Rosemary Benet

*Abe Lincoln's mother

We know that Abraham Lincoln did learn to read, and that he got to town, that he got on, and that we know his name. But this poetic reconstruction of the questions the wife of a Middlewestern farmer of the first half of the nineteenth century would ask herself about her son, strikes an echo in our breast for it links together a set of biographical happenings in a manner that possesses a truth that only comes from statements that conform to our expectations: Abe Lincoln learned to read, and he got on. Abe learned to read and this is at least partially why he got on, why he became president. The question also implies an uncertainty: Abe might not learn to read, and he might stay on the land as a sharecropper. And it is proper that a mother should worry about this.

But the poem strikes a chord in us not simply because it links romantic ideas. It strikes a chord because it corresponds to a real fear that we all, as parents, as educators of young children, continue to hold. The vocabulary may have changed from what it was 100 years ago, but the concern is the same. We still fear that our children may not learn to read. They may not get downtown and to the suburbs. They may stay locked in their ethnic neighborhoods, protected but also imprisoned. The poem is made even more appropriate by being put in the mouth of the mother who cares, a parent who organizes her children so that they can learn to read. She does not ask "did he go to school." She asks: "did he learn to read?" Lincoln indeed did not attend the great schools and universities of his time. He gained his education "on his own," which means that his family, and his communities, were organized to allow him to develop his talents. Lincoln's personal biography is of course exceptional and totally atypical in its detail. Learning to read may be necessary to become president, but it is far from sufficient. And yet there is something that is generalizable in this biography.

The families and community that helped Lincoln also helped others to accomplish their social destiny--even if that destiny was not to lead them to the heights Lincoln climbed. We know for a historical fact that many became literate at a high level in the United States of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries even in the absence of schools or through schools that have no relationships to the all encompassing institutions which we now associate with the category (Cremin, 1970, 1980; Tyack, 1979).

But all this, however historically accurate, can also attain a mythical aura that can prevent us from drawing the proper lessons for our times. We would, of course, like to recapture what now appears like the educational vitality of a past era. We would like to see families and communities more deliberately take again responsibilities that they seem to have lost to the schools and "experts." We may even be aware, as was the child who composed the line we use as our title, that "we," as parents and siblings, "teach him everything he learns in school." And yet, as our awareness grows that the schools are not the only institutions that educate, we are also beginning to realize that things are much more complex than the altogether rosy picture presented by the myth of the self-educated person. It is not simply that families used to educate and now that they do not. It is rather that the exact routing of overall social impulses along institutional lines has changed enough over time either to highlight or to hide the role of the various institutions. Thus we do not "see" the school in the early centuries of modernity and yet something like it must have been there if only as a set of formal prescriptions that directed the people in specific directions. Thus we do not see the family in the last century. But we must go beyond these initial perceptions. We must recognize that, in our modern world and to the extent that children are still raised in families, these families must be doing something. They must, in particular, be doing some of its educative tasks.

These issues form the background of the work we report on. They have come to national attention in the past decade, and they have generated much work in the educational sciences. Our work is a response to this push for a better understanding of the role of the environment of the school on what happens in it. It is, we believe, a contribution to the further elaboration of our joint understanding of the educational process in the United States in particular, and in urban industrialized societies in general. To do this, we looked in depth at 12 working class families from the point of view of their use of literacy in their conduct of everyday life. We focused particularly on twelve children, one from each family, some of whom were doing well in school and some badly. These children ranged in age from 10 to 12 (grades 4 to 7). Seven were of Black and five of Irish heritage. Six were boys and six girls. Using limited participantobservation, informal interviewing and the video-taping of a homework scene, we got to know these children and their families well. This knowledge of the literacy experiences of these people form the basis for our findings.

