The Working Class: Poverty, education and alternative voices24.99
- Throughout the book, writers thwarted negative assumptions made of working-class children.
- The truth that socioeconomic poverty is inextricably linked with poor performance, negative attitudes to work and fear of change is echoed throughout the book.
- All writers acknowledge the power of teachers as “servant leaders”.
- Practical lists are shared by a number of writers and insight into the research-informed methods undertaken.
- Authors, particularly, Professor Terry Wrigley and (Real) David Cameron direct the discussion to the tumour itself.
Review compiled by: Hope Wilton-Waddell
Social mobility is a buzzword flying across EduTwitter.
- Social mobility is defined as the ability for individuals to move within or between social classes.
- The definition of social mobility, as defined by Hope (me), is the ability for individuals to achieve the unexpected and break through the social barriers that typically stand to inhibit their chances.
I prefer my definition as it captures the aims of teachers as we leap onto the battlefield (school grounds) seeking to slay the dragons that strangle the dreams and joys of some of our most vulnerable pupils. However, what it fails to acknowledge is just how warped modern-day Britain is as it holds the comforts of class that acts to oppress the masses.
As a young, Black, female teacher of working-class background, I often ask other young black millennials what they think acts “against us” in Britain today. Many, in the line with the tides of social media headlines and angry YouTube video titles, state that it is racism. I don’t disagree. What they fail to acknowledge is the tide of the classist structure that individuals of all ethnicities must swim against as they pursue their goals.
I aim to inject my children (I’m 23 but my 12 – 17-year-old students are all my children) with enthusiasm and love for learning every day, I hope it will act as a potent antidote for the woes of rejection in a highly selective borough and failure to pass the 11 plus. So, as you can imagine, the task to read and review Ian Gilbert’s 500-page book of thought, poetry, academic writing, recommendations and write a review in 10 working days came as a welcome privilege this Easter holiday.
Ian Gilbert introduces all 46 chapters with opinions on issues ranging from metacognition (tackled beautifully by Julia Hancock), language (my favourite chapter, by Dr Brian Male), race and the removal of class. Ian’s voice knits the words of all writers seamlessly, pushing the reader to consider unfamiliar situations, put down their privilege-laden defences and really question unconsciously imbibed mind-sets determined by current societal structures.
“The Working Class” book delves into the minds of experts in aims to discuss the following:
- Who are working class kids?
- Why must we be working class teachers?
- Will policy liberate working-class children?
Each author adds their take on social inequality; it’s proven links to educational disadvantage and life outcomes.
Throughout the book, writers thwarted negative assumptions made of working-class children. I was inspired to return to the nascence of my desire to be a teacher and plan to gear my classroom environment towards equitable teaching. All voices agreed that the working class is not a homogenous group. Authors tackled matters of gender and race; they discussed the necessity of community in order to sustain some of the most vulnerable members of our schools. I chuckled at the various anecdotes shared that reminded of me of some of my children, tears welled while I read reflections of my siblings and myself as writes told stories of the struggles that some of the leading voices in education endured. This book tugs at your heartstrings with the realities of the lives of many working-class children.
The truth that socioeconomic poverty is inextricably linked with poor performance, negative attitudes to work and fear of change is echoed throughout the book. The common response to this is often one of egocentric disappointment; teachers shake their heads with “they’re so lazy”, or are bolstered up with their middle-classed privilege and seek to so gallantly save their pupils from their desolate backgrounds. Daryn Egan Simon highlighted wealth in the history and identities of working-class environments, his words echoed that of my mother “we have culture and should be proud of it”. Working class children don’t need saving, they need to realise the magnificence of self.
This leads me to the responsibility of working-class teachers; chapter 31 discusses power and structure. Wrigley tackles the idea of class and challenges all teachers (not private schools) to accept their part in the working class “whether they like it or not”. His words emphasised the power structure of exploitation we operate in, we act to serve the richest by training those who will work for them.
