Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools

New Book by Peter W. Cookson, Jr. Examines the Powerful Effects of Social Class on Education
Class Rules Book Cover
Class Rules Book Cover
WASHINGTON - Sept. 4, 2013 - PRLog -- The promise of upward mobility is fundamental to the American Dream. Most people believe that education and hard work are the keys to success, but there is mounting evidence that this is not the case. The Great Equalizer has become The Great Unequalizer.

In his new book, Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools, Peter W. Cookson, Jr. reveals why education reproduces inequality with clockwork precision. He shows that where students go to high school--not their grades, test scores, or other achievements--is a powerful and lasting influence on their social-class trajectories.

Cookson documents how high schools create enduring inequality through their socialization processes. He compares the cultures and curricula of five high schools that have contrasting social class compositions: an elite boarding school and public schools in a wealthy suburb, a middle-class neighborhood, a working-class rural community, and a low-income urban community. He describes how the structure, rites of passage, and class consciousness in each school reproduce social-class inequality. He offers a breakthrough social/psychological theory of how adolescents acquire class consciousness, and shows how class structure and inequality are “baked into” the system.

“The focus of Class Rules is not simply of academic interest,” Cookson says. “It speaks to a significant social problem. We need to understand how class and schooling interact because social class is one of the most enduring dynamic engines of social stability, social change, and social control in our society.”

The book offers a fresh vision of an equitable and dynamic system of schools based on the full democratic rights of students. It is designed to help educators, policymakers, and others recognize the magnitude of the problem and confront the serious ways that social-class inequality shapes the culture and structure of high schools. It calls for a national mission of equity of educational opportunity.

Peter W. Cookson, Jr.
is managing director of Education Sector (, a think tank in Washington, D.C. He is also the president of Ideas Without Borders, an education consulting firm specializing in 21st-century education, technology, and human rights. After working as a caseworker in New York City, he began his teaching career at a rural public school in New England. Since the 1980s, he has been a college and university professor and administrator, most notably at Teachers College, Columbia University, where he founded the Center for Educational Outreach and Innovation and TC Innovations. He currently teaches at Georgetown University. Cookson’s previous books include Sacred Trust: A Children’s Education Bill of Rights (2011), School Choice: The Struggle for the Soul of American Education (1994), and Preparing for Power: America’s Elite Boarding Schools (1985), a classic study of social class reproduction. He is a regular contributor to Education Sector’s award-winning blog, The Quick & the Ed (

Title: Class Rules: Exposing Inequality in American High Schools
Author: Peter W. Cookson, Jr.
Publication Date: August 26, 2013
Specs: 6 x 9, 145 pages
Paperback: ISBN 0807754528 $29.95
Hardcover: ISBN 0807754536 $66.00

“Cookson does a superb job of analyzing the powerful forces in our schools that reinforce the racial, ethnic, and social class structures our nation hopes to overcome. Breaking out of one's social class was always hard but may now be harder than in previous decades. Cookson reminds us what high schools can be, the great equalizers, institutions for promoting America's finest values.” --David Berliner, Regents' professor emeritus, Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, Arizona State University

“This highly readable and original book illuminates why we don’t have open class warfare in our society, despite huge inequalities. Peter Cookson humanizes the abstract concept of social class, showing how schools reproduce classes through institutional practices that forge class-based consciousness. He also suggests how education might be changed.” --Caroline H. Persell, professor emerita, New York University


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