The Working Class: Poverty, education and alternative voices

 
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In 'The Working Class: Poverty, education and alternative voices', Ian Gilbert unites educators from across the UK and further afield to call on all those working in schools to adopt a more enlightened and empathetic approach to supporting children in challenging circumstances.

One of the most intractable problems in modern education is how to close the widening gap in attainment between the haves and the have-nots. Unfortunately, successive governments both in the UK and abroad have gone about solving it the wrong way.

Independent Thinking founder Ian Gilbert's increasing frustration with educational policies that favour no excuses and compliance , and that ignore the broader issues of poverty and inequality, is shared by many others across the sphere of education and this widespread disaffection has led to the assembly of a diverse cast of teachers, school leaders, academics and poets who unite in this book to challenge the status quo. Their thought-provoking commentary, ideas and impassioned anecdotal insights are presented in the form of essays, think pieces and poems that draw together a wealth of research on the issue and probe and discredit the current view on what is best for children from poorer socio-economic backgrounds. Exploring themes such as inclusion, aspiration, pedagogy and opportunity, the contributions collectively lift the veil of feigned equality of opportunity for all to reveal the bigger picture of poverty and to articulate the hidden truth that there is always another way.

This book is not about giving you all the answers, however. The contributors are not telling teachers or school leaders how to run their schools, their classroom or their relationships the field is too massive, too complex, too open to debate and to discussion to propose off-the-shelf solutions. Furthermore, the research referred to in this book is not presented in order to tell educators what to think, but rather to inform their own thinking and to challenge some of the dominant narratives about educating the feckless poor. This book is about helping educators to ask the right questions, and its starting question is quite simple: how can we approach the education of young people from disadvantaged backgrounds in a way that actually makes a difference for all concerned?

Written for policy makers and activists as well as school leaders and educators, 'The Working Class' is both a timely survey of the impact of current policies and an invaluable source of practical advice on what can be done to better support disadvantaged children in the school system.

Edited by Ian Gilbert with contributions from Nina Jackson, Tim Taylor, Dr Steven Watson, Rhythmical Mike, Dr Ceri Brown, Dr Brian Male, Julia Hancock, Paul Dix, Chris Kilkenny, Daryn Egan-Simon, Paul Bateson, Sarah Pavey, Dr Matthew McFall, Jamie Thrasivoulou, Hywel Roberts, Dr Kevin Ming, Leah Stewart, (Real) David Cameron, Sir Al Aynsley-Green, Shona Crichton, Floyd Woodrow, Jonathan Lear, Dr Debra Kidd, Will Ryan, Andrew Morrish, Phil Beadle, Jaz Ampaw-Farr, Darren Chetty, Sameena Choudry, Tait Coles, Professor Terry Wrigley, Brian Walton, Dave Whitaker, Gill Kelly, Roy Leighton, Jane Hewitt, Jarlath O Brien, Crista Hazell, Louise Riley, Mark Creasy, Martin Illingworth, Ian Loynd, David Rogers, Professor Mick Waters and Professor Paul Clarke.

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Review:

Empathy is a revolutionary emotion. This collection of essays, insights and stories is full of empathy.

If we are going to talk about revolutionising education which we must 'The Working Class' is a brilliant place to start.

--Ross Ashcroft, broadcaster and co-founder, Renegade Inc.

Packed with insightful and expert knowledge, 'The Working Class' may be one of the most important books in education for many years. It is especially welcomed by those of us who still believe that experts have a role to play in society, despite their tendency to offer such annoyances as carefully researched facts and years of experience in their fields.

But that is not what makes it great. What makes it great is love. The love this group of writers share for the importance of education and the aspiration for every child irrespective of social, cultural or economic wealth to have the best possible chance in life.

Many of these writers are fighting that battle from the front line, and they are fighting with a mighty heart. Because that s what this battle needs.

--Ben Walden, Founding Director, Contender Charlie

'The Working Class' is an important, powerful and wide-ranging book. The contributors deal with a complex and multifaceted subject from a range of perspectives and with an understanding that is frequently borne out of lived experience.

Among its many and varied delights are chapters on the importance of the arts, the unique value of a library, the importance of being brave enough to go on trips, what it is really like to grow up in poverty, and a beautiful multisensory rhapsody about nature tables. I also love the way the contributions range in form here you will find poetry, stories, anecdotes and analysis all sitting side by side and helping to communicate the key messages of the book. We hear from voices within the working class community and from those who have dedicated their working lives to helping children and families in these communities, and we hear stories of poverty, of politics, of teachers, of children, of dreams and of the awe and wonder that learning can inspire.

I find myself energised, inspired and fired up reading this book. It challenges the political narrative of the undeserving poor and acts as a call to action for educators everywhere.

--Sue Cowley, teacher, presenter and author of The Artful Educator

For a number of reasons, 'The Working Class' represents an original contribution to the literature around social class and education in the UK.

