Celeb Youth

I’ve only just discovered the fantastic celebyouth.org, the website associated with an ESRC-funded research project into ‘the role of celebrity in young people’s classed and gendered aspirations’ being carried out by Kim Allen (MMU), Heather Mendick and Laura Harvey (Brunel).

Alongside great posts analyzing their research listening to what young people really think about celebrities, there’s lots of wonderful stuff on education and aspiration, which connect to the concerns of this website: most recently, a piece rejecting the claim – prevalent in discourse around education today – that “working class children must learn to be middle class to get on in life” and instead insisting ‘Middle Class Universities Must Learn to Become More Working Class‘. In the context of our so-called “age of austerity”, I’m increasingly struck by the stark suggestiveness of bell hooks’ observation in homegrown: engaged cultural criticism (2006):

For example, “look at the living simple” and “living with less” trends in mainstream. The people in our nation who are forced to live daily with less are the poor, yet we disparage them instead of holding them in high esteem for their resourcefulness. The prevailing image of the poor in mass media is still of a criminal class, certainly not a teaching class. (homegrown, pp.71-2; my emphasis)

There’s a reversal of the usual pedagogic relationship that’s compelling to me here, one that connects more broadly to what the psychologist Andrew Samuels has talked about in an interview (related to his book Politics on the Couch: Citizenship and the Internal Life (2001)):

Ruth Williams: The usual expectation that therapists will want to treat society as a sort of client has been completely turned on its head in your book. You want us to think in terms of citizens being the therapists. This is a profoundly empowering reversal.

Andrew Samuels: It is one of the key things in my thinking. You’re right, I’ve turned the traditional formulation around. The traditional formulation is that the citizen is a baby and society is the mother or father or parents. I thought that citizens have a potential to be therapists to the society that has spawned them.

The author of the celebyouth.org post, Jessie Abrahams, concludes:

We need to stop pretending that everyone in the university is middle class – or should be. I for one would like to stand up and be counted and offer support for those just entering the middle-class world which Michelle describes as a: scary place, full of unwritten rules that are alien to someone coming from a background where survival is paramount”.

One of the interesting and unexpected outcomes of the small, first-year tutorial groups I help teach at my university is that, although they seemed to be partially modeled on the Oxbridge tutorial system, what actually occurred was a forum in which I could listen to and learn from the students. In this context, I was constantly reminded that so many of the academic conventions and habits we now take for granted are not only unfamiliar and strange to our new students but increasingly anachronistic for the first generation to grow up in the era of digital technology.

Noahs-ark-007

The website also has a sharp piece by Heather Mendick on BBC3’s reality series, ‘Tough Young Teachers’, examining the politics of the Teach First [TF] scheme (which all the new teachers on the series belong to):

TF is part of a wider splintering of the teaching force, moving the profession from a more collective to a more individual ethos. In the interviews I did for the evaluations, I remember TF participants referring to themselves as ‘fire fighters’ and ‘saviours’. But, how does this position all of the other teachers in our schools? And what does it say about how TF and its teachers view the young people with whom they work?

As I recently pointed out in a review of Biesta, Allan and Edwards’ Making a Difference in Theory (2014), changes to teacher training have been one aspect of the broader transformation of education in England and Wales that have tended to receive less attention than others, yet are important because they connect a number of significant concerns. As I argued here, ‘it is through control of the points of intersection between primary, secondary, and tertiary education that the government’s political intent is being most effectively realized. An analysis of these changes reveals the broader nature of the attack on the idea and practice of mass education itself’.

Teach First is a charitable organization (a private company limited by guarantee), which provides teaching training in partnered schools, culminating after two years in Qualified Teacher Status (QTS). Alongside the creation of an expanding network of teaching schools (over half of which are Academies), Education Secretary Michael Gove has plowed public money into the massive and rapid expansion of the TF programme, as part of a broader attempt to shift teacher training away from universities (the other aspect is removing the need for QTS; TF circumvents this since it enables new teachers to become qualified on the job).

In terms of teaching training:

These changes are intended to impact upon not only the economics of secondary and higher education (as increased competition between schools and universities over recruitment leads to the closure of education departments in HE) but also how teaching is taught and the kind of academic research that informs it.