These findings consist above all in the observation that the educational functions performed by the families look like nothing which school-based expectations of what learning looks like might lead one to expect. These families educate, but they do not educate the way schools do (or at least not as schools are thought to do according to received current knowledge). Indeed the way they educate least is the way which they borrow from the school: the supervising of homework. What they do educationally is fundamentally different from what it is that schools do. The educational styles of these families appear greatly constrained by the differential opportunities available in their different social positions (even when their particular adaptation is extremely atypical). This means that what they do within their families is constrained by what they have to deal with including the school and its requirements. We thus end up with an account of both differences and interdependencies between home and school.

In this introduction, we first summarize the philosophical and research issues that have driven our research. This is followed by a summary of findings. The introduction ends with a discussion of the theoretical significance of the study and an outline of the report.


1. The eclipse of the family as educator

To say that "a multiplicity of institutions educate--families and churches, schools and colleges, museums and libraries, summer camps and settlement houses," and that "whether consciously or not, such institutions tend at any given time to relate to one another in what might be called configurations of education" (Cremin, 1974:1), is to state a problem for analysis. It is potentially to make our analyses more powerful. It is also to make them initially much more difficult. What do all these institutions do? And, more importantly, how do they relate to each other? When we say that, in the early years of the modern world families organized themselves so that minimal schooling should be offered in their community, do we say that this was a private act that just happened to occur frequently and then, cumulatively, led to the educational explosion that eventually occurred? Or are we saying that, in some ways, the apparently 'individual' desires of persons and families were themselves triggered by an environment so organized as to kindle desire, and make it appear that it had been self-generated, self-produced and self-actualized?

Historically, there is little doubt that the intellectualism of the Renaissance, joined with, or transformed into, the focus on personal salvation typical of Protestant religiosity, directly produced the central structural characteristics of the modern world in which we are still living. We are a civilization that emphasizes that men are separate and so we feel that we are separate, we believe we act privately (and differently from the way others do in their privacy), and, often, we realize that this produces as much pain as glory (Henry, 1963; Slater, 1970). It is equally certain that our religions and ideologies are social, public events--even though they possess the specific power of focussing the society on the independence and agency of the individual as a private being. That Protestant ideology should have this effect, on social organization, political economy and general ideology, is something that has been emphasized many times, in the works of de Tocqueville (1969), Max Weber (1958), or, more recently, Louis Dumont (1965, 1977). Thus it is not surprising that this ideology should have a direct impact on educational processes, both at the cultural level of its symbolization, ritualization and choreography and at the social level of its administration, organization and impact over behavior (Varenne, 1978, 1982, forthcoming; Varenne and Kelly, 1976).

The central organizational question for an archtypical Protestant of a puritanical bent had to do with the necessity that the congregation be made of persons who-as individual persons--could read. To become members children had to learn--individually. And they had to do this relatively early. This was a social need. This religious need was later transformed into a political need as the religious ideology transformed itself into a political one that formed the constitutional bases of the new democracies. As this happened, it became so evident that citizens had to possess some minimal education that, in the United States, England and France, the number of schools and the rate of literacy increased greatly even before the need for such an education was fully articulated by the first theoreticians of public, mass education (Furet & Ozouf, 1977). And yet this time of final consolidation is also the time when the creators of the new systems lost a vision of the roles local communities and families had played in the social movements that made them successful.

This is not the place to discuss the reasons that led to the disappearance of the family from the imagination of those who, in the first half of the nineteenth century, laid the foundations of the myth of the school as the overwhelmingly powerful and, in fact, unique educative force in modern societies. Many things probably came together, the difficulty that committed families probably always had in finding the resources to educate their children on their own and the apparent efficiency of a system that pooled children of the same age from one community and assigned one adult to perform the educative labor necessary for the functioning of the whole community. This process of role differentiation is a normal sociological one. And it must have been particularly powerful in the new towns of the American frontier that were so redundantly organized in terms of voluntary, community-based ad hoc groups. It is also clear that the early political philosophers, though theoretically relying on the national wisdom of individuals, could not quite trust them in fact to educate themselves into the necessary knowledge. This probably explains why the belief that schools should be open to every child so that each would have the opportunity to become educated even when their parents were not capable of providing this education themselves, became the belief that school attendance should be made compulsory.

