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The Explanation of Educational Failure

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The Explanation of Educational Failure It is perhaps worth noting initially that Bernstein is not attempting to provide a total explanation of educational failure. As Halliday says, he is offering an interpretation of one aspect of it, the fact that the distribution of failure is not random but follows certain known and sadly predictable patterns.... Even here Bernstein is not trying to tell the whole story; what he is doing is to supply the essential link that was missing from the chain of relevant factors (1973, p. ix). Just as Bernstein's later accounts of the class stratified types of family environment that produce restricted or elaborated codes of different orientations are mainly elaborations of his earlier sketches, so his explanation of working class educational failure has remained basically the same through changes in formulation. In barest outline it is probably obvious from the preceding section: only some families promote elaborated codes; elaborated codes are the currency of formal educational systems, the precondition of success therein; so some children start at a tremendous advantage in the race for educational certification. Those children who lack a family orientation to elaborated codes may, of course, be lucky enough to pick them up from the educational system (though Bernstein does not devote the kind of attention bestowed by Bourdieu to the problems and more subtle discriminations such persons face in trying to move up the educational cum social ladder), but such ...read more.


But as King (1979) has discovered, neither teachers nor parents are quite so taken with child centredness as the theory requires , though I do not see that this impugns the point about a smooth elimination procedure for those who do not shine in the informal classroom.) In the more abstract terms of his later code theory, these points appear thus: the school is necessarily concerned with the transmission and development of universalistic orders of meaning. The school is concerned with the making explicit and elaborating through language, principles and operations, as these apply to objects (science subjects) and persons (arts subjects). One child, through his socialization, is already sensitive to the symbolic orders of the school, whereas the second child is much less sensitive to the universalistic orders of the school.... The school is necessarily trying to develop in the child orders of relevance and relation as these apply to persons and objects, which are not initially the ones he spontaneously moves towards... Orientations towards meta-languages of control and innovation are not made available to these children as part of their initial socialization. (1969 = 1974, p. 196) And it is not only the un-commonsense knowledge that is alien; the whole moral ethos of the school is different from that of the home. In a recent account, Bernstein links a middleclass mode of questioning, in which parents may test a child's ability to answer and from which ...read more.


teachers; they have to read books, they have to write essays, take examinations, even, if they are lucky, follow educational films or interact with a personal computer. No doubt a researcher armed with a tape-recorder would fail to note the written words pupils were trying to deal with, but surely these written words would play a very significant role in such pupils' achievements, or lack of them. The idea that one reads for one's degree is not totally alien to the lower reaches of the school system. And indeed, there is some evidence that the place of literacy in the family home can play a significant role in the differential achievement of children in the earlier years of schooling, which are for many the most fraught with longer term consequences ("it seems possible that the relationship between family background and educational attainment in the early years may be quite largely mediated by class- associated differences in the relative salience that is given to activities associated with literacy in interaction between parents and children" [Wells, 1981, p. 197], reporting recent very detailed English work, with which one may compare Reid, 1976, for some suggestive data from Jamaica). There are other criticisms that could be made of the relevance of such empirical research to Bernstein's claims, but my main point now is simply to highlight the crudity of what counts as significant work in this area, and as significant findings. ...read more.

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