I’ve talked about pedagogical aspect – shifts in what we teach our teachers – here in terms of a hostility towards theory in universities (and its inherent transdisciplinarity), which is characterized by Gove as drawing ‘gifted young teachers away from their vocation’.

The economic aspect simultaneously connects to the financial rationalization of HE institutions (part of the State-lead “assault on the universities” that is the precondition of the construction of a competitive market in HE) as well of that of secondary education through the promotion of Academies and Free Schools. In a post last summer, analyzing trends in British trade unionism, I pointed out that it was largely a rise of 68k members in education (the highest increase among all industries) that contributed to that overall increase of 59k in the size of the trade unions the year before last, and that education workers were the second most militant group last year after public administration and defence workers.

Although education presents a sector ripe for opening up to private investment and capitalist rationalization, the biggest opponents to the liberalization of pay and working conditions, necessary for the creation of a market in education, are the teaching and lecturing unions. As Heather writes in her post:

In an age of austerity, it is clearly an ideological choice that has led politicians of all stripes to robustly support Teach First, by far the most expensive form of training, while Gove destroys the best value and most effective form of initial teacher education, within universities. As the series has progressed, we’ve seen the ‘tough young teachers’ improve, and the inclusion of a second year teacher who is more self-assured, signals this developmental narrative thread that supports the effectiveness of on-the-job training and thus the move of teacher education into schools.

Finally, one of the most interesting aspects of Teach First is its status as an ostensibly philanthropic charity. As #fargojayne has detailed in a post on ‘The New Philanthropy – Frontline and the Lessons of Teach First‘, TF is a sister charity in partnership with Teaching Leaders. The latter organization was “incubated” by the charity Absolute Return for Kids [ARK], founded in 2002 by hedge fund financiers in the ‘alternative investment industry’, Paul Marshall, Ian Wace and Arpad Busson, to ‘deliver high social returns on our philanthropy, leveraging intellectual, financial and political investment‘. Like TF, ARK run a teacher training programme in their chain of Academies (TF places its graduates in some of these schools). TF and ARK are distinct organizations, although linked through the Teaching Leaders scheme, but as #fargojanye suggests, both exemplify what Stephen J. Ball has characterized as ‘the new philanthropy’ (cf. ‘New Philanthropy, New Networks and New Governance in Education‘, in Political Studies, December 2008). 

To return to our starting point, it is the symbiosis between the new philanthropy exemplified in Teach First and the embourgeoisement or middle-classification of educational aspirations, discussed in Jessia Abrahams post, that I am concerned about when I make the link between a certain pedagogical vision of the humanities (as cultivating good, liberal citizens…) and the charitable status of not-for-profit companies limited by guarantee. In this post from last year, I read such a connection into the title and central thesis of Martha Nussbaum’s much-celebrated Not For Profit: Why Democracy Needs the Humanities: 

The association between the humanities and philanthropy – etymologically linked via the Latin translation of those subjects in a Greek education that generate the love of humanity (philos anthropos ) – resurfaces in the neoclassicism of the German Enlightenment, and was imported into the United States during the ‘Gilded Age’ of post-Civil War industrial-ism (where philanthropy is evoked as the complement of patriotism). In the UK, these values and the culture of philanthropy they endorsed became superseded by the labour movement and the introduction of the welfare state, and their continued existence in the USA is predicated on the relative absence of such a movement. Margaret Thatcher’s and David Cameron’s [and Michael Gove’s] more recent recuperation of the Victorian values of self-reliance, personal responsibility and voluntarism draw on the same civic virtues as Nussbaum in this respect. However, Not for Profit’s insistence that a liberal arts education is not the vestige of past elitism or class privilege is contradicted by the realization that philanthropy and the liberal arts are conjoined in either a ‘virtuous’ or a ‘vicious’ circle in Nussbaum’s thought, and therefore predicated on the accumulation of wealth within a capitalist system [such as the venture capital at the heart of the ARK charity]

A critical attentiveness to this kind of philanthropy and this vision of the humanities underwrites the notion of The Inhumanities (which is not intended to be inhumane but to distance itself from the humanism inherent in such a philanthropic model of education) from which this blog takes its name and the kind of pedagogical inversions or reversals it would be founded upon.

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One thought on “Celeb Youth

  1. Pingback: Update 2 | Pedagogy & the Inhumanities

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