In any event, by the time Horace Mann wrote his famous reports to the Massachusetts Board of Education, the centrality of the school as the preeminent institution for education was well established. In the fascinating report that he consecrates to the teaching of reading, spelling and composition, Mann does not once make mention of the family as the place where some of this instruction might start. As far as educators are concerned, Cremin has shown (1976) that the family indeed disappeared from their imagination, even when, like John Dewey, they were particularly aware of the primordiality of the broad social environment in the process that shapes children to become particular types of persons in particular kinds of society. Dewey also knew of the dangers that attended school education as it, of necessity, became divorced from the daily affairs which the children attended to jointly with their parents. Dewey is aware of something that Mann was not concerned with. But he is also convinced of the necessity of the school as a special institution in "advanced* society and he associates what we may call "participant-education" with "low grade society" (1916:8). He does not try to put to use the possibilities inherent in the fact that children, for several years before they start formal school, and even later, extensively share activities with their parents. It is certain that these activities are educative and that they can be made even more explicitly so if parents are encouraged.

Until now, of course, parents have been rather actively discouraged. It
is not uncommon to hear parents tell stories of encounters with teachers who complained that they should not have tried to teach their children to read, that by doing so they disrupted the order of the classroom and placed the children at a disadvantage. The general attitude of the educational industry has been "leave the educating to us!" At most, parents are told to "value" education, to make certain that their children respect teachers and learning--and of course to pay the taxes that support the teachers. Given the orientation of the experts, the administrative problems associated with the organization of schools, and other socio-economic pressures, it is not surprising that the role of the parents in the education of their children has, until recently, mostly been seen as consisting of the setting of a broad environment conducive to learning but not itself educational in an actual, "instrumental" sense. It is probable that this refusal to see the family as much more than a place where personality is developed in essentially implicit rather than didactic ways, was reinforced by the feeling that the family itself was losing its overall functionality. In Parsons' famous phrase, families would now only be "'factories' which produce human personalities" (1955:16). Social instrumentality was rejected as something that only happened outside the home, in the workplace, and in the schools.

As often happens, when a theoretical position is taken by a powerful author to its extreme and is expressed in the starkest sense, the absurdity of the position also emerges. For the generation of students that followed and learned their sociology through Parsonian texts, it often became a point of honor to show that, even in our societies, the family remains in fact a central institution the functions of which go much beyond the expressive one that Parsons had assigned to it. Women sociologists emphasized that women who stayed at home did much more than love their children. They also performed hosts of extremely instrumental tasks including cooking, cleaning, babysitting, etc. other sociologists demonstrated the continuing strength of extended family ties (Leichter & Mitchell, 1978). Economists reminded us that the family is still the basic conduit through which the necessary financial resources that our societies must spend to raise children are routed. And this of course was used to explain why social opportunities are not distributed equally among children and why, as sociologists of education have shown, the rate of success among the chlidren of the upper classes is higher than the rate of success among the children of the lower classes.

From these quarters, and from many others too, we have thus been reminded of the power of the family as an institution within the broad society and, of particular interest to us, as a central aspect of the educative process--however one may wish to understand it. Thus it has been shown that those children who are the most likely to find it easy to learn in school are those whose parents have read to them so extensively at home that they almost know how to read by the time they enter kindergarten. Furthermore we have the many studies which indicate that all aspects of a child's familial environment have a direct impact upon the success of the child in school--from the kind of language used by the parents to talk to these children, to the number of books owned by the parents, to the behaviors instilled in relation to television, etc. When all this is put together, it is then normal to focus on the role of the family.

