The class system

In Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools, sociologist Peter W. Cookson Jr. describe how students’ socioeconomic status “affects much more than academic outcomes,” writes reviewer Richard Kahlenberg.

High schools “pass on class position through rites of passage that instill in students the values, dispositions, and beliefs of their class,” writes Cookson. Certain schools groom students to be leaders, while others channel adolescents into the laboring class.

High schools have a “latent curriculum,” a set of rules and norms that are written in considerable measure by fellow students, argues Cookson.

School buildings send “unspoken messages.” “Do I go to a school that is beautiful, well equipped, and mirrors back to me a sense of privilege,” he asks, “or do I go to a school that reflects back to me poverty, disorganization, and confusion?”

About Joanne


  1. PhillipMarlowe says:


    November 18, 2013

    The NJ Schools Development Authority (SDA) has denied an Open Public Records Act (OPRA) request filed by Education Law Center to obtain the agency’s reports on the health and safety conditions in four schools badly in need of repair: Camden High School, Thomas G. Connors Elementary School in Hoboken, Cleveland Elementary School in Orange, and Orange High School.

    All four schools were identified by the SDA as having serious health, safety and other structural defects. To date, the SDA has not started any repair work on the schools, despite having ample funding available for this purpose.

  2. Michael E. Lopez says:

    Didn’t this book get written in 1962?

    And 1964?

    And 1967?

    And 1972?

    And 1977?

    And 1979?

    And in 1982, 1984, 1985, 1986, and 1987?

    And 1989?

    And Every. Single Year. beginning with “199”?

    Does changing “hidden” to “latent” get you a book deal these days?

  3. Yes, once again we see that the biggest problem with being poor in America is that you can’t afford to get away from the other poor people.

  4. What Mr. Cookson describes as a bug is, in actuality, a feature.

    The point of the district system is, and always has been, to allow rich people to spend as much money on their kids as they want while affording poor people the same option.

    Rich people are also more inclined, and better resourced, to crack the whip on their elected representatives which prevents the hired help from running the schools as they see fit. Poor people tend to have a tougher time with that problem.

    As for Mr. Cookson’s “Occupy Wall Street” doggerel, that’s selling only to his peers. Parents are clearly uninterested preferring schools they can select rather then bumper sticker political slogans and voters are interested, more and more, making sure parents have those choices to make.

  5. Culture matters. Whether from the inner cities, rural Appalachia or blue-collar communities, kids/families wishing to move into the middle or upper-middle classes need to learn their speech, habits, behaviors, assumptions and expectations. I remember reading about an informal “club” of blue-collar kids at a very competitive law school, who gathered to help each other negotiate an unfamiliar environment and seek appropriate “cultural” assistance from faculty and staff. Spelling out the unwritten assumptions, habits and expectations would be very helpful for many, but it doesn’t seem to be very common.