How family values ​​influence academic results


The correlation between socioeconomic origin and educational success is well known . According to available data , children from more humble backgrounds, with parents with a low educational level and limited resources, have statistically lower academic performance and, in general, are more likely to fail academically.

To explain this phenomenon, different causes are usually pointed out, among them, that the lack of resources of these families does not allow them to compensate for poor performance with support classes (which are often accessed by children from higher socioeconomic strata with similar performance. ).

It is also often pointed out that material difficulties push these children to opt for working as soon as possible and thus receive income quickly. Or that a disadvantaged background lowers the aspirations and expectations of parents, who would not feel as much pressure for their children to go to university and, therefore, would put less effort into achieving it than those parents who have university studies and for whom failure your children’s school would be a great disappointment.

The latter are examples of what the French sociologist Raymond Boudon defends in his theory of rational choice , which locates the cause of inequality in the negative impact that a low economic status has on decision-making about educational strategies. That is to say, according to Boudon, these families start from an unfavorable situation that inclines (in some cases forces) them to make educational decisions that hinder academic success.

School and the values ​​of the upper-middle class

Contrary to these explanations, a little more than 50 years ago the sociologists Pierre Bourdieu and Jean-Claude Passeron stated, in their influential Reproduction , that the reason was not to be found in individual decisions, but eminently in the school itself, which far from being neutral, it was a favorable playing field for children from the middle and upper classes.

How does school benefit some children over others? According to these authors, the school teaches, and therefore demands, the culture (we are talking about cultural knowledge, but also, very importantly, the qualities, attitudes and, in general, modes of behavior) of the middle and upper classes because They are more socially valued and considered more legitimate than lower class culture.

Thus, while some children (those from the middle and upper classes) have already acquired these qualities and behavioral habits at home, others (those from the lower classes) have been educated differently than what the school system values, which represents a disadvantage. important when competing for grades.

It is interesting to note that, in the current educational context, this disadvantage would be even greater, since the qualities and attitudes, often known as “soft skills” or “transversal competencies”, have become primary educational goals, frequently being valued by on top of traditional knowledge.

School system, families and preferred qualities

One way to check the validity of the reproduction theory is to analyze the level of correspondence between the qualities preferred by the school system and those valued by different types of families. That is, to verify whether families with low social status agree less with the school in choosing the most important qualities to transmit to children.

Precisely, this is a question included in the World Values ​​Survey (EMV) that has been carried out every 5 years since 1981 in many countries, including Spain. Specifically, in the EMV participants are asked to choose the five qualities that they consider most important to transmit to children from a list of 11, among which are: good manners, generosity, religious faith, thrift, hard work, obedience , independence, tolerance, responsibility, imagination and determination.

Since the survey includes various sociodemographic variables, it was easy to verify the differences between the qualities chosen by parents of different educational levels. And that’s what we did, we accessed the results of the different waves of the survey and compared what qualities parents with a low educational level (primary or lower education), medium (secondary education) and high (university studies) chose.

Next, to check the correlation between these parental preferences and what is valued by the school system, we analyze the qualities mentioned in the texts of the different educational reforms in Spain, from the LGE of 1970, to the LOMLOE of 2020. We undertake this analysis starting from that same EMV list and checking whether or not these qualities were mentioned explicitly or implicitly in the texts.

The historical evolution of values

The first thing we observed were expected variations in what was considered important to instill in children in each historical context. The analysis revealed that the school in Spain went from a more traditional and disciplinary culture in the 70s and 80s to a more secular or “modern” culture, especially after the LOGSE of 1990. Thus, it went from emphasizing, for example, obedience, hard work or religious faith before the age of 90, to privileging, from then on, qualities such as independence, tolerance and imagination.

But, in addition, we confirmed the thesis defended by Bourdieu and Passeron, namely: that the qualities valued by the school in each period were also, at that time, the most valued by families with medium and high educational levels. And vice versa, that families with primary education or without education chose as important qualities different from those prioritized at that time by the Spanish school system.

Thus, for example, parents with low education prioritized qualities such as good manners, thrift or obedience, which were not among the priorities of the LOGSE and, however, they did not consider independence, imagination and tolerance as important, where that educational law did put focus.

A gap that cannot be bridged

In fact, although we also verified that over time these low-educated families were assimilating the new qualities that were permeating the school culture, the distance from the school was always relatively greater in all the periods studied, which, without a doubt, implies a disadvantage.

Furthermore, as noted above, this inequality is reinforced by a school context in which the value given to qualities is today often comparable to that of knowledge itself. And far from being seen by teachers as the result of social inheritance, they are often interpreted as academic merits or natural gifts. This last phenomenon, as Bourdieu and Passeron also pointed out, further multiplies the disadvantage from which these children start.

Author Bios: Mayra Martínez Avidad is Full Professor of Sociology and Miquel Reynés Ramon is Professor of Sociology of Education both at Camilo José Cela University