2. Literacy and Society

This rediscovery of the importance of the family by historians, sociologists and now by educators in general is also a rediscovery of the role of the social in the shaping of individual performance. It has proven very difficult to integrate in theory and in practice the Durkheimian insight that education is not something that happens to individuals but something that happens to a society (1922). This is even more difficult to do when one discusses literacy. We have inherited the idea that literacy is a special--and certainly very powerful--communication form, the main impact of which is on the behavior, outlook and relative power of success of those individuals who have access to it. As the democratic rhetoric of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries destroyed the argument that literacy is too powerful a tool to be handed over to the common man, we still generally preserved the idea that it is only as individuals become literate that society is transformed. This was the argument of the advocates of universal literacy as they stressed its value for liberal education, democratic government and a more rapid industrialization. Today still, it seems to us that we are a literate society only to the extent that we are all literate or that, at the very least, the overwhelming majority among us are. To the extent that surveys tell us that this is so, we fell comfortable in stating that we are a 'literate' society and that our civilization, our science, our technology and our general way of life are all in some way dependent upon the general spread of literacy throughout all classes of society. But in fact there is little knowledge of what it means to be a literate society, and, by extension, to be a literate family. The focus has been elsewhere. It is paradoxical that we should know more about the rise of universal literacy and its purported effect on modes of thought (Goody, 1977) than we know about the exact characteristics of literacy use in everyday life. This is particularly true in our own societies.

There does exist a small number of studies conducted in non-industrial societies that outline the place of literacy in social life because it is comparatively 'surprising' (Basso and Anderson, 1973; Conklin, 1949; Ferguson, 1972; Hostetler & Huntington, 1971; Goody, 1968, 1977; Howe, 1978; Modiano, 1973; Philips, 1976; Rawski, 1979; Scribner & Cole, 1981). Our own societies are not so surprising. People assume that they know what makes them literate. But it has been a point of dispute in the historical literature (Cipolla, 1970; Cremin, 1970, 1980; Lockridge, 1974; Graff, 1980)--for here also we have a surprise provoking distance. But for contemporary times we have little empirical base for our ideas about the nature or function of literacy. We have some knowledge of the extension of limited kinds of literacy (for example, the number of people who 'know' how to read the front page of a newspaper or an army cooking manual). But even here we do not quite know what is implied by this apparent knowledge, or even whether particular degrees of reading competence have any relation to the different kinds of content found in texts of different difficulty levels (Sticht, 1975). Even when we have some figures about the consumption of various kinds of print stratified by social class and kinds of people, we do not know what people do with the books and papers that they buy (Szwed, 1977). Furthermore, the broad theories of the importance of literacy that we have been mentioning imply that literacy is much more than reading books. As Goody (1977) emphasizes, what is important about literacy--for it is what actually makes ours a society of a particular kind--is the fact that the dominant idols of the tribe and marketplace are only available through literacy practices of a particular kind, which is why it is essential to focus on how people engage print in daily life as they make shopping lists, follow the cooking recipes, child rearing recommendations, or interpersonal advice (in cookbooks, manuals or Ann Landers' column), or expect their medicine to be 'pre-scribed,' (that is, written in advance so that they can apply the doctor's words 'to the letter'), etc. And yet we have little documentation of the extent to which people do make lists, follow recipes and prescriptions.


The general purpose of the study was to examine, within the context of everyday family life, the processes that influence children's acquisition of literacy for learning. The chief aim was to find out what families do that either helps or hinders children in making the transition from basic literacy (the ability to decode written symbols) to advanced literacy (the ability to use writing for the acquisition of knowledge). The general framework for the study stressed the probability that, even in our modern societies, families continue to play a fundamental role in the education of children, that this role is probably quite instrumental, but that we cannot yet specify what this role is and how it is integrated with the roles other institutions play in the education of children. The framework also stressed that literacy is a social competence, a property of societies, communities and families. This meant that we understood our task from the beginning as consisting in the analysis of social environments. We realized that there were few clear guidelines about how to proceed along these lines. We felt however that this is where most knowledge could be gained.

