Understanding Implicit Socialization Processes in Schools

(Summary of Wilcox (1982) Field Research Findings)

Kathleen Wilcox observed two teachers’ communications with students in their primary school classrooms. Both schools were considered to be "middle class," but despite this, the teachers’ language embodies different assumptions about their respective students. Here is a summary of some of the findings reported in this study. --JKA

Huntington (Ms. Newman)

Smith (Ms. Jones)

[classroom environment] traditional, orderly, quiet and productive desks in rows, children worked by themselves pouring over assignments, moving quietly from their desks to resource materials that lined the room, only occasionally poking and playing with each other. Group work was rare; emphasis was on independent academic work.

[classroom environment]

"The Smith classroom was relatively free form, comfortable, and at times, frenetic. The children were often spread out all over the room, engaged in different kinds of activities, some academically oriented, some not." (p. 284)."The room had a lot of inviting, open territory with many interesting things for the children to do. It was organized to facilitate small group activities."

[Responsibility placed on the child]

The teacher treats the child as a self-directed person who is capable of handing a process in an independent way and of choosing the consequences of his or her activity. The teacher places on the child responsibility to shape his or her activities in a manner that promotes or relies upon internalized values, self-images, standards, or goals.

[Responsibility placed on the teacher]

The teacher emphasizes that the child is to follow certain standard rules, procedures, or directions to be set out by the teacher and made salient by his or her authority and direct power.

There are clearly strong, external control standards and rules, but they are communicated in an internal manner: "Have you used your time wisely?" "Why do you do this to yourself?"

External control is the overriding control mechanism in Jones' class.

Mixed messages are common.

"No writing, Tommy. Play fair with yourself. Why is it so hard to follow directions?"

When Jones uses an internal control orientation, it is when she is trying to inculcate proper standards of general classroom behavior rather than when she is attempting to teach specific academic skills. ["How would you feel if someone took your lunch?"] When children fight, she makes them resolve their disputes. She also uses this orientation when teaching students to use classroom resources without her help.

Newman is careful to employ an internal control approach interacting with students about academic [learning-related] matters.

Jones uses an external control approach when interacting with students about academic matters.

In regard to academic matters, the teacher emphasized that the child is engaged in a self-directed, academic process. "That's being a real, independent worker." "Use your time wisely to help yourself become a better reader."

In regard to academic matters, the teacher emphasizes the need to behave according to externally imposed and enforced rules and regulations. "I won't accept backwards numbers..." "Sit down and do that work."

[References to the future, world of work] Teacher refers to Harvard, being a mathematician, artist, etc.

[Orientation to the present rather than the future.] The future is second grade.

Last update: 10/12/01

Back to Human Development Handouts Page