British sociologist and linguist Basil Bernstein who died in 2000 was known for is work in the sociology of education. He combined his background in linguistics with his observation that working class students did as well on average as middle class students in math, but did not do as well in language-based subjects. Bernstein developed his theory of social linguist coding which held that working class people tend to use restricted code while middle class people more typically use elaborted code. Bernstein did not intend to say that the language patterns of the working class were in any way inferior than those of the middle class, but his theory included the idea that the restricted code favored by the working class had an adverse impact on their academic performance. Bernstein was simply describing what he believed to be true. There have been some studies which tend to support his theory. Working class people were seen as having common understandings which were thus implicit. The language used does not have to spell out in detail everything that is being conveyed, since there is a certain unity among the members of this class. Middle class people, according to Bernstein's approach, are more individualistic, and thus it cannot be assumed that everything being said would automatically be understood by someone else. The language of the middle class must elaborate everything that is being said, to avoid ambiguity or confusion.

Like all theories, I am sure that there is some over-simplication in Bernstein's theory of social linguistic coding, but I believe that more research into the differences in communication among working versus middle class people would be helpful. I also believe that there is not enough research going on into the sociology of eduction and why so many people in this country have such a harsh and biased attitude toward poor people, have such a backward, inaccurate, and anachronistic view of both history and the Constitution, and why so many people are willing to endorse or adopt right-wing cynicisim such as all politicians are corrupt or all government is ineffective.

I believe it would be helpful to hear from a political scientist or sociologist on the socioeconomic makeup of Republican voters. How many of them make $100,000 or more, and how many are working class and/or are not college graduates?

Sociologists may study employment trends as they relate to the composition of society. Despite the high unemployment rate, a majority of people, for better or for worse, are still employed. Academics should be publicizing the political attitudes of those are unemployed or who are concerned about those who are unemployed. An unemployed person who runs out of income is neither working class or middle class. In minority/African-American urban neighborhoods, there is often a higher unemployment rate than in communities that have a white, including Asian, majority. Black unemployment has risen with the overall rise in unemployment but was already higher than white unemployment before the economic downturn.

All of these details are important in understanding how to change the political situation for the better and also how to address some of the most pressing social problems we have, such as poverty, unemployment, and an educational system that is all to often ineffective, not just in inner city schools but in predominately white, middle class areas as well. Language is important in the socialization process. Professor Bernstein suggested that this process can have an affect on educational attainment, which in turn can affect political trends.


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