We also started with a series of organizing questions which oriented us as we began the fieldwork. These three main questions are:

1) How do family members interact with each other and with children in particular in ways that promote literacy for learning?

2) In what ways do the child's own actions promote mastery of literacy skills of learning?

3) In what ways do the family's relationships with significant social institutions and resources in the community provide a context for identifying and understanding activities in the home?

We discovered early on that, taken literally, the questions are misleading in that they assume a positive answer to a preceding question that we have learned to ask only in retrospect and yet which we find to be of profound significance. Do families in fact do anything that promotes literacy for learning? For many families we cannot tell 'how' family members promote literacy for learning (question 1) because they do so little of it, at least in the narrow academic ways that we know how to look for. Similarly, we cannot tell 'in what ways' a child promotes his own mastery (question 2) because many of our children also do little in this vein.

But, of course, we cannot stop here. Just because learning is hard to see does not mean that it does not get done. The families and the children are literate, but their use of literacy does not superficially conform to our expectations of what it means to be 'literate for learning.' Given these cautionary markers, we can now proceed with a summary of the findings. We state these findings in terms of six major findings with a number of sub-findings that specify more exactly what they are relevant to:

1) Functioning in a literate society: All the families (and all of the individuals within them) are functioning at the position or role they hold in their communities (or families):

.....a) All the families participate in a wide range of daily literacy activities. These include not only literacy for school, but literacy for the market place (bills, lists, etc.), for human relations (greeting cards, letters), for news (papers and magazines), for pleasure, etc.;


.....in such a way that all the participants can be satisfied that it has been accomplished and thus does not have to be repeated;


.....c) All of the children, however well or badly they are doing in school, can handle whatever literacy comes their way in the family;


.....d) Whatever their suffering, family problems are not caused by the fact that members cannot handle enough literacy to be functioning at some level within the broader society; aside from fulfilling entrance criteria, members of working families are asked to display little advanced literacy;


.....e) For none of the children, and none of the families, is literacy an explicitly recognized functional problem, aside from school and school-like evaluations;


.....f) Given a society with more openings for their skills, most families could function at a more complex level;

2) Varieties in types of functioning: Social class must be understood as
a set of constraints to which families must respond. These responses can be extremely varied, and the members of our working class families participate in a wide range of literacy activities:


.....a) Some individuals use literacy so rarely, it is possible to doubt the extent of their basic literacy, whereas others are going to college and are avid readers;


.....b) most of our families have children who succeed and children who fail in school;


.....c) Some of the variation is probably related to community controlled structural differentiation;


.....d) Some of the variation is related to a family controlled division of labor among members of the family;


.....e) Most of our families had children who had succeeded and children who had failed in school;


.....f) Most families do not use literacy as a liberating forcer i.e., for what it can bring them politically.

3) Live Conversations in Literate Society: Many of our families mainly interact with each other through "live" communicational media (face to face conversations and the telephone):


.....a) When families are involved in literacy acts, it is typically as part of immediately on-going conversations;


.....b) Some families are almost never involved in the generation of literacy, i.e., they almost never write


.....c) Literacy is rarely a central concern in the lives of the families, except as it concerns their children's sanctioned success or failure in schools;


.....d) The broad institutions with which families interact (the institutions that give them jobs, educate their childrens provide their entertainment or organize their spiritual life) do not organize situations that demand participation in the more literate kinds of literacy;

4) Families are not schools: What families do educationally is fundamentally different from what it is that schools do:


.....a) Within the activities they directly control, families rarely distinguish which activities are "educational" and which are not;


.....b) Families rarely "teach" children in the narrow school sense; that is, the highly ritualized teacher-student dance well recognized by Americans is saved for when school tasks are brought home;


.....c) Families rarely test children and thus children almost never "fail" family education; eventual adequate performance, and not the diagnosis of component skills, forms the focus of most tasks at home;


