Caroline's Reviews > Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life

Unequal Childhoods by Annette Lareau
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Oct 24, 11

bookshelves: education-books
Read in January, 2008

I thoroughly enjoyed this book for the issues that I myself had observed through my student teaching. This book was assigned to me during graduate school while I was transitioning from one student teaching assignment to the other. My first student teaching assignment was on the Upper East Side in New York City. This school was in third place for the most PTA fundraising of any city in the city (the year before I came there, they raised a staggering $500,000 -and they were in third). Parents showed up for every meeting, every conference, every activity (and there were a lot of those). After school, kids skipped off to Hebrew school or CCD, soccer practice, piano lessons, private math enrichment tutoring, and whatever else their parents could dream up.

My second student teaching practicum was in Washington Heights in a largely Hispanic school. Parents sent kids to school with candy as their lunch (not in their lunch, that was lunch). After school, kids went home to watch tv. If they were in the after-school care program, they had 30 minutes to do their homework, then they played out in the parking lot next to the school which served as their playground (people were kind enough to not park there during school hours).

I often found myself wondering why parents treated their kids so differently. I couldn't believe that it was strictly because of a particular culture of any given race (there were Black kids in my room on the Upper East Side and White kids in my room in Washington Heights). When I read this book, the fact of socioeconomic status difference just made sense to me. Socioeconomic status is currently far more segregating than race is, giving each culture room to create its own strategies for raising children without influence from a different culture.

I appreciated that Lareau was sensitive to issues of race, and therefore highlighted an upper-middle class family that was Black, and a working class family that was White to drive the point home that these differences aren't just about race.

As a teacher, I found that this illuminated for me the places where my parents struggle in helping to meet the demands of education today (it is no longer acceptable, as it might once have been to just assume that children will get everything that they need). I now feel better equipped to inform parents about things that they can do to help their child succeed, while still being sensitive to the culture their children are being raised in.

I guess I gave it four stars rather than five because, although it had great take-away, it was a bit dry. On the other hand, not every nonfiction book can be Freakonomics.
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