Celf Specialization: The Educational Life of Working Families
There is strong empirical evidence in educational literature that middle class children’s social and cultural activities out of school account for their differential achievement in schools and later work. Through participation in the social practices that constitute family life, parents socialize their children to various trajectories of success and achievement. Of interest to this particular study is how working full time impacts the educational life of the dual-career middle-class working family and how these parents organize their everyday activities to educate their children toward a particular work ethic. To this end, it is important to document the range of activities that dual-career middle-class homes provide, the kinds of assistance provided in those activities, the tools or artifacts available and utilized in these settings, and the values and beliefs instantiated in those activities. For example, we may find that dual-career middle-class parents utilize a larger or different set of artifacts to mediate children’s participation and learning. In contrast to working class homes, we might expect to see the use of more cognitive tools (language, literacy, and problem-solving skills) and material artifacts (computers, print material, etc.) in routine activity.
We will focus on how dual-wage earner middle-class families organize formal and informal educational activities. Activity is a robust unit of analysis for understanding better how families conceptualize and organize educational or learning events and the meaning they bring to such tasks and their outcomes. The sociocultural nature of activity provides the opportunity to examine developmentally the history of family actions, interactions, and values around educational practices. Educational activity is not limited to talk and interactions around formal school-related tasks nor to children in families. Educational activity may include activities with adults and their children, children and their siblings, as well as the educational life of adults over time.
Within these activities, we are interested in how educational life is constructed across formal and informal activity. In particular, we will focus on the organization of activity across multiple contexts (e.g., in the home, car, and school, and in informal educational events). To illuminate how educational life is constituted, we will attend to the following questions: How do families organize space or the built environment, to carry out educational life? How are participant roles constructed and distributed? Who does what in these activities? How are these roles negotiated? And what notions about school, learning, and work do such processes construct? In short, we will document the actions and stances of participants in the course of everyday activity to understand how the work ethic is constructed across activities. For example, we will observe informal educational activity that occurs in the course of carrying out other routine tasks (assisting or doing homework while dinner is being prepared), family members tutoring children, children participating in educational games and extracurricular or enrichment activity, parents driving children to and from schooling events, and adults participating in self-help or skill-building educational activity. Within these activities we will capture how participants talk about and within the tasks, how apprenticeship occurs over time, what kinds of assistance strategies and artifacts are employed, and what channels of communication are utilized.
It will be equally important to document participation in more formal school-related activities in which families participate. Back-to-school night, parent-teacher conferences, and interactions families have with school administrators, counselors, and parent leaders in school are such examples. What resources do parents use to facilitate these interactions? For example, homework hotlines and email correspondence with teachers are becoming more commonplace practices in middle class schools. How do these resources facilitate home/school connections and communication and reorganize family activity and educational life? What are the decision-making processes that dual-career families use to hire tutors, or to select and place their children in high-achieving, competitive schools and programs?
These rich data will allow us to address a number of critical issues relevant to the educational life of families. The larger and more important issue of how the processes of apprenticeship in dual-wage earner middle class homes socialize children to identities that facilitate success and achievement in educationally or work related roles and tasks will be addressed. How adults model and assist this socialization process, which cognitive and materials artifacts are available and utilized, and what networks of knowledge and resources are employed in the accomplishment of educational life will be examined.