Class Matters in Planning for Success
And small wonder that all the interviewed parents were making efforts to ensure that their children would have a competitive chance in these turbulent times, often starting very early in childhood. Before turning to the ways in which the goals and aspirations—and actions—of the professional middle class differed from those of the middle – and working-class parents, 1 want to stress this point: every single parent with whom my research assistants and I spoke expressed concern about her or his child’s educational future, and every single parent expressed the hope that her or his child would go on to some form of education after high school (as more than two-thirds of all high school graduates do today).6 In these aspirations parents made no distinction between their daughters and their sons: in this day and age, girls are expected along with boys to receive higher education and to strive for a career.
Of course, this is not to deny what decades of substantial research has demonstrated: social class matters in educational experience and educational performance, and this is true not least because wealthy parents have the social, cultural, and economic capital to ensure their children’s success.7 Several patterns are especially significant, albeit not necessarily new. For example, it is not only in contemporary times that privileged parents enroll their children in excellent private and public schools.8 Testing for learning disabilities is a more recent development; so too is the nurturing of talents through extensive involvement in extracurricular activities. Even if these patterns have continuities with actions taken by privileged parents in the past, they have a heightened urgency today as they are linked to new anxieties about the future. Moreover, as enacted, these patterns become manifestations of a belief in a child’s boundless potential and of the necessity for control over the details of a child’s daily life to ensure that children do, indeed, reach their potential while beating out the competition. Because these actions make clear that parents hold high expectations for the future (and leave no room for failure), they may well create a pressure cooker out of children’s lives.