Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Middle-Classness and Whiteness in Parents' Responses to Multiculturalism: A Study of One School

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Middle-Classness and Whiteness in Parents' Responses to Multiculturalism: A Study of One School

Article excerpt

Since its founding in 1941 until the 1980s, "Pinecrest" School was dominated by children from "Baywoods," an economically privileged and largely Jewish neighbourhood. In the late 1980s, the population of the school changed to include children of immigrants in an adjacent neighbourhood, "Kerrydale." Seeking to protect their children's cultural capital and class advantages, the Baywoods parents' response involved the construction of fundamental difference and concerns about effects on school quality. The responses were interrupted by dilemma and ambivalence. They are read through the intersections of middle-class formation and whiteness in terms of three dimensions: practice, relationality, and maintenance.

Key words: Jews, immigrants, public school, parents, exclusion, social class, ethnicity

Depuis sa creation en 1941 jusque dans les annees 1990, l'ecole << Pinecrest >> accueillait principalement des enfants de << Baywoods >>, un quartier habite par des familles a l'aise et surtout par des Juifs. A la fin des annees 1980, la population de l'ecole a change a la suite de l'integration d'enfants d'immigrants provenant de << Kerrydale >>, un quartier voisin. Cherchant a proteger le capital culturel de leurs enfants et les avantages de leur classe sociale, les parents de Baywoods ont reagi en invoquant la notion de difference fondamentale et en se preoccupant des effets possibles sur la qualite de l'ecole. Dilemmes et ambivalence ont toutefois interrompu le processus. Les reactions des parents sont interpretees dans le contexte du lien entre la formation de la classe moyenne et la blancheur et ce, a trois niveaux : la pratique, les relations et le maintien de la reproduction du groupe.

Mots cles: Juifs, immigrants, ecole publique, parents, exclusion, classe sociale, ethnicite

Although not entirely a recent phenomenon in critical methods, "studying up" or what Leslie Roman (1993) describes as the examination of "cultural practices, social relations, and material conditions that structure the daily experiences and expectations of powerful groups" (p. 29) resonates with current directions in sociological research. Studies on loci of power embodied in whiteness, masculinity, and the middle class have generated much interest. The research project described in this article emerged from this approach. It primarily explores the perspectives of a group of parents in an urban neighbourhood I call "Baywoods" whose children attend "Pinecrest," a public elementary school. These parents could be characterized as economically privileged if the phenomenon can be determined through income, residential property values, and professional and executive occupations. The participants are also identifiably white (but their Jewishness may call for some qualification of that term), and most are women. Rather than illustrate a single dimension of studying up, my research project weaves two dimensions together, suggestive of an intersectional approach. I refer here to the term as described by Stasiulus (1999): "Intersectional theorizing understood the social reality of women and men, and the dynamics of their social, cultural, economic, and political contexts to be multiply, simultaneously, and interactively determined by various significant axes of social organization" (p. 347, original emphasis). Yet Anthias (2005) distinguishes the fact of intersections in inequality from the processes by which inequality occurs. Specifically, she wants to separate "the notions of social position (concrete position vis-a-vis a range of social resources such as economic, cultural and political) and social positioning (how we articulate, understand, and interact with these positions, e.g., contesting, challenging, defining)" (p. 33). Thus the story here not only describes the particularities of a powerful group; it also conveys something of the exercise of their power.

In the late 1980s, the population of the school changed to reflect the shape of immigrant settlement in its adjacent neighbourhood, "Kerrydale. …

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