‘…Ofsted’s chief inspector of schools, warned that there is a continuing crisis in the education of the poor white working class. Some don’t like to hear that, because they think concentration on difficulties experienced by the white working class detracts from the attention owed to disadvantaged minority students also left behind. But I have little time for that zero-sum game. I think we should address all underachievement‘.
Source: Hugh Muir, The Guardian – https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2014/dec/14/white-working-class-boys-unlucky-ofsted Accessed: 05.10.2016
The concept of the working class as a distinctive cohort is problematic. Whether white or dosadvantaged the label attempts t make a singular ‘mass of people’ from a bewildering variety of experience, expectation and shades of outcome.
In her recent article in The Guardian, ‘Why Class Won’t Go Away’, Lynsey Hanley powerfully reflects upon the schisms revealed by the recent referendum and the Brexit debate. The vote, she argues, was split by class and geography.The rising wave of social and economic inequality which has been tolerated for so long at last, in the referendum process, found an outlet for its harboured discontents.
In her work, we would argue, she defines a much more granular and subtle mapping of the working class experience.
See: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/sep/27/why-class-wont-go-away?CMP=s Accessed: 05.10.2016
Hanley declares that the epithet ‘white working class’ has been a way to define an amorphous cohort in society certainly, ‘…who sort of look like us but who don’t seem to be like us, and we can’t work out why’. ‘The idea that, in a group as heterogeneous as the British working class, it is only the white members who have been “abandoned” has proved magnetic to both columnists and politicians‘, as referenced in the opening remarks from Ofsted above.
Even the Labour Party, Hanley argues, has embraced the singular entity of the white working class as a means to aggregate reasons for the failure of the party at the polls. She nicely evidences the distance of The Labour Party from its ‘working class’ electorate with a narrative of how, pre the 2015 election, Labour Central Office had been unable to find a ‘worker on the minumum wage’ for commentary recording as no-one in the office knew any.
Perhaps it also highlights the vast distance between Party machines of all colours from their grassroots members lived experience.
‘Far more than in other western European countries, if you are born poor in Britain, in a poor area, the chances are that you will remain poor for the rest of your life. If you are born rich, in a rich area, the likelihood is that you will find a way – or will have ways come to you – to stay wealthy and privileged throughout your life, and your children will do the same’.
Hanley describes living in Solihull in the West Midlands in the 1980’s, where the term ‘working class’ was never used. Instead ‘people like us’ or ‘the likes of us’ held sway she says. This is the working class, arguably, defining itself as separate, as a methodology to protect individual and family from the depredations of ever mounting scoial and economic inequality.
‘It needs to be acknowledged that “helplessness” or “dependency” – as defined by politicians seeking to blame individuals for structural failings – is an adaptive stance rather than an innate fact of character’ Hanley says.
In a recent article in The Huffington Post, Sarah Newton argues that class persists too. The schisms defined by Hanley are securely entrenched by the use of, what Newton calls, ‘constructive cultivation’.
This is a framework of social, economic, educative and psychological processes that push middle class children to engage with and perpetuate a class based educational and expectational life landscape.
‘Until we accept in this country that the class system is having an impact on education choices later in life and face it head on and challenge it, then nothing will ever change’.
Source: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/sarah-newton/why-education-is-failing-the-working-class_b_9250272.html Accessed: 05.10.2016
Equally important for Newton is the cultural legacy of the working class. This neatly chimes with the Hanley thesis of identity as defence. The layering of approaches to low expectation and social prejudice that condition the individual’s approach to life progress. They are, she argues, inherited from generation to generation.
Class has not gone away, it has become bound to the rocky strata of education, politics and economic behaviour. It is bound to the bedrock of inequality. It is this restraining shale which education reform should try and shatter, permanently.
To make the phrase ‘…I think we should address all underachievement’ a la Hugh Muir really mean something.
Read Lynsey Hanley’s book and explore her argument about working class culture and the enduring nature of class inequality – Respectable: The Experience of Class, Allen Lane, April 2016.
Why is class still so central to the experience of living in Britain? It is an urgent question, evaded through a kind of collective shame, but Lynsey Hanley approaches it with wit and passion.Respectable is pithy and provoking, spiced with the personal but solidly grounded in a lifetime’s experience of analysing the world around her. It is one of those valuable books that enables the reader to re-think her past and re-experience her own life. (Hilary Mantel, a review))