Inspired by the LSE Library’s latest exhibition on Beveridge and the welfare state, student Lucy Smith organised a visit to the LSE for her A-Level teacher and his pupils from Drapers’ Academy, Romford. Their thoughts about the visit, studying sociology and the class system – written in their own words – are detailed in this post. Find out how the visit came about in Part I.
Inclusionary practice is a crucial tool for challenging the epistemic injustice at the heart of the subject we love. Whilst the visit was initially organised around the Beveridge artefacts, I believe that what was gained from the experience superseded the mere viewing of a few historical relics. Such is the importance of praxis – “sociology is a martial art”.
Regarding to Lucy’s blog, I would like to talk about the fact I am from a working class society. As a member of the sixth form at Drapers’ Academy in Year 8 and 9 I experienced labelling and streaming. To my understanding this is due to class conflict as many of the teachers from our school are of a different class; the example middle class.
In my lower years I was labelled as a ‘problem’ a ‘bad child’ I was sent to a place called the ‘Zone.’ A place for all students who didn’t conform to the hidden curriculum. Students like me were sent there to reform ourselves, in other words, to learn how to sit down, and shut up when we were told. I stayed in the Zone for 2 years.
I would like to refer this as symbolic violence, isolating only a few of us away from the rest of the school for long periods of time. Even though I can’t even remember fully why I was in there for so long this proves that deviance is a ‘social construct.’ If I had attended a school like Summer Hill I would have never experienced this kind of punishment and isolation for ‘bad behaviour’. In the Sixth Form, with different teachers, I am seen as an intelligent well behaved student who is studying for A levels. This also demonstrates how meritocracy and social mobility is a lie and doesn’t exist; we are not helped but marginalised because we don’t fit into ‘their’ system. Inequality stands and divides the class system, it allows the higher classes to succeed and the lower classes like my fellow peers to fail. As Lisa McKenzie quoted ‘until the middle class let their stupid children fail we will not have any mobility.’
LSE is an intelligent, inspirational university which recalibrated my perspective on the world. The engaging discussion from the aspirational undergraduates broadened my insight towards sociology and general political views. It was empowering to hear the views and stories of the working class students sharing their personal history with us, and how obstacles (such as their accents and origins) only made them more determined to grasp their well-deserved success. This visit demonstrated that, although the ‘myth of meritocracy’ will not disappear, more success is achievable in the modern society. However, Lisa McKenzie clearly (and rightly) states that until the middle classes “stupid children” fail, working class students won’t be able to prosper. We are consumed by the illusion of social mobility. We disregard vocational routes, allow those more intelligent than us to define what intelligence is and we readily succumb to false perspectives. As such, we are victims of the education system.
Nevertheless, with the help of the Drapers’ company and visiting universities such as LSE, we are given more of a chance to achieve higher in life; unlike someone in Harold Hill ten years ago- which I am very grateful.
One Friday we went to visit LSE university and I was extremely excited however, my friends and I faced a lot of difficulties getting to the destination for example when we got off at the train station we were completely lost. We didn’t know what direction to take this meant we had to call one of our peers to give us the directions to the university which was a very stressful situation because we still couldn’t manage to get ourselves to the university this meant we were walking around London in the freezing cold at 10 in the morning. After a long and tiring process we managed to get ourselves to LSE, in spite of that experience I discovered a very symbolic correlation, the myth of meritocracy. A girl like me would find it very difficult to get into a prestigious university like LSE because of many factors one of which incudes my class I am a working class girl who lives in Romford – not someone usually associated with applications to university, let alone high ranking universities like LSE.
In my own opinion I feel I have been stigmatized by discourse of ethnicity and its association with crime and deviance ; individuals in the Afro-Caribbean ethnic group cover 2.7% of the UK`s population 10-17 but represent 8.5% of those arrested in that age group arrested in England and Wales , the growing prominence of gang related crimes being associated with black people in the media has meant that I’ve been a victim of multiple stop and searches because of my appearance and my previous location (Peckham) this I believe has led to the stereotype that I’m more prone to commit antisocial behaviour.
Firstly, I would like to wholeheartedly thank LSE for inviting and hosting our sociology class. Their views and interpretations on the effect of the Welfare State has not only informed me of other critical views, but inspired me to discover why and how it affects people like myself. In my own personal opinion, I believe that authenticity has been robbed from working class students. The need to aspire and adhere to middle class norms and expectations i.e. change their restricted speech codes, dress codes and other factors, I feel this factors limits success and social mobility. Until we as a society can feel that social mobility can be disregarded and shredded, then I believe that working class students will still feel the need to ‘fit in’.
I’ve been learning how meritocracy benefits the society through creating social mobility by moving up working class to middle class (vice versa) however, I’ve also been thinking that maybe meritocracy can also produce a negative outcomes.
I investigated the pros and cons of having a meritocratic society, but fell short on the disadvantages. It feels like as if it more beneficial than being a fault. Meritocracy has given the working class a chance to show full potential and achieve higher in life. Meritocracy isn’t such a good thing and that it is a lie. How can meritocracy exist in a society where inequality between men and women is still happening today? Women are getting paid less than men as this can be seen in news that relates with actors and actress just like Ruth Wilson and Dominic West. Adding further, having a meritocratic society further divides the class with the best of working class has social mobility whereas the rest of the working class stays down there. In extra there is no such thing as social mobility if middle class cannot go down in class due to nepotism and material resource available for them.
In the end we could say that the meritocracy would be unfit for purpose due to the problems of inequality and how it only benefits only the working class moving up whereas middle class goes up or stays the same without moving down in social mobility.
Our visit to the LSE University has helped me, with my knowledge of Sociology. This trip has also helped me with my understanding of the Beveridge Report. Additionally, I have enjoyed the Q&A with the members of faculty and the undergraduates. I believe it gave us the chance to express ourselves, state important points and ask important questions. Unfortunately, I personally did not ask any question or made any points, because of my accent. I was born in France and moved to England couple years ago, which means that English is not my first language. There are times where I can be embarrassed of my accent, and decide not to speak when I am surrounded by people I may not know. Sadly, this is what happened during the Q&A. I stayed quiet and decided to listen to everyone else points because I was afraid to say something stupid. I have been doing this since I have moved to England. So this is a factor that brings me down in a lot of situations. Furthermore, I was never given the chance to do any tests in school. I was placed in bottom sets straight away, although I knew I was capable of making it at least to the middle sets. In year 7, I was placed in bottom sets for everything including Maths which was my strongest subject. I was one of the best students in my Maths class, but they never moved me up. It was the same in year 8, year 9 and so on, in every school I have been to. So after a while I started feeling like I was dumb and not able to make it out the bottom sets.
During the Q&A, someone started speaking about the Education system, and spoke about how students get placed in sets based on exam results. Like I said I was never given the chance to do tests, and I was put in bottom sets based on the fact that English is not my first language. So this shows that exams are to test the students’ ability to past exams and not to test their knowledge.
Overall, Sociology has recalibrated my perspective of the world. For example listening to Lisa McKenzie in lesson has helped me understand Myth Meritocracy, and how a Meritocratic society may never exist. Her quote “Until the middle class allow they stupid children to fail, we will not have any mobility”. This quote has helped open my eyes about society. The middle class have the money to send their children to the best schools in the country and to afford private tutoring. Compare to the working class that may not have the money to send their children to the best schools and afford private tutoring. This means that their children will end up in the worst schools of the country, which means that they may not take their education seriously and be attracted to other things like drugs.