All writers acknowledge the power of teachers as “servant leaders”. The writers implore teachers to pry themselves away from the tendency to consider data before children. We are encouraged to ensure that daily practice realises and address the nuance of pupil experience with simple gestures that show a genuine interest in the lives of the children we interact with. The value of acts of service is captured so beautifully by the words of Jaz Ampaw-Farr and Paul Bateson. Their voices sound from opposing ends of this issue as Jaz shares the brokenness reinforced by those who should have been forces of calm, consistency and kindness in her tumultuous childhood; whilst Pauls speaks of the impact of his shared love of reggae with a highly resistant drama student. These accounts allowed me to reconsider my outlook on standard five of the teaching standards. Not only must I provide suitable resources, scaffold sufficiently and differentiate to meet the needs of my students, I must consider who they are, how they feel and what challenges they may have already dealt with before entering my classroom at 8:30 am.
Practical lists are shared by a number of writers and insight into the research-informed methods undertaken by David Rogers and colleagues to restructure curriculum to focus on character building as well as the love of knowledge. The need for this practice is echoed by all as they address the idea that working-class children are devoid of aspirations and ambition. They call for consideration of the lives of the children and how school is often the only arena for conversation, structured interaction and expectations to operate under the authority of adults just because they have to.
My favourite chapter (The Theory of Triple Jeopardy) weaves concepts of language development, with social experience, schema and the ability to learn more. Male’s words interwove learning theory, pioneered by the likes of Piaget and Vygotsky, with cognitive psychology and poor performance of working-class children reported by the HCEO. This chapter magnifies the malignancy of inequality that begins its impact on the mind and learning experience from such a young age. It calls for school systems to review aims of the curriculum and interventions so that the root cause education gap may be dealt with, rather than symptoms of it. Maybe we can save teachers and students from the depressing trips to school on wet Saturday mornings as we lead up to exam period if we just consider how learning is a continuous experience that happens unconsciously and is often richer when it is reinforced by interactions with the arts, literature, sports and so much more!
Laced with satire, the words of Phil Beadle, unveil the toxicity he experienced at the hand working-class male schools of thought. He addresses misogyny and ignorance, and speaks on the tendency of some members of the working class to promote divisiveness in our society as they are incentivised by misleading claims made by policymakers that have led to the mess that is Brexit and my fear of walking past homes with Union Jack and England flags stuck to their front room windows.
The third question I have suggested that these writers answer is “will policy liberate working-class children?” The current socio-political climate pits ethnic minorities (a term I hate) against white British people. Claims such as “ethnic minorities outperform white working class males” suggest that brown, black and eastern European individuals are the embodiment of wealth, health and educational theft. Authors, particularly, Professor Terry Wrigley and (Real) David Cameron direct the discussion to the tumour itself. The divisive nature of class and vulnerability of the poorest is only potentiated as we rely on the system that thrives on social immobility. These writers speak against neoliberalism and its focus on the individual struggle and neglect of people and flaws in a system that serves the richest whilst the poorest wrestle for scraps they can afford. Currently, it seems as though, the education sector is the perfect scapegoat for leaders, teachers and schools are blamed for education gap. But leaders “gift” us with autonomy, free schools and academies are on the rise and schools shift from one distant hand of control to another. The words of the authors emphasise the need for shared practice, we don’t know when the gulf between policymakers and practitioners will be narrowed. What we do know is that teachers know their pupils, school know what favours progress.
Ian Gilbert and all authors he was gifted to work with taught me that:
- Working class children are children. They are young and therefore malleable. Do not write them off before they’ve had a chance to prove that the plight of the poverty is an environmental factor that can be undone.
- Teachers are classroom superheroes. Whilst you may not have billions flocking to cinemas to watch you slay villains, you have children that are often counting on you to save the day with the consistency of classroom expectations and teacher-pupil banter.
- Working class children do not require a middle-classed teacher to show them the way. Never enter a classroom with your sword of privilege with the intention to destroy your children’s working class outlook. Acknowledge the wealth of the children that sit before you.
- The curriculum is a tool for change. We can follow the lead of individuals who shove curriculum reform on our tables and panic at the task to teach difficult concepts to our pupils, or we can work collaboratively to make it a launch pad for inquiry, exploration and discovery.
- The working class aren’t a homogenous group of people who experience social, economic and health poverty. But, they are also relentless and resilient.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to the NQT, the disaffected teacher frustrated by omniscient SLT members, leaders of change, policymakers and anyone who cares equality and equity in education. This book serves to inspire educators.