Is Social Class Directly Related To Social Reaction?

An Exploratory Study of High School Males

  

Tracey Hayes

  

Abstract: The topic I chose to investigate is whether social class affects the social reaction of school authorities toward deviant behavior by high school boys.  Data was collected through surveys of high school males.  This study was conducted as an exploratory pilot study, in hopes of learning what will be needed for a future study.  The goal of this study is to find out if there is cause and effect relationship between the way school authorities treat students based on socioeconomic status and the effects that may lead to future delinquency of such students.  If a relationship does exist it may be further studied to discover solutions to the increasing number of delinquent youths in America. 

            If a working-class student is treated differently than a student from a higher social economic class for the same act, delinquent or not, then the working-class student has a chance of observing the class barriers in society.  Once the barriers are observed, the chances of the youth to become engaged in further delinquent, or even criminal acts, may be increased.  In my project, I only focus on delinquent acts and the way they are perceived by school officials based on social class differences.  I focus on the amount of trouble high school males engage in and how the response of officials in that school varies with social class.

            If it can be distinguished that there is a relationship based on a student’s social class and the reactions of school officials then it may be possible to find a solution.  School officials may not realize they impose different social reactions based on the social class of their students.  Students may not realize they are being reacted to based on their social class, mainly because at that age and younger, class structure may not understood. 

            I am approaching on my study from the perspective of labeling theory.  Through this theory, people and their actions are labeled by society that in turn can result in similar actions due to self-fulfilling prophecy.  The student-teacher relationship is an important part of identifying ones self in the process of maturing and growing up.  If this relationship is based on class status then the student may realize that the social class in which they are placed will affect his or her future.

 Review of Literature

            In the early 1950’s labeling theory was introduced among the Chicago School criminologists (McShane and Williams, 1999:138).  One of the greatest contributors to this theory was Howard Becker.  Throughout his book, Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance, Becker (1963) outlines the criteria he believes causes people to become delinquent.  In explaining labeling theory, Becker’s focus is on the delinquent behaviors and how others in society perceive them.  He points out that “the same behavior may be an infraction when committed by one person, but not when committed by another” (14).  Using the symbolic interactionist approach, Becker examines the idea that the way people act is based on the way society views the person and the act.  A person may not want to commit a deviant act, but does so because he or she does not believe their act is of a deviant nature.  Deviance is a term that means someone is acting abnormal from what certain people in society see as the norm (16).  The people who make the rules are people with power in that culture.  In American schools, the rules are made by the middle class (17).  Becker acknowledges this phenomenon when he says, “If general values are made the basis for specific rules deduced from them, we must look for the person who made it his business to see that the rules were deduced (134).”  Finding oneself as deviant, or being labeled as deviant, may cause the person to continue committing deviant acts.  A person is influenced by others in the society, including family, religion, friends, and school (102).

            Using the labeling perspective, William Chambliss focused on different attitudes toward students by teachers, based on social class.  In his research of “The Saints and The Roughnecks,” school official’s reactions to two separate groups of boys who committed the same amount of deviance were completely different (1973).  Chambliss studied two groups of boys, one from the lower class and one from the upper class of a community.  The group of boys from the upper class was seen as “good” boys who were just having fun.  The entire community, including school officials just viewed and labeled this group as “boys will be boys” when they committed some form of deviance.  The group of boys from the lower class were labeled as “troublemakers” and almost always received punishment for their deviant acts.  Although both groups were committing deviant acts, the reactions from school officials were different, because of how they perceived each group.

            In 1983, Roslyn Arlin Mickelson performed a study on classroom behavior and class status.  She administered a survey to over 60 classrooms in the Los Angeles area, when trying to examine what she considers a “hidden curriculum in high schools (1987).”  She explains that a hidden curriculum “can be seen in the fact that working-class, minority, and lower-track students are taught such things as punctuality, neatness, respect for authority, external control of behavior, and a tolerance for boredom.”  When explaining the teachings of “more advantaged classes” she acknowledges that they are taught to speak up to authority, take control of situations, problem solving, and managerial skills.  Her study reflected such characteristics.  Mickelson knowingly left mistakes on her questionnaire to test her hypothesis.  When the working-class students came to the mistakes they asked her permission to fix them, or asked for help in that question.  The upper-class students did not ask and fixed the mistakes themselves.  When forced with only two answers to a question, the upper-class students questioned the researcher because they agreed with both or neither, whereas the working-class students quietly answered the question.  The study resulted in the upper class students challenging the authority of the researcher and independently solving their problems, while the working-class students followed specific orders on the questionnaire.  This is significant because it proves, at least for her study population, that students can be taught and reacted to differently, based on their class status.