Firstly, it has a clear sense of who its readership is yet does not assume that they are already steeped in the theoretical canons, so where theory is used it is clearly explained and fully exemplified within each chapter. Secondly, the chapters come from a wide variety of contributors with quite different backgrounds in academia, schools and the arts, which enables a range of distinct voices to be heard and offers insights into the multiplicity of different sites of social class reproduction. A third strength of the book is that, although it is an edited volume containing a diverse range of contributors, there is a coherent narrative voice to bind the collection together. This is achieved through the use of an editorial introduction to each chapter that links it with the previous one, and through the tone of the book – the predominant shade of which is a real burning sense of anger at the persistence of the injustices it documents. I am slightly ambivalent about this last point because, although I think this makes it an invigorating and stimulating read, there are some places within the book where this anger tips closer to polemic than argument. This, however, is only a relatively moderate criticism of a very good book.

As a lecturer in this field, I would recommend 'The Working Class' as a perfect text for any course in education studies or in related areas such as sociology.

Andrew Morrison, Principal Lecturer in Education Studies, Sheffield Institute of Education, Sheffield Hallam University

Passionate, lyrical and compelling, 'The Working Class' provides a rich variety of perspectives that collectively challenge contemporary neoliberal orthodoxies. Its chapters are both moving and inspirational, combining sociological imagination with heartfelt narratives. But most importantly the contributors provide a different vision of social class in education – one that prioritises inclusion, value and respect for all.

'The Working Class' is essential reading for all those concerned with inequalities in education.

- Diane Reay, Visiting Professor, the London School of Economics and Political Science

Educational inequality is a blight on our society which leads to intractable and persistent disadvantage across generations. Teachers and schools cannot fix, and must not be held responsible for, society’s failure to provide equal opportunities for all of our children, but teachers who actively engage with 'The Working Class' will stock up the armoury of knowledge they need in order to help them transform young lives and campaign for change.

A must-read for all concerned educators.

- Kate E. Pickett, Research Champion for Justice and Equality, University of York and co-author of The Spirit Level

Love them or hate them, Michael Gove’s so-called ‘enemies of promise’ are fighting back – and they’re angry.

- Loic Menzies, Director, LKMco CIC

Showcasing a range of diverse voices and experiences, 'The Working Class' shows that we urgently need fundamental social and economic reforms in order to transform the lives of the majority of our children. It demonstrates that ability and talent are subjective measurements which reinforce and justify the subordination of the majority, and reveals that aspiration alone – whether of children or of teachers – cannot overcome the obstacle of economic inequality.

- Selina Todd, Professor of Modern History, University of Oxford

'The Working Class' is a book of commentary, ideas and reflections on what it is to be working class and on how educators and policy makers have responded – some successfully, others less so – to the challenges faced.

I recommend 'The Working Class' for its rich description of generations of experience and of the consequences of not acting upon the depth of concern regarding what is needed in order to change thinking, policy and practice. Several chapters focus on the plight of the working class when faced with teachers, leaders and employers who have misunderstood them; many provide detailed accounts of how access to education has enabled, supported and developed those who are perceived to lack opportunity; and various others imply that the purpose of education and learning is to enable and give choices to those who would otherwise face the relentlessness of unfulfilling employment.

To this end, 'The Working Class' will enable readers to begin to understand why change is needed.

- Professor Sonia Blandford, founder and CEO, Achievement for All and author of Born to Fail? A Working Class View

This wide-ranging collection of essays and articles should be compulsory reading for those teachers, parents and children who feel worn down and worn out by the meagre diet of coaching, cramming and rehearsal that constitutes so much of young people’s daily experience of formal education.

'The Working Class' shows that it doesn’t have to be like this, however. We have brilliant educators who want to put the child at the centre of educational policy, and we have equally brilliant children with a whole range of varied talents that need to be discovered and developed.

The contributors know what the problem is – a neoliberal, marketised view of education as a commodity to be pre-packaged and delivered – and, by contesting the politics behind this view and promoting practice that challenges it, demonstrate that another world of genuine learning, informed by thoughtful pedagogy, can benefit us all.

- Dr Jon Berry, Programme Director for the Professional Doctorate in Education, University of Hertfordshire

We are often told that ‘poverty is no excuse for underachievement’. Poverty is not an excuse – it is an explanation, and the contributors to this edited collection powerfully remind us that poverty matters. There can be no understanding the ‘achievement gaps’ in schools without shining the spotlight on poverty and class in society today. This book does just that, and forces us to reject the lazy stereotypes of bad teachers and feckless children. The contributors remind us that if we mean what we say about inequality in education then we must take bold action to support working class children and their teachers, and at the same time confront the wider inequalities in society that blight the lives of children who live with poverty.

These contributors do not offer excuses. On the contrary, 'The Working Class' is a manifesto of hope and humanity. It deserves to be widely read.

- Professor Howard Stevenson, Director of Research, School of Education, University of Nottingham

In 'The Working Class' Ian Gilbert tackles the key issues of access, inclusion, poverty, inequality and disadvantage within education by collating the viewpoints and experiences of a wide range of contributors.

The range of enlightening insights shared, and research cited, underlines that the achievement gap both within and between schools is still very evident. The contributors’ powerful arguments show clear evidence that further pragmatic action is still needed to reduce and eradicate educational inequality and lack of opportunity. From their own experience and social background, readers will be able to relate to and empathise with the wide range of contributions on the impact of inequality.

