Example of Knowledge as Socially Constructed
Let’s examine knowledge construction through a specific example. In what is considered to be a seminal study on social class, Jean Anyon (1981) asked elementary aged students to respond to variations on the simple question, “What is knowledge?” Their answers revealed that their definitions were largely dependent on which social class positions they held (see Figure 2.1).
Children who attended schools that served primarily poor and working-class families most often said that knowledge was “remembering things,” “answering questions,” and “doing pages in our workbooks.” Children who attended affluent schools serving primarily upper-class families said things such as “you think up ideas and then find things wrong with those ideas,” “it’s when you know things really well,” and “figuring out things.”
As can be seen from these responses, how these students conceptualized knowledge was shaped by the intersection between their social class and the institution of schooling. This institution provides students with very different education based on their position in society and the resources they have access to. This is profoundly significant because the kind of knowledge we receive in schools has concrete implications for our later positions in life.
Figure 2.1. Jean Anyon Study