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Miseducation: Inequality, Education and the Working Classes

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In this book, part of the 21st Century Standpoints series published in association with the British Sociological Association, Diane Reay, herself working class turned Cambridge professor, brings Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden's pioneering Education and the Working Class from 1962 up to date for the 21st century. The book addresses the urgent question of why the working c In this book, part of the 21st Century Standpoints series published in association with the British Sociological Association, Diane Reay, herself working class turned Cambridge professor, brings Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden's pioneering Education and the Working Class from 1962 up to date for the 21st century. The book addresses the urgent question of why the working classes are still faring so much worse than the upper and middle classes in education, and vitally - what we can do to achieve a fairer system.


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In this book, part of the 21st Century Standpoints series published in association with the British Sociological Association, Diane Reay, herself working class turned Cambridge professor, brings Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden's pioneering Education and the Working Class from 1962 up to date for the 21st century. The book addresses the urgent question of why the working c In this book, part of the 21st Century Standpoints series published in association with the British Sociological Association, Diane Reay, herself working class turned Cambridge professor, brings Brian Jackson and Dennis Marsden's pioneering Education and the Working Class from 1962 up to date for the 21st century. The book addresses the urgent question of why the working classes are still faring so much worse than the upper and middle classes in education, and vitally - what we can do to achieve a fairer system.

30 review for Miseducation: Inequality, Education and the Working Classes

  1. 4 out of 5

    Trevor

    I was chatting to a friend at work today, we are working on a project together and it was the first time we had caught up in ages – and I mentioned I had just finished reading this book. She is doing her PhD and had originally thought to use Bourdieu for her theoretical framework and so she had read some Reay because Reay uses him too. But I was a little surprised by what I decided to tell her about this book. Mostly, I told her that Reay had been a coal miner’s daughter who had first gone to a I was chatting to a friend at work today, we are working on a project together and it was the first time we had caught up in ages – and I mentioned I had just finished reading this book. She is doing her PhD and had originally thought to use Bourdieu for her theoretical framework and so she had read some Reay because Reay uses him too. But I was a little surprised by what I decided to tell her about this book. Mostly, I told her that Reay had been a coal miner’s daughter who had first gone to a grammar school and then to Cambridge University, (I seem to have misremembered that – she in fact doesn’t make it clear which ‘good’ university she went to), and that on her first outing, a ball for new students, she was humiliated when she arrived by a group of young men, nominally her ‘peers’, who came over to her and asked if they had seen her earlier in the day at Woolworths. The implication being that she was a check-out chick – that is, they were letting her know she was lower class. When I started this review the other day I didn’t include that story at all, which made me wonder why not. This book isn’t really an academic book – at least, not in the same sense that the other two books by the author I’ve read have been academic books. As she says at one point, in this book she barely mentions Bourdieu, which, given the important role he’s played in her research over the years, even she can’t help finding that a little odd. This book is a nice introduction to the impact social class has on the possibility of education of the working class in England – and I mean that quite literally, that ‘possibility’ word. The point is that people like Reay, who is now a professor at both Cambridge University and the London School of Economics, are often presented as proof that if only the working class just applied themselves they too could succeed. That is, in a world based on merit, her success is proof that the system works. What is seriously interesting here isn’t just that she provides a wealth of information to show just how heavily stacked against the working class the education system is – but what I mentioned to another friend at work about this book the other day that also didn’t make it into my previous and now abandoned review. That is, that this book has made me hyper-conscious of just how often we think that education is about ‘helping’ the working class to leave the working class. That education for the working class means becoming something other than what they previously where – and not in the sense of a kind of homage to Heraclitus, to the world as flux, where you can’t stand in the same river twice, where everything you learn changes you – no, rather that our culture sees only two paths available for working class youth: the ‘you’ve wasted your opportunity’ path so as to be stuck in a kind of uncultured hell of violence and ignorance or the virtuous path that leads to escape by any means necessary. And such an escape from the working class also means an escape from everything and everyone the child has ever known and loved. The escape means to adopt a new way of speaking, a new way of thinking, a new way of deporting one’s self. This is straight Bourdieu – that you don’t just learn things in your head, but what you learn impacts upon all other aspects of your being. What you learn becomes as much a part of your body as it does a part of your mind. If you are working class you will be told by everyone the benefits to be gained from an education. But no one tells you the costs. How you will be estranged from those you have known and loved – how you will have joined the class of your family’s ‘betters’ and the betrayal this is likely to imply to you. But also, how you are likely to never feel you fully belong in the new world you have struggled so hard to join. And that by the time you try to choose, by the time you realise there is even a choice to be made, it is likely that it is already too late. That is, by the time you realise you can’t actually make it all the way over the bridge and over into ‘the other side’ you have already travelled too far to go back ‘to where you came from’. Your brain has changed, your body has changed, your voice has changed. You now belong no where. She does present an alternative, though. Rather than proposing we ‘rescue’ the lucky and worthy few from the working class, an idea that implies the majority deserve their fate and should be left to it, she says we should find ways to raise the working class with their children, rather than seeking to raise some of their children from the working class. This book provides an unflinching look at how the education system is stacked against working class children, how the system of ‘academy schools’ and other forms of privatisation by stealth in the UK is making matters worse, how even the students marked as ‘successes’ end up battered and bruised by the process of education, and how the need for change ought to be one of the major rallying cries of our age, but is proving anything but. If you ever find yourself thinking, ‘well, if only the working class would apply themselves more, if only they would put in some effort, then they would receive the rewards the middle class have’ – then this book needs to be moved up your ‘to read’ pile. She covers in this book some of the research she discusses in more depth in her two previous books. When I teach my sociology of education class I always quote a part of her book Class Work, where a middle class mother looks back on her primary school education and says she was happy there, but then can’t think of a single thing that happened in her seven years of primary school to justify it being remembered as a happy time (which, when you think of it, is just about the definition of happiness, in many ways). But then I also quote the working class mother whose experience of primary school was a series of humiliations, misunderstandings and breathtaking abuse from her teachers. You could read this book rather than reading her other books – or you could read this book as a stepping stone towards deciding to read her other two books. I would highly recommend the latter option.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Stefan Szczelkun

