Page: 471-486 Author: Rochex, J.-Y. Key words: school inequalities, sociology of education, social classes, gender inequalities, learning difficulties, context influence, surveys
French institutional and pedagogical discourses strongly encourage the differentiation or individualisation of pedagogy and the curriculum and promote “active learning”, a pedagogy of discovery, or a “constructivist” pedagogy. These injunctions appear as the consequences of the lack of available theoretical psychological resources. They are also often presented as an answer to sociological works such as those of Bourdieu in France or Bernstein in the UK about inequality and social domination in schools.
But does pedagogical innovation or individualisation always or usually contribute to the reduction of social or gender inequalities in school ? Nothing is less sure.
Therefore, this paper aims first to criticise the confinement of pedagogical debates to the trivial opposition between innovation and tradition and the dubious use of terms such as activity or theorists such as Vygotsky, but also the suspicious alliance between individualistic or even naturalistic conceptions of childhood and development and neo-liberal ideologies in education policies.
Second, we try to present some research results which show that daily teaching activities may both ignore and underestimate the differences between pupils or/and try to take account of differences but do so in a way that cannot contribute to the reduction of the social gap in education but can only lead to the reproduction of or, most probably, to an increase in social inequality in schools because they lead pupils to cope with very different kinds of tasks, knowledge, and learning opportunities.
We conclude that we should not separate pedagogical thought and sociological questions and results, as policymakers and the educational media all too often do. If not, we run the great risk of thinking of the democratisation of school on the model of the relationship of the middle classes to the school and knowledge and of failing to achieve our goals.