Annette Lareau and Erin McNamara Horvat examined “cultural capital” and race and their effects on third grade students (1999).  Cultural capital, in their study, refers to the way in which the student acts in school based on their language and interests (38).  Using the cultural capital as a base of involvement, “social inclusion and exclusion” are variables that were studied (38).  The researchers argue that social class does not have an effect on the outcome of a student’s performance, but more or less the parent’s involvement and attitude towards the student (48).  Kalmijn and Kraaykamp also use the concept of cultural capital in their study (1996).  Both studies refer to Pierre Bourdieu’s research on the stratification of students based on their socioeconomic status (Kalmijn and Kraaykamp, 1996: 23; Lareau and Horvart, 1999: 37).  According to Kalmijn and Kraaykamp, Bourdieu found that status-attainment in schools was based on socioeconomic status (23). Kalmijn and Kraaykamp found that less privileged students (their study was based on race) were less likely to excel in school (33).  This is significant to the present study because it shows the possibility of unequal treatment of students based on their social class.  By having a certain degree of “cultural capital” the students may have an advantage, because there is the possibility the teacher may give special attention to them, as seen in Chambliss’ study. 

There are very few studies that can be found that correlate labeling theory to the delinquency of American high school students.  Such studies can be significant in helping lower-class students and find out what is needed to prevent them from future deviant acts. 

Hypothesis

Hypothesis: The number of disciplinary reports that a student receives is directly related to the social class of the student.

            In order to test my hypotheses, the variables need o be appropriately defined.  The social class of a student will be described by the annual income of their current household as low income and average to high income.  The low-income category will be defined as students who receive free lunch or reduced lunch through their school lunch programs.  The average or high-income category will be defined as students who do not receive any financial help in the schools lunch program.  This category can not be distinguished between the two through the method I have chose to use to distinguish income.  The lunch program is the method I chose to use in distinguishing socioeconomic status because the parent’s income is what is used to distinguish who participates in the program. 

            Social reaction will be described by the amount of punishment the youth receives for disciplinary violation.  Disciplinary actions will be based on the schools system, but will focus on the students admittance to being sent to the principal’s office, being suspended, receiving detention (in school or after school) and being written up.  The amount of trouble in which the student engages in will be measured as what acts the student admits to committing, whether he or she was disciplined or not.  The independent variable in this hypothesis is the social class of the student, while the dependent variable is the level of social reaction the school officials to deviant behavior. 

Sampling Procedure

            For this study I have chose to use a nonprobability quota sampling method.  I chose a high school located in a suburban city in Southern Illinois, because the administrators were willing to allow me to take the students out of class for a limited time.  My study population was sixteen male students, between the ages of 16 and 18.  The males were separated into two categories, based on their participation in the lunch program, but the survey was conducted with all of the boys at the same time.  My study population is a very low number and accurate results will not be achieved, but this study is being used as an exploratory pilot study.  The head counselor at the school, based on the schools lunch program, chose the subjects.  I was not allowed access to the rosters in order for the students to remain anonymous. 

Collecting Data

            The method I chose to use to collect my data was a survey.  I chose this approach because it would give me the best results in the time provided. My subjects will be attended high school at the time of survey.  I explained to my subjects that confidentiality and anonymity was assured by introducing and explaining the purpose of my study before they began.

            The survey consists of multiple questions (See Appendix A).  Questions range from demographics to personal questions.  The student was asked if they participate in the lunch program.  The student was asked about certain deviant acts he has committed in the past, although the student may not perceive some acts as deviant.  The acts that are being considered delinquent for this study are: physically fighting with another student, skipping class, committing some type of damage to school property, stealing something from someone else, and underage drinking.  The reason these categories were chosen is because each one can occur at school.  I feel that the most honest responses will come from these categories because I have witnessed some of these acts as occurring regularly at a high school (e.g. fighting with another student and skipping class).  The student was also asked how student officials respond to their actions.  This question will have several answers ranging from not getting caught to formal disciplinary action. The term formally disciplined means that the student got in trouble and punished by a school official.  My survey is located in appendix A.