.....d) The education that families provide arises from the involvements of children in scenes with specific structures deeply embedded in the flow of every day goals and possibilities;

5) Families are structurally well integrated with the school as it is presently constituted. Families rarely question the legitimacy of the school as the educational institution par excellence. Organizationally, this means that home and school are working on most of the same assumptions about what schools can accomplish and evaluate:


.....a) Families never question the idea that mobility is dependent upon an official statement from a school guaranteeing that one has been academically successful;


.....b) The actual school their children attend is a central concern of all the families, particularly when, as often happens, the parents are dissatisfied with it;


.....c) Families know how to act school-like (as in the organization of homework scenes) and seem to treat such moments as important;

6) Homework can be a problem: When families do arrange school-like teachingŠlearning scenes, they can enhance their children's chances of school success, although this is not always the case:


.....a) Our most successful families put considerable effort into school work at home;


.....b) Parents who work diligently with their children on homework can actually impede school progress by keeping children off task and anxious about their work. They do this not so much because of a home-school mismatch in what should be known, but because of the contradictory place of school tasks in the flow of opportunities within their communities.


In the section on the research process which follows this introduction, we briefly describe the steps we have taken to arrive at these findings. It is important to note, however, that such a list of findings can be misleading. Each finding stands as a reasonable generalization from our observations or as tentative hypotheses suggesting the need for further research. But the ultimate value of ethnographic research resides in the accounts it gives of the relationship between holistic observation and theoretical generalization. Thus the theoretical work which we mentioned earlier and which focused the attention of those who study modern societies on communication and thus literacy framed our observations. Conversely these observations served to sharpen theoretical statements about the power of literacy for education, and then for life, that had remained vague. This is why we consider the analytic scheme which we now use to present the data as much, if not more, of a "finding" than the preceding list.

One can get an initial feel for this scheme by looking carefully at the list of findings for the theoretical relevance of each item. Some findings concern general structural constraints. Others concern dominant or possible responses to these constraints. Thus, finding (3) ("Live conversations in literate society") deals with a structural constraint: "(d) The broad institutions with which families interact (the institutions that give them jobs, educate their children, provide their entertainment or organize their spiritual life) do not organize situations that demand participation in the more literate kinds of literacy." It also deals with possible ways that families have to handle this constraint: "(a) When families are involved in literacy acts, it is typically as part of immediately on-going conversations," "(b) Some families almost never write." Constraints do not absolutely determine what the people who have to deal with them in fact do. Within a system of constraints certain things are easier to do and these end up being the dominant mode of behavior. But this does not mean that people cannot rise against the constraints and do things that are altogether untypical.

Our analysis has two main characteristics. It is hierarchical and processual. We have thought about our data in terms of a hierarchical scheme in which higher encompassing levels constrain what happens at lower levels. This scheme can be visualized in the following manner:

1- Whole society constraints (symbolic and practical)

2- Classes and Communities...

3- Family1

Family 2
Family3 (from most common to rarest)

4- Individual1 Individual2 Individual3 ... (from common to rare)

The higher levels, depending on the point of view chosen at various times in the analysis (whether that of the family or individual), include those social forces which are generally treated as matters of "social structure," "community structure" or "family organization." our decision to use a slightly different vocabulary stems in part from our desire to escape the the statism associated with many presentations of structural analyses. "The" social structure, for us, is a very practical achievement by all the persons who together make it what it is. It is something that people produce and, of particular consequence in a study of educational processes, it is something that people are continually reŠproducing in an uncertain future, across generations. The analytic challenge which we are picking in this work lies in the attempt to reach an understanding of the way physiologically separate individuals, each with radically different positions within social encounters, each with different opinions, outlooks, personalities, end up producing something that can also be seen as massively constraining orderly environments. It is central to us that literacy is at the heart of these sociological processes. At all the levels with which we deal, and in every context, literacy is an issue: It is always potentially available as a communicational medium, in the sense that 1) the exact organization of its use constitutes the social relationships established between various people, and 2) that the ability to perform special literacy tasks in special settings is used as a justification for the place people actually occupy within an interaction -- even when the shape of the social world which determines the existence of such places has nothing to do with individual competence strictly (biologically) understood.


