Wednesday, October 4, 2017


Laurence Steinberg
Beyond the Classroom
New York: Touchstone, p. 138

The Power of Peers

Parents play a central role in influencing their child’s development and education, but by the time children have reached the last years of elementary school, friends have taken on tremendous importance in their school life. In order to understand the full complement of influences on school performance and engagement, especially during the adolescent years—and in order to understand the causes of America’s achievement problems—we need to look closely at the roles played by peers. Indeed, our research indicates that peers shape student achievement in profound ways, and that in many respects friends are more powerful influences than family members are. For a large number of adolescents, peers—not parents—are the chief determinants of how intensely they are invested in school and how much effort they devote to their education.


pp. 145-146

The Prevailing Norm: Getting By

...what did our study tell us about the peer norms and standards operative within the typical American school? Let’s begin by looking at the most common crowds found in American schools and what they stand for. As you will see, there isn’t much place in the typical American high school for students whose primary concern is academic excellence.

    The popularity-conscious, socially elite crowds, whose concerns tend to revolve around socializing, dating, and maintaining social status among friends, account for approximately 20 percent of students in a typical high school. Students in these crowds may do well enough to get by without getting into academic trouble, but they rarely strive for academic excellence—most of their grades are Bs [in 1996]. Another 20 percent of students belong to one of more of the alienated crowds, where identities are centered around drugs, drinking, delinquency, or defiance; these students are openly hostile to academics—on average, they earn Cs. About 30 percent of students describe themselves as “average”—not especially opposed to academic pursuits, but not exactly striving for success, either; like those in the social crowds, their grades hover around straight Bs. And between 10 and 15 percent of students belong to a crowd defined by ethnicity, although this figure varies considerably from school to school, depending on the school’s ethnic composition. The extent to which members of ethnically defined peer crowds are invested in academics depends largely on the particular ethnic group in question...

    ... What about the explicitly academically oriented crowds—the “brains,” the “intellectuals,” and so on? Despite the fact that these students are enrolled in more difficult, more demanding courses—many of them take honors and advanced-placement courses—they maintain an A- average in school grades. But whereas 70 percent of students belong to one of the solid-B [1996], popularity-conscious elites, one of the low achieving, alienated crowds, or to the large mass of “average” students, less than 5 percent of all students are members of a high-achieving crowd that defines itself on the basis of academic excellence.

    Not only is there little room in most schools for the academically-oriented, there is substantial peer pressure on students to underachieve. Adults might think that virtually all teenagers would rather do well in school than do poorly, but our studies suggest that this is not necessarily the case. To be sure, the prevailing expectation among American teenagers is that one ought to avoid failing in school and do what it takes to graduate. But our surveys indicate that among American teenagers, there is widespread peer pressure not to do too well...

...One out of every six students deliberately hides her or his intelligence and interest in doing well while in class because they are “worried about what their friends might think.” One in five students say their friends make fun of people who try to do well in school......

No comments:

Post a Comment