Is a Classroom a Room for Class?

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British society is riven by class prejudice, education has done its best to ensure these prejudices are retained. Whether it be the public schools for the upper classes and the secondary modern for the children of the working class, ‘I know my place’ has resounded down the years through folklore and education policy. Comprehensive education was meant to do away with ‘that sort of thing’ but, of course, it has done nothing of the sort – too many Brits can spot a bit of posh at twenty paces and decipher a commoner’s accent at the merest glottal stop. Education can’t do away with years of ingrained prejudice – snobbery and inverted snobbery, but one thing education can be is ‘beyond’ class.

That there are obvious accoutrements of class cannot be denied but a school should be a place for sober reflection, texts shouldn’t be chosen for ‘our kids’: the posh boys of Eton shouldn’t be denied Kes and the girls of bog standard comp shouldn’t be denied Jane Eyre. There is no need to deny class in the conversation of the classroom – it should be a room for class discussions as well as other discussions that open up the whole of human experience to us. To deny certain works from that discussion, is to deny children the breadth of experience that education is there to open up for them.

If education was just to hold up a mirror to our own lives and never show us a world beyond then we would be all the poorer for it, for that wouldn’t be education it would be prejudging our limitations and ensuring we were all kept in our place, art doesn’t accept that and nor should the teaching of it.

 

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2 thoughts on “Is a Classroom a Room for Class?

  1. suecowley

    That’s very interesting Martin. I wonder, though, to what extent our own childhood experiences, and perhaps prejudices, about class will always end up filtering into our teaching? Also, even something as simple as ‘what gets published’ is inevitably influenced by the class background of the publishers, so while we might believe we are choosing texts in a ‘class free’ way, we’re not because we are choosing from a pool of texts that have already been filtered by our class system. We will tend to pick from the texts that we have read (or what the gov’t has chosen for us) and there will be a class element to that as well. I can see what you’re saying, but I strongly suspect we need to make more of a conscious effort to include those parts of society that have traditionally been pushed out to the margins, rather than to assume that we can be free of bias and simply identify the ‘best of the best’ when it comes to an issue as ingrained as class.

    The other thing that always troubles me in the UK is the assumption that those of us at the ‘bottom’ of the class ladder want to ‘rise up’ to the top. I’m not suggesting that you think this, but I’m 100% sure that our ‘masters’ (ahem) in gov’t do.

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