Socioeconomic Inequality In Decoding Instructions and Demonstrating Knowledge

Document Type


Publication Date



Anthropology and Sociology


Social Science and Global Studies


Cultural capital may contribute to socioeconomic achievement gaps by shaping how students engage with authority in schools. However, social class shapes academic skills and know-how in other ways. Through classroom observations and interviews with first graders, their parents, and teachers, I find that higher-SES students decode teachers’ inexplicit academic instructions and demonstrate academic knowledge more ably, confidently, and frequently than lower-SES students. Lower-SES students demonstrate procedural knowledge (i.e. knowledge of classroom rules) as much as academic knowledge to gain attention and praise from teachers. These patterns are primarily connected to higher-SES parents teaching their children the academic problem solving script teachers expect and reward, whereas lower-SES parents emphasizing rule following as the path to academic achievement. Teachers also give less explicit instruction for academic tasks compared to classroom procedure. Results from this study highlight additional forms of cultural capital and additional ways that social class reproduces these inequalities.

Publication Title

Qualitative Sociology

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