Annette Lareau discusses in her fine book, Unequal Childhoods, how parents with money use “Concerted Cultivation” as a weapon to make their kids well-rounded and aggressive in society and to challenge adults and teachers and doctors by “speaking up” when they feel they have been wronged.
Poor and middle class kids, Lareau argues, are taught by their parents to be respectful of authority and to go with the flow. Lareau’s book discovers the kids who do better in school are those who “fight the system” while the other, poorer, kids suffer by being ignored and pushed aside.
For my style of teaching I tend to appreciate public university students over private college students because public university students are usually first generation college students, they respect you by default and you get the feeling they are there to learn. Private college students, in my experience, are upper class, more defiant by default, more challenging just to be opposite and they are less interested in learning and more prone to just “doing time” to get to the end of the degree.
Have I broken a covenant by appearing to prefer students who don’t challenge everything I say because they were raised to challenge authority? Have I wounded a covenant by seeming to prefer a passive student over an aggressive one? All covenants are intact and holding water! My argument cherishes an established set of morality and manners in the classroom. I am invigorated when students challenge ideas but only when they have an idea of their own to set against the norm.
I am engaged by students who don’t quite yet know what they think and, in order to feel comfortable, they sit quietly and drink in all the thoughts around them but only when they then speak up and contribute to the discussion. I do not, however, believe one student has higher rights over another merely because of right of birth or parental involvement was greater and the rules of how to play the game of getting ahead in life were taught every day in the bassinet. All instructors know the most dynamic students sit in the front row so they can interact with you without any other students blocking their view.
The front row students know all the answers and they love being the “go to” people while the rest of the class searches for the answer. Front row students are there to prove a point and to take home the learning. Instructors must reach beyond the front row and grab deep into the back row and pull those students into the discussion.
We must help those back row students sit in the front row of our minds because those students have been stuck in the back all their lives by teaching apathy or by social conceit or by economic standing and we are required to bring them around to the front for a better view of life and for acceptance by invigorated peers.
The back row is only a matter of proximity and should never become a state of being. It is the mission of every instructor to offer a hand up to all students who need a lift, but one must pay special attention to find ways to actively include students who may have been taught it was their place not to be heard or valued or appreciated and to give those students equal voice in the classroom where we all hope that experience will one day translate into a higher voiced standard of equality outside the university.