'The Working Class' is an excellent read, and will hopefully bring about more effective change for the disadvantaged.

- John Morris, Director, JTM Educational Consultants

This book about education and class pays homage to working class life not only through academic research, but also through an eclectic ensemble of styles ranging from conventional academic writing through to raw, personal narratives expressing the pain of marginalisation.

Reading 'The Working Class' is a visceral experience. The senses and the intellect are awakened and at times assaulted by the passion expressed by the contributors, whether teachers, academics, writers or poets. It is a journey with pit stops mentioning classic theorists on social inequality and education such as Erving Goffman, Paulo Freire, Pierre Bourdieu, Ruth Levitas, Diane Reay and Bell Hooks. The many chapters, a staggering forty-six, cover as many topics – starting with failure and activism, and getting to dreams, destiny and diet towards the end. The chapters are interspersed by short interludes or provocations around the topic and are energised by anecdotes from diverse literary and media sources. Sir Humphrey of Yes, Prime Minister fame makes an entrance, as do references to the contemporary films Forrest Gump and I, Daniel Blake. Chapters are punctuated with quotes from current and ex ministers including Thatcher, Cameron and May as well as a slew of former education ministers such as Gove, Morgan and Greening.

Although long, the book is not plodding. It is a romp peppered with statistical data and clips from newspapers, as well as extracts from classic tales – from authors such as Victor Hugo, Charles Dickens and Alan Sillitoe – depicting working class misery. Passages written in more conventional, academic styles are offset by gritty and deeply moving first person accounts of life in austerity-worn Britain – such as that of Jaz Ampaw-Farr, whose contribution rebukes her uncaring, prejudiced, middle class teachers. Most contributions are relatively short, yet there are exceptions, such as Phil Beadle’s – entitled ‘Working Class Pleasures’. Beadle’s contribution is a chilling first person account of living and growing up in abject poverty that focuses a razor-sharp, critical lens on upper class Tory rule, which saturates lives with capitalism, nationalism, tobacco, alcohol, pornography, gambling, addiction, right wing tabloid newspapers and TV programmes promising instant fame. It is both a homage to Beadle’s dad and an exposition of how a working class upbringing in the 1960s and 1970s creates masculinity. Folded into its primary narrative is a series of footnotes which provides ten ‘factors’ affecting working class engagement in education and which exposes the double bind of a working class male position in which pride and identity meets an almost compulsory culture of tough, anti-academic machismo. As Beadle writes, ‘People who do not read are easy to manipulate’ – and in walks public school-educated Nigel Farage.

There are many moving first-hand accounts of growing up, written with rage and passion, exposing what is really happening in the UK. The seemingly intuitive, untethered accounts manage not to rant, however. Some depict pain and achieve poetic profundity, and their language appeals to the senses, depicts contexts and provides attention to detail. Rhythm and pace create multiple layers of meaning, and language becomes a working class weapon.

The book’s structure works to juxtapose a cacophony of different kinds of voices; from poems to personal polemics, from critical theory to heart-wrenching narratives. Academics reflect with honesty – in almost confessional tones – on the unimaginable changes seen since their upbringing, when the public education system in the 1970s and 1980s provided grants to attend university for free. They admit to their personal upward mobility while mourning the fact that the communities they grew up in have sunk deeper into economic depression. The ache reverberating throughout the book cries of a divided society in which those born on the wrong side of the neoliberal capitalist machinery are skewed tighter and tighter while access to the educational opportunities that created upward mobility in the past recedes into a distant, vanishing point on the horizon.

As a collective diffraction of voices, styles and historical lenses, 'The Working Class' does not shirk from complexity and admits of no easy answers – indeed, it leaves any final message open, although darkly ominous. Yet, as a rush of sheer, unadulterated, no-holds-barred passion, it reminds us that we are human and that class is a living, willing, desiring disharmony of divergent as well as collective forces that will not be stilled. It is this passion, manifested through a multiplicity of styles – from sprawling, raw biographical prose to the contained rationality of academic critique, and via anecdotes, quotes and remembrances inflected with humour, irony and pain – that is the book’s ultimate message. This brimming, unfettered multiplicity of forms is an antidote to the bleak, sterile, smooth diktats of neoliberal rhetoric.

Read this book if you are a new teacher and want to find your moral compass; read it if you are an experienced teacher and feel that you are losing your way, to know that you are not alone and that the madness is not in your head alone. It’s the madness of late capitalism that remorselessly creates and recreates working class inequality.

- Gabrielle Ivinson, Professor of Education and Community, Education and Social Research Institute, Manchester Metropolitan University

About the Author:

Ian Gilbert is an educational speaker, award-winning writer and editor, innovator, entrepreneur and a man who the IB World magazine named as one of its top fifteen educational visionaries .

In 1994 he established the unique educational network Independent Thinking, whose Associates and pioneering books have influenced teachers, school leaders and young people across the globe. Ian has a unique perspective on education and society, having lived and worked in the UK, the Middle East, South America, Asia and, now, the Netherlands.

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