Sometimes, a teacher is confused by a student’s behavior. There does not seem to be any explanation for the student’s behavior. In such situations, it may be beneficial to determine the student’s cultural values. Suppose the student’s values conflict with the school’s and society’s values. In that case, this could be a source of some of the deviant behavior. This post will look at subcultures and their role in delinquency.
Subcultures are cultures that are a part of a larger culture. This is not the best definition and serves as an example of the difficulty of defining the term subculture. The main point is that a subculture has a set of values and beliefs slightly different from the majority culture.
For our focus on delinquency, young people may break the rules and or laws in an attempt to act in accordance with subculture norms over the mainstream cultural norms. However, deviance can also happen if members of a subculture struggle to assimilate into the mainstream culture or may even be rejected by the majority culture.
Cohen (1955) found that youths from subcultures may experience cultural conflict. Culture conflict involves dealing with a situation in which one set of cultural values may conflict with another. For example, a child from a home that emphasizes athletics may struggle with expectations of academic excellence. Yet, Cohen’s work examining lower-class gang delinquency found that the subculture was malicious, negative, and not useful. In other words, the subculture of gangs had evil intentions that lacked benefit even for the gang members at times. oF course, this is from the perspective of an academic.
Miller (1958) found several cultural values of lower-class juveniles in his own work as follows:
- Trouble-Delinquent youth are often focused on getting out of trouble or getting into trouble
- Toughness- Concerned with being macho and masculine
- Smartness-Street smarts, the ability to manipulate the environment without facing consequences
- Excitement-Focus on short-term fun rather than long-term consequences
- Fate-Almost karmic view of life. Whatever happens, it was meant to be.
- Autonomy-Resistant to being controlled by others
These values are examples of problems kids today struggle with in school. It is common for many children to struggle with trouble, for males to focus on toughness, etc. These values are often values that are not stressed in other cultures.
Excusing Deviant Behavior
Despite the desire to be a part of the subculture, youths in this situation also often want to be accepted by the mainstream culture. Their inability to do this leads to several common excuses that Sykes and Matza (1957) observe. Denial is a common excuse youth make and involves denying responsibility, injury, and the person they may have been victimized.
Denial of responsibility involves the youth stating that whatever happened was an accident or something forced them to do it. For example, students in the class will blame someone else for their inability to stop talking. Denial of injury is a youth’s attempt to deemphasize the harm they did to another person by excusing it as a joke or prank. Denying the victim involves justifying actions based on the idea that what happened was self-defense or retaliation. For example, two kids are fighting, and one is seriously injured.
There are two additional ways that youth try to excuse their inability to fit into the mainstream culture. Young people may attempt to condemn those who condemn them. This is commonly seen in calling the mainstream culture oppressors or racist or some other term to try and demonstrate that the members of the mainstream culture are no better than those of the subculture.
The final justification for deviant behavior is an appeal to higher loyalties. A youth may stick to the views of the subculture and blame these higher values on deviant behavior. Some common terms associated with this are “remember where you came from” and “keep it real.” These ideas can sometimes pressure an individual to act in a way that is deviant to maintain loyalty to the subculture.
There are always reasons for unacceptable behavior. One of the reasons can be a cultural differences. Students will sometimes face a conflict between maintaining the values of their subgroup or the larger values of the school and society. In such situations, the teacher must understand this internal conflict to develop ways to help the student.