In the book Unequal Childhoods, Annette Lareau identifies and analyzes what she calls “cultural repertories” (p. 4) that support learning.
Lareau argues that cultural repertoires (attitudes and behaviors about learning) differ between middle class families, working class and poor families. Middle class families generally raise their children according to the logic of what she terms “concerted cultivation” while in working class and poor families’ childrearing practices tend to align with the logic of “natural growth”.
Lareau identifies adult behaviors in homes that practice concerted cultivation that build a strong foundation for school success, including “talking with children, developing their educational interests, playing an active role in schooling…reasoning with children, and teaching them to solve problems through negotiation…”.(pg. 4).
Lareau characterizes the behaviors of working class and poorer families as “sustaining of natural growth.” Among the benefits of the “natural growth” approach are important social skills including self-organization of time, ability to hang-out in a neighborhood in interesting and enjoyable ways, and knowing how to be unobtrusive around adults. While these skills are valuable, they do not align with the skills, attitudes, and behaviors valued in schools.
The outcome of these different approaches to child rearing is that they lead to the transmission of differential advantages to children particularly within academic institutions. Specifically, these differential approaches to parenting and family life, allow middle-class children to gain skills and attitudes that lead to significant advantages in school and in their interactions with other institutions as they grow older.
Lareau’s research is representative of a large body of work that demonstrates it is culture and cultural repertoires based in family and community that are at the heart of successful learning and education. Nevertheless, her conclusion is balanced. We want kids who can benefit from both of these approaches to family life. They can socialize in their communities, and connect to kin, but at the same time all children must master the skills that open the doors to educational success. These are now global skills and should no longer be specific to any particular socioeconomic class.