Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Emily Isaacs

Committee Member

James Nash

Committee Member

Jessica Restaino


Social class plays a significant but often silent part in American politics, lives, and education. As the events of Hurricane Katrina clearly illustrate, the poor and working class often suffer discrimination that leaves them completely powerless. Their position in life shapes not only how they are seen and treated, but also how they see their world. Their cultures differ markedly from middle and upper class cultures, further alienating them from possible greater personal achievement in a system that champions middle-class values. Education, being a microcosm of our society, mirrors our class conflicts, often failing to teach working-class students in an equal and fair manner, particularly in English composition courses. Increasing numbers of working-class students are attending college and with this large influx of often under-prepared students, educators must first understand the nature of class issues in America in order to more fairly address teaching these students.

This paper addresses the undeniable connections between American history, politics, and education. It examines the cultural barriers that played a part in the Katrina disaster, drawing a parallel between the suffering of the New Orleans underprivileged and working- class and the widespread class issues that affect the entire nation. I offer an examination of class issues: what affects the individual working-class student’s ability to learn, teacher superiority based on social class, the need for educators to respect the values of their working-class students, and a call for more democratic and less authoritarian classrooms. I attempt to define the term “working-class” and discuss their distinct use of restricted language codes, which separates them from the middle-class who use elaborated codes, terms first coined by linguist Basil Bernstein. I discuss the difference in values between the classes and why this makes it difficult for working-class students to learn and achieve. A number of experts in the fields of linguistics, anthropology and psychology have studied class in America and I refer to these experts in my arguments.

I further discuss the different methods of teaching, described as “inner-directed” and “outer-directed” language theories by Patricia Bizzell, and discuss the pros and cons of these methods. I argue for the need for democratic inclusion in the classroom, a principle more eloquently described by Paulo Freire, one of the leading educational theorists revered by so many of the other scholars referred to in this paper. To some extent, I discuss practical methods or approaches to be used in the college composition classroom to better educate the working-class, as well as discuss the faults I have seen in some of the current college composition classroom curriculum.

Throughout the paper, I insist that a general philosophy of education must be implemented, rather than a piece-meal attack on social class through hit and miss efforts. American pragmatism, a distinctly American philosophy formed at the turn of the 20th century, promotes understanding for the purpose of enabling the individual and providing for the betterment of society. John Dewey applied the principles to education then, and a return to the basis of that humanistic, heuristic philosophy could ground our approaches to education, particularly higher education, so that we might more fairly and democratically teach working-class students in America.

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