Critique #3 of Paper on Class Bias

©2000 J. Eaton


Cesario’s paper is well reasoned and thoroughly supported with references to the course texts, as well as additional materials. The organization is clear, and the piece flows smoothly. Cesario structures her piece by presenting a synopsis of the case, then analyzing the case in terms of the three perspectives studied during the course.

This reviewer is somewhat perplexed by the writer’s references to the "evidence" against Mrs. Todd. This term seems to be particularly strong. Perhaps "reasoned conclusions" or "professional opinions" might be more accurate terms to use in that there is a suggested cause-effect relationship but not a proven one in this case. The fact that the students who came from poor socioeconomic backgrounds and a lower-level seventh grade failed to achieve in Mrs. Todd’s class does not conclusively prove that Mrs. Todd’s perceptions, treatment or biases were the causes of their failure to flourish. Care should be taken to differentiate between cause and correlation.

This critic also wonders if it is possible that Dom and Sarah, who are not certified to teach English, might themselves be causal factors. While there is no conclusive evidence that this is the case, it is entirely possible that these two teachers themselves maintained very low expectations for these students and, consequently, set low standards. Dom and Sarah may unconsciously harbor biases as to the capabilities of their students, and, as a result, may have held low expectations in spite of their apparent empathy and concern for these students. Thus, these students may have been ill prepared to enter Mrs. Todd’s advanced class. According to the data presented in the case, Mrs. Todd herself apparently maintains high standards even though she is an "easy" grader: "….she has been responsible for the excellent training of hundreds of young people…." In essence, this writer would be more cautious before jumping to the conclusion that Mrs. Todd is "acting in a prejudicial manner."

The example that Cesario give about the teacher who was dismissed for failing so many students related nicely to this case study, but this reviewer questions the conclusion regarding why the parents and students supported the teacher: "As in this case, they may have been unaware of the subtle ‘relational and attitudinal’ messages leading to failure for certain students." Once again, isn’t it entirely possible that both the parents and students recognized that the teacher set high standards that weren’t being met by the students for possibly a variety of reasons, some of which probably did have to do with lack of effort on the part of the students?

Cesario next develops a strong argument explaining Mrs. Todd’s behavior in terms of the conflict theorists’ perspective. She contends that Mrs. Todd may be perpetuating the class system and identifying with the dominant upper class. Here again, these statements might be qualified, in that there is no proof that Mrs. Todd’s behavior is the cause of the failures.

The Sennett and Cobb studies lend excellent support to some of Cesario’s arguments but contradict other contentions. The example of the students who were children of immigrants but felt like "imposters" when their socioeconomic status improved (i.e. when they moved up in terms of class) is a case in point that seems to support the notion that the resulting "status incongruity" negatively impacted on the children’s perceptions of themselves, thereby causing them to act in ways which might have been counterproductive to their own success. This does not seem to support the contention that Mrs. Todd "was the cause of it all." The information from Sennett and Cobb explaining teacher behavior in terms of feelings of inadequacy and "’need for legitimizing the power the teacher holds’" offers more substantial support for Cesario’s analysis of this case and was an excellent reference.

This writer particularly liked Cesario’s analysis of Mrs. Todd from the functionalists’ perspective, especially the intellectual and cultural impediments subset of theories. Once again, the Sennett and Cobb research effectively bolsters this approach to analyzing this case. Likewise, viewing the classroom cultures from the interpretivists’ perspective, raising questions about the different "rules of the game" and "hidden curriculum" in the two classroom settings, was effectively done. Here again, there simply is not enough evidence in the case to draw any conclusions, but this study does suggest that the issue involves much more than prejudicial behavior on Mrs. Todd’s part.

Analyzing Dom and Sarah’s behavior and reactions from an interpretivists’ point of view was done most effectively by Cesario. She also argues that their conclusions must be tempered by the work of other researchers such as McDermott who studied the relationship between failure and the roles that the students themselves play in this process by the "rules of the game" they themselves establish.

This writer personally felt that summarizing the history of tracking as detailed in the Perkinson text appeared, in the context of this analysis, to be contrived and did not fit well with the analysis. However, Cesario’s assignment was to tie in the Perkinson text, so she "gave it her best shot."

The reference to Jean Anyon’s work was interesting but needs to be related to the specifics of the case at hand. Were the children who were moved into Mrs. Todd’s class products of seventh-grade classrooms where the teachers unconsciously were preparing them for the working class, rather than the professional class? If this is a possibility, this study also counters the notion that Mrs. Todd is entirely to blame for the failures. Her concerned colleagues may well have been preparing their students for blue-collar jobs, in a sense.

In her final paper, Cesario might want to be sure that she addresses all of the questions posed in the case: "If you were Dom or Sarah, how would you try to convince Marilyn [Todd] that she was unconsciously biased? What, if anything, could you do as a teacher to safeguard against an unconscious class bias? Do you think this is a case of class bias, or could Marilyn be right?" The bulk of Cesario’s material addresses the final question.

All in all, this reviewer applauds Cesario, particularly for the pertinent research studies that she was able to relate to the case. Additionally, the piece was well organized and written. Her style was engaging, and she gave concrete examples to support abstract concepts. This writer thoroughly enjoyed Cesario’s paper.