Harvey, P. F. (2023). “Everyone Thinks They’re Special”: How Schools Teach Children Their Social Station. American Sociological Review, 00031224231172785.

Sociologists have identified many ways that childhood inequalities promote social reproduction. These inequalities are not always explicitly linked to what children are taught about their position and direction in the world, what I term their social station. Extant case studies find that social station socialization has meritocratic underpinnings (e.g., elite boarding schoolers are taught they are the “best of the best”). But societal changes, including increased emphasis on identity in educational institutions’ and employers’ evaluative practices, raise the prospect of similar changes in childhood socialization. I conducted three years of observations in two racially diverse elementary schools—one upper-middle class, the other working class—supplemented by interviews with 101 students, teachers, and parents.Students were taught markedly different lessons about their social station, but neither school predicated this on meritocratic achievement narratives.Overall, children at the upper-middle-class school were taught to see themselves as always-already special because of their internal qualities.Children at the working-class school were taught to see themselves as conditionally good if they adhered to external rules. Variations were visible for Asian American girls at the upper-middle-class school and poor students and Black students at the working-class school. I discuss the importance of school socialization and the implications of discrimination, identity rhetoric, and individualism for social reproduction.