Analysis of Results

            The number of students who admitted to receiving disciplinary action is shown in Table 1.  There were a total of nine low-income students who participated in the survey.  Five of those students admitted to being disciplined formally within the past year.  There were seven average or high-income students that participated in the survey, only one of whom had been formally disciplined. 

        Table 1
Income compared to disciplinary actions                                                                                                               

 

Total

written up

suspended

 

low-income

9

3

 

2

 

average/high-income

7

1

0

                                                              

Table 2 and Table 3 relates income and the student’s admittance to a delinquent act, along with the punishment received.  Table 2 shows that out of the nine low-income students surveyed there were thirteen admitted delinquent acts. Out of the seven average or high-income students, nine delinquent acts were admitted to.  Underage drinking was the delinquent act admitted to the most, by both groups of students.  Only one student, from the low-income group, was caught drinking underage and was punished.  The other eight students, regardless of which socioeconomic group they were in, were not caught committing this act.  Four out of the nine low-income students admitted to fighting and only one out of the seven average or high-income students admitted to this act.  Each of the low-income students who were caught fighting was punished, while the one student from the average or high-income group was not punished at all for the act.  None of the low-income students admitted to stealing something that was not theirs, while three out of the nine average or high-income students did, although none of the students were caught.  Three of the nine low-income students admitted to skipping class, while only two were caught and both were punished.  Two of the students in the average or high-income group admitted to skipping class, with neither one being caught.  Out of the entire study population, only one boy, from the low-income group, admitted to damaging school property and he was not caught.

                                               Table 2

Multivariate Relationship: Income and Admittance to Delinquent Act

 

 

Income level

Physically

fighting

Skipping

Class

Damage to

School

Property

Stole

something

at school

Underage

Drinking

low-income

(n=9)

 

4

 

3

 

1

 

0

 

5

average or

high income

(n=7)

 

 

1

 

2

 

0

 

3

 

3

 

 Table 3

Multivariate Relationship: Delinquent act, Income and Punishment

{(#) = amount admitted to act}

 Delinquent

Act

Punished

Did not get Caught

Not

Punished

low       average
income  or high

low        average
income   or high

low        average
income   or high

fighting

100%     0%    

(4)          (1)

 0%          0%

 (4)          (1)

 0%       100%

 (4)         (1)

skipping

class

66%       0%

(3)          (2)

33%      100%

(3)          (2)

 0%         0%

(3)           (2)

damage to

school

property

 0%          -

 (1)              

100%        -

 (1)

 0%          -

 (1)

stole

something

at school

    -          0%

               (3)

    -        100%

                (3)

    -          0%

               (3)

underage

drinking

20%        0%

 (5)          (3)

 80%     100%

  (5)        (3)

 0%         0%

 (5)         (3)

 

 Conclusion

            It is impossible to make generalizations about anyone other than this population because of the nonprobability sample and the small sample size.  From the information I gathered it seems that the low-income students did commit more delinquent acts than the average to high-income students.  This could also be explained because it is possible the low-income students were more apt to admit to their delinquent acts, while the average or high-income students were not. 

            Another point that I should bring up is related to the types of delinquent acts committed by each group.  The major category of delinquent behavior was underage drinking.  Since the number of students for each group is not any generalizations can be made on this subject either.  With the category of skipping class, the majority of the low-income students were caught, while the average or high-income students got away with the act.  This may be explained because the low-income students may have less access to a form of transportation (e.g. a car) and may be forced to walk when they are skipping class, which may make it easier for them to get caught. 

            The only category in which a student from the average or high-income class was caught and not punished for a delinquent act was physically fighting with another student.  This is the only instance within my study that supports my hypothesis.  The four low-income students who were caught fighting with another student were all formally disciplined. 

            Although my study was an exploratory study and no conclusions can be based on the study itself, there are instances such as the one mentioned previously where a student of a higher-class status is not punished for the same delinquent act.  Further investigation into this situation should be considered with a broader study population.  If it can be proven that students are disciplined based on their class status, then future studies may be able to follow up on such individuals to see how it may affect their future in deviant acts.

 Appendix A

Please answer as honestly as possible.  This survey is completely confidential and anonymous.  No one will have access to the results, except myself and I will not be able to tell them apart from the others based on the information provided.  Honesty is appreciated and is needed to get the results I need.  This is a pilot study, meaning nothing will be published and is only going to be used to start my project for future studying.  Thank you for participating, please follow all of the instructions, if you have any questions, you can ask me.

