come, or where the parents must worry about their own uninsured health, or where families customarily use home remedies rather than feared doctors), to provide clean children's clothes in apartments without hot running water, and to get their children to bed and have them ready for school the next morning.

By portraying the lives of these children in detail, rather than simply recording the data of these poorer families and comparing their children's test scores and physical growth with those with greater access to material and an affluent community and school district's resources, Lareau is able to chronicle the emotional and cultural stresses that can limit a family's ability to provide for their children and thus create a state of financial inequality. This show how culture and class combined can conspire to create a state of inequality of opportunity for the next generation of children, as well as race. It may be only twenty minutes away, but in blue-collar neighborhoods and public housing projects, childhood looks different, and has a different culture.

In these different locations, childhood wears the face of stress and poverty and inequality, and Lareau shows the reader this children's faces, as well as theorizes about their existence, according to her data. Above all, in these neighborhoods there is a lack of a sense of that childhood interests are worthy of cultivation, or able to be cultivated. The Black Harold MacAllister, although he may love playing baseball, often finds himself sitting and watching the game on television, forced to do so not out of desire, but because of a lack of places to play his beloved game -- a passive activity that does not make his body fit, nor hones his coordination. A White, working class girl Wendy Driver spends the evening with her cousins, eating junk food and watching television.

Unlike middle-class parents, these poorer adults and children cannot afford to regard childhood as something to be cultivated with piano lessons, nor of children as constellations of tastes and talents, waiting to be refined, nurtured, and finally brought into fruition, to prepare them for the most elite educational institutions available, which in turn will prepare them for college. Rather, the concerted development of children is a luxury of the middle class, both Black and White, often concentrated on intellectual or carefully chosen (and college-resume building) organized leisure activities. In the middle classes, such cultivated pursuits are considered essential aspect of good parenting, because they do indeed give children a 'leg up' into getting into a better college and preserving the meritocracy of America.

But for the poorer families, even the White Yanellis, unlike the affluent, middleclass and cultivated White Tallingers and Black Williamses, the mothers and fathers of poor children do not have the time, emotional, or even personal and psycholocial resources to devote themselves to such cultivation of their children's resumes and higher instincts. Moreover, even if they did have more time, they would have an uncertain orientation of how to do so, given that they did not have such exposure to such leisure time activities as a child and also, because it goes against their own cultural conception of what constitutes childhood. Thus, even when parents do not have money, if they were part of the culture of cultivation, they may still find ways to pass this onto their children, but if the working class suddenly comes into more money, they may not deploy such funds into cultivation, and rise very far in the American class structure -- thus inequality in America, in childhood is reinforced.

Lareau notes in Chapter 1, regarding her books thesis, that for working class parents, "the crucial responsibilities of parenthood do not lie in eliciting their children's feelings, opinions, and thoughts," or of viewing the children as reasoned actors and participants in the household. Culturally, quite often, such working class parents see a "clear boundary between adults and children. Parents tend to use directives: they tell their children what to do rather than persuading them with reasoning. Unlike their middle-class counterparts, who have a steady diet of adult organized activities, the working-class and poor children may seem, on the surface, to have more control over the character of their leisure activities because the children are play with friend and relatives nearby, and the parents are nearby, rather than ferrying the children to different classes and formal activities.

But for working-class and poor families, suggests the author, however admirable some of its emotional logic, "the cultural logic of child rearing at home is out of synch" with the standards of current American institutions of power. Children whose parents adopted strategies of "concerted cultivation" gain cultural capital. They gain personal sense of entitlement, privilege, and access to socially useful skills and communities. In contrast, White and… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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