Social and Intellectual Barriers in the Classroom
Peggy Orenstein's School Girls is a book about adolescent girls, and how low levels of self-esteem and confidence can hinder a positive self-image and contribute to poor academic performance. Orenstein compares and contrasts the experiences of girls from two different junior high schools, Weston and Audubon, and finds that factors such as family, culture, teacher attitude and social class affect girls differently. By looking at both Audubon and Weston from an academic standpoint, one would find that there are more barriers between Audubon students and education, than there are for students at Weston.
Ninety percent of the students at Audubon represent everything but "the white and the wealthy" (136): they are "African-American, Latino, Asian, or Filipino" (137). According to Orenstein, two-thirds of these students are poverty-stricken and come from lower class, and perhaps single parent households. Unlike economically advantaged school districts, lower class students are reminded daily that they will never excel beyond their current status, and will only represent or contribute to a national statistic of academic failure. Not only are the students at Audubon reminded of their race and class status, they are ignored in the classroom. In Mr. Krieger's English class, students are given a license to conduct their own lessons--lessons on conversation skills and classroom chaos: "Within fifteen minutes, however, he has mined that vein to exhaustion, and the class degenerates into chaos…one of the boys is stuffing a friend into a supply closet with the assistance of roughly half the class, while Mr. Krieger sits at the front of the room chatting…" (139). An educational environment does not exist at Audubon; the teachers don't teach, and the school itself exists as a place for students to convene for eight hours, in an attempt to keep them off the streets.
Not only are the students ignored at Audubon, they are also reprimanded. In
Ms. Raynes science class, students come to class expecting to get through a lesson, but are approached as unmanageable and uneducable: "I'm tired of spoon-feeding you people your lessons…This is the stupidest class I've ever seen…I don't know who's been raising you, but whoever it is has slipped up" (141). Ms. Raynes values traditional ways of teaching, and thinks that her students will learn something by reading outdated textbooks and transferring answers from the book to a worksheet. She doesn't adjust her teaching style to fit the needs of the students, most of whom are flunking or barely passing the class. More importantly, Ms. Raynes doesn't acknowledge potential in her students. Calling her students' stupid and insulting their parents for raising them a particular way is damaging. The students in Ms. Raynes class have learned they are worthless, and thus misbehave and ignore assignments as a way of fulfilling her expectations of the class.