 1.  What is your gender: (please check one)

            [ ] male             [ ] female

2.  What age group are you in?

            [ ] under 15      [ ] 16                [ ] 17                [ ] 18                [ ] over 18

3.  What is your grade in school:

            [ ] Freshman     [ ] Sophomore  [ ] Junior           [ ] Senior

4.  Are your parents:

            [ ] Married       [ ] Divorced      [ ] Separated    [ ] other

            If other, please specify: _________________

5.  Do you receive free lunch through the lunch program at your school?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no

6.  Do you pay a reduced amount for your lunch, through the lunch program at your

school?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no

 7.  Are you involved in any school sports? 

            [ ] yes               [ ] no

            if yes, please identify which sport or sports you participate in:

           _________________________________________________

           _________________________________________________

8.  Are you involved in any school clubs or volunteer groups?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no

            if yes, please identify which clubs or groups you participate in:

           _________________________________________________

           _________________________________________________

           ________________________________________________

9.  How many times have you been written up by someone with authority at school, such          

     as a teacher, a teacher’s assistant, vice principal, principal, etc.) in the past year?

            [ ] 0                  [ ] 1-3              [ ] 4-6              [ ] 7-10              

            [ ] 11-13          [ ] more than 14

 

10.  How many times have you been suspended from school in the past year?

            [ ] 0                  [ ] 1-3              [ ] 4-6              [ ] 7-10             

            [ ] 11-13          [ ] more than 14

 

 11.  Have you ever been in a physical fight with another student?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no    (If no, proceed to question 12)

                 if yes, were you punished?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no    (If no, proceed to question 12)

                if yes, how were you punished?

            [ ] written up     [ ] suspended    [ ] verbal warning         

            [ ] other (please explain if you choose other)_____________

 

12.  Have you ever skipped class?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no    (If no, proceed to question 13)

            if yes, how often do you skip class?

            [ ] always         [ ] sometimes    [ ] rarely           [ ] never

            if yes, did you get caught?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no   (If no, proceed to question 13)

            if yes, how were you punished?

            [ ] written up     [ ] suspended    [ ] verbal warning         

            [ ] other (please explain if you choose other)_____________

 

13.  Have you ever damaged school property? 

            [ ] yes               [ ] no    (If no, proceed to question 14)

            if yes, did you get caught?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no    (If no, proceed to question 14)

            if yes, how were you punished?

            [ ] written up     [ ] suspended    [ ] verbal warning         

            [ ] other (please explain if you choose other)_____________

 

14.  Have you ever taken something that was not yours while at school?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no    (If no, proceed to question 15)

            if yes, did you get caught?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no    (If no, proceed to question 15)

            if yes, how were you punished?

            [ ] written up     [ ] suspended    [ ] verbal warning         

            [ ] other (please explain if you choose other)______

15.  Have you ever participated in underage drinking of alcohol?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no    (If no, you are done with survey)

            if yes, did you get caught?

            [ ] yes               [ ] no    (if no, you are done with survey)

            if yes, how were you punished?

            [ ] written up     [ ] suspended    [ ] verbal warning         

            [ ] other (please explain if you choose other)______

 

Citations

Becker, Howard.  1963.  Outsiders: Studies in the Sociology of Deviance.  New York,

The Free Press.

Chambliss, William J.  1973.  “The Saints and the Roughnecks.”  Society 11:24-31.

Kslmijn, Matthijs and Gerbert Kraaykamp.  1996.  “Race, Cultural Capital, and

Schooling: An Analysis of Trends in the United States.”  Sociology of Education 69.1:22-34.

Lareau, Annette and Erin McNamara Horvat.  1999.  “Moments of Social Inclusion and

Exclusion: Race, Class, and Cultural Capital in Family-School Relationships.”  Sociology of Education 72.1:37-53.

Mickelson, Roslyn Arlin.  1987.  “The Case of the Missing Brackets:  Teachers and

Social Reproduction.”  Journal of Education  169.2:78-88.

Welsh, Wayne et al. 1999.  “Reducing Minority Overrepresentation in Juvenile Justice: 

Results of Community-Cased Delinquency Prevention in Harrisburg.”  Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency 36.1:87-110.