Children are the living messages we send to a time we will not see – Neil Postman

Are homeschool kids different because they use an elaborated code?

In previous post, I used the work of Basil Bernstein (1990). His most controversial theory is that of code theory. According to this theory, there are two codes. These two codes are the restricted code and the elaborated code. Restricted code was used to indicate that there are some shared assumptions about a topic, it’s the language of everyone. The elaborated code was used to indicate a more explicit or thorough meaning and does not assume that there are shared assumptions. He also argued, quite controversially, that these two codes were used for different purposes.

Forms of spoken language in the process of their learning initiate, generalize and reinforce special types of relationship with the environment and thus create for the individual particular forms of significance

(Bernstein, 1990, p. 76).

The code that a person uses can imply their place in the world. An example of the restricted code would be the slang, the jibes and the common phrases used in a playground. You are much more likely to hear “y’know?” or “yeah, no” or other examples of this type of common phrasing. I need to add that everyone uses the restricted code, it’d be a pretty cold and unfeelingly boring family that didn’t have its own turns of phrase (cf. Atherton, 2002). However, unlike the restricted code, the ability to use the elaborated code, to convey more complex meanings, is not available to everyone. Bernstein (1990) argued that there is a social class dimension to codes, that the elaborated codes were more likely to be seen in the middle and upper-middle class speaker while the working class were more likely to use a restricted code (hence the real controversy about code theory).

I don’t want to get into the social class debate, and think that it’s a very simplistic reading of the disadvantages faced by working class children to suggest this, however, I do want to indicate that homeschooled kids speak differently. While I have no research evidence to draw on, outside of blog posts, I suspect that, because homeschooled children are in the real world, using real language that isn’t designed to keep them out of the real world (as Gato has argued), they are able to use an elaborated code. They seem more proficient at using a language that is designed to help them to communicate with greater numbers of people in a greater number of areas.


4 Responses to “Are homeschool kids different because they use an elaborated code?”

  1. suzanne tobin

    Darling Bec

    This was a interesting article, however, your heading says that homeschooled kids use restricted language but your conclusion says that they use elaborated code, so I am a bit confused as to which language you think they use. I like your articles as they are thought provoking.

    I hope you had a wonderful birthday.

    Love Suzanne



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