The details and results of the article describe classism and how classism operates on a systemic level throughout our inherently unjust society. As is typical of classism, the teachers in the study showed favoritism towards the wealthy students and discrimination towards the poor students. Even though both groups of students participated in similar rowdy behavior, the poor group of students were demonized and rejected for their antics, while the wealthy students were still treated with respect and encouraged to follow their dreams.
The results of this study are not in the slightest surprising. In every facet of our society, children of wealthy families gain greater access to resources, opportunities, empathy, connections, second chances, leniency, and social safety nets. An example of this is the case of wealthy teen Ethan Couch, who, likely because he had access to his family's incredible amount of wealth, was able to avoid a long prison term for killing multiple people in a drunk driving car crash. The same judge who allowed for Couch to spend ten years in a luxury rehabilitation retreat center (that cost $450,000 a year) sentenced another incredibly impoverished teen to twenty years in prison for killing one person as a result of drunk driving. While I personally am against the existence of prisons and don't believe in prison as a solution to harm caused, the two cases certainly illustrate the classism of this system.
In “The Saints and the Roughnecks,” William Chambliss studied two groups of young men in high school to understand the differences in how their teachers perceived them. This article is a wonderful manifestation and case study of Howard S. Becker’s labeling theory.
The Saints were a group of Caucasian young men from wealthy families who were, on average, B students. The Roughnecks, on the other hand, were a group of young men who came from poorer families and were, on average, C students.
Both groups engaged in disruptive and childish behavior. The Saints pranked each other and often skipped class, while the Roughnecks physically fought each other. Because of the background of the Saints, the teachers viewed their behavior in much more of a joking and harmless manner. Also because of their background, the teachers viewed the behavior of the Roughnecks as morally reprehensible.
The teachers assumed that the Saints would grow up to have successful careers despite their childish antics, while they also assumed the Roughnecks would not grow up to be successful as a result of their childish antics. This important distinction illustrates labeling theory and could help explain the difference in their grades, as the Saints were able to receive the benefit of the doubt from teachers.
In the contemporary criminal justice system, we can see these same markers of labeling theory. Wealthy financiers who commit atrocious white-collar financial crimes often spend their jail time in safe and secure prisons with lots of amenities. Meanwhile, those who are arrested for bar fights and are viewed as incorrigible lowlifes will spend prison time in dangerous jails, which can prime them for additional crime in the future.
In the article "The Saints and the Roughnecks," the researcher studied two groups of boys from Hannibal High School over a two-year period. The Saints consisted of eight young men from "white upper-middle class families" (para 1). On the other hand, the Roughnecks were a group of six young men from lower-class families. Interestingly enough, even the researcher refers to the second group of boys, the Roughnecks, as a gang. The word gang itself usually implies a group of individuals who engage in illegal activities. Thus, it appears that it is the outsider's perception of the two groups that sets them apart.
For example, the Saints are perceived by teachers as good students, most having a "B" average, and responsible citizens even though they cheat on tests, are truant from school, and play pranks. On the other hand, the Roughnecks are perceived as antisocial, future problems because they actively engage in fighting and their grades are lower than the Saints, generally a "C" average. This bias leads to the Saints getting away with corrupt behavior while the Roughnecks are labeled "a bad bunch of boys" because the Roughnecks' behavior is more visible to the adults.
Therefore, consider groups at your school that appear to "get away" with bad behavior because of favoritism. Some kids are perceived as good kids, good students, and future successes when it is all just based on appearances. On the other hand, some kids are perceived as bad kids or troubled kids due to race, economic status, or other misconceptions.
This reminds me of The Outsiders, in which the two groups are the Socs and the Greasers. In the same vein, socioeconomic status has a lot to do with how the two groups are viewed. The wealthier Socs are just sowing wild oats and boys being boys, while the impoverished Greasers are thugs and hoods.
In the "Saints and the Rougnecks" William Chambliss attempts to explain why two groups of kids, both of whom engage in delinquent activity, can be viewed so differently. The answer is probably not surprising to any high school kid. The Saints, most of whom are fairly wealthy and make good grades in school, are able to get away with their activities. Indeed, they are viewed as upstanding young men who "will make something of themselves." They have a good relationship with the local police, and the fact that they have cars enables them to skip school without being caught. The Roughnecks, mostly poor, are viewed as troublemakers, and are treated as such. They find it more difficult to get away with offenses at school and breaking the law in the community. Though the Saints are probably more "delinquent" than the Roughnecks, they are not viewed that way by society, due to reasons related to class and culture.