The last chapter of this report is a longer discussion of this theoretical stance. In it we make an argument for the contribution our work makes to the problems we just mentioned. At the same time we summarize our reasons for believing that such a theoretical stance is in fact the one that can best account for the complexity of the data which we present in the body of the report. The data presentation itself is organized in terms of the theoretical stance. After a chapter in which we describe our methodology (Chapter II), we focus on one family through three different lenses. At a first stage, (Chapter III), we
present the "Farrells" as a unit struggling within constraints placed on working class families in New York City. We emphasize their uniqueness while searching for the conditions which allow for this uniqueness, limit its range, and differentially reward the various responses which the Farrells organize. in this chapter, as in the following one, the data which we collected about the eleven other families in our sample remains in the background. It is used only to highlight the uniqueness of the Farrells a uniqueness which, for us, is typical. In other words, we know, through our preliminary analyses of the data from the other families, that any other family on which we had concentrated as focussed a gaze as we did on the Farrells would have appeared as unique in their responses as the Farrells appear to be. As far as we can see, there is no way that any family within a neighborhood or city, or any member of a family, would not appear unique insofar as the control which institutions, other families, and other members of the family, may exercise over any individual unit can only be operated through the setting of conditions and the responses to responses by the individual unit. The response itself, as something that "will happen next" in an uncertain future, is necessarily indeterminate. It is expectable that this response should vary from unit to unit and thus appear "unique" while being the product of an inflexible process.

The uniqueness of a response does not make it less tied to its immediate context and the organization of this context. This fundamental principle to our analysis is further applied as we look at the position of one child within the family (Chapter IV). Here again, it is our intention to highlight the way in which a child like Sheila Farrell can actually be considered a part of her family so that all that can be said about her family can be said about her. Through an investigation of several aspects of Sheila's participation in her family's literacy, we emphasize the uniqueness of her position within this family and the organization of this uniqueness as a joint production that is highly structured. The theoretical generality of the principle is further illustrated when we look, in the last chapter of the analysis (Chapter V), at two families doing one homework scene each. While the scale of this analysis is such as to magnify greatly events which were performed below the level of consciousness, we show that the conversational processes though which homework scenes are performed in homes can be characterized by the same general principle that is operating at levels where explicit consciousness seems fully involved, or at those levels where the constraints are so massive and general as to be above consciousness. This general principle can be summarized as the joint achievement of structured differentiation in uncertainty.

In the last chapter to this report (VI), we make a longer theoretical statement of this principle. We link our work to various sociological schools that have struggled in different ways and with different success with the apparently contradictory evidence that human behavior is strongly structured and also that any single behavior is always, in some significant way unique and idiosyncratic. we rely in particular on Bateson's (1972) discussion of feedback processes in human communication in general, and familial organization in particular. We also rely on Bourdieu's (1977) work on strategic reproduction. Their work is the most immediate basis for our own account. This account does depart from theirs, particularly to the extent that it exploits possibilities that they do not develop. We suggest a new way of understanding the linkages between personal competence, familial environment and school performance. In
particular, we demonstrate that while it is very appropriate to talk of familial styles, social structures and cultures, it is not possible to assume that simple participation within a family will transform itself into a certain kind of personal competence for a child in any simple, mechanical manner. The transfer processes that make children from certain background seem to succeed more easily in schools are even more complex and less mechanical in their operation. The statistical correlations that can be made between any of these apparent characteristics of individuals must be seen as posing problems rather than suggesting solutions. while our research was not designed to pursue in any detail the way children actually integrate their membership in various small scale groups -their families, their friends, their classmates and children -- we are certain that it is only through such an investigation that further knowledge can be gained.