    Don’t miss this book if you want to understand what is wrong with state education; or if you want to understand how classism diminishes us all. This book is the result of a life’s work, and although that work took an academic turn about twenty years ago, this book is not ‘academic’ - it is passionately and accessibly written for a wide readership. The author Diane Reay knows the research on education thoroughly and this book quotes this research to give evidence for her arguments. But she hersel Don’t miss this book if you want to understand what is wrong with state education; or if you want to understand how classism diminishes us all. This book is the result of a life’s work, and although that work took an academic turn about twenty years ago, this book is not ‘academic’ - it is passionately and accessibly written for a wide readership. The author Diane Reay knows the research on education thoroughly and this book quotes this research to give evidence for her arguments. But she herself has also been engaged in research in the last twenty years and her many papers earned her a professorship at Cambridge. This research is also used to give a voice to the often unheard voices of working class young people in schools and universities. There are also the voices of middle class children. The book argues convincingly that education is structured to give the middle class the main benefits of an education system that is organised on their terms. However, it also show us that these benefits are often bought at a cost of desperate anxiety and a loss of empathy which blocks communication between the classes and reinforces stereotypes and class separation. The book is brought alive at frequent intervals by the inclusion of Reay’s own experience in education as a ‘gifted’ working class girl and then young woman at university. The academic curriculum worked for her, but still her stories of injustice are moving and bring a strong response from me, more perhaps than much of the quotations from research. This could be because we are roughly from the same generation of working class learners. (e.g. p.107) The first chapter is a summary of class oppression and how it got worse (again) after a brief period of relative respite after WW2. The next chapter is a history of the working class experience of education. Again it is clearly and concisely written and shows the huge amount of research that backs up her view. The detail is well chosen and does not overburden her critical arguments. The later chapters drill deeper into into the working class experience of schooling and call on her own extensive sociological research. Three of the main points that stood out to me were: 1. The skewed curriculum that is made with little or no understanding of working class interests and activities. Too often the school curriculum appears irrelevant to working class life. 2. The middle classes see their children as ‘brighter’ than the working class majority and so deserving of special attention. 3. Education contributes to a ‘negative and deficit view of working class culture’ (p.12) and makes the working class increasingly excluded from the political system. “Deference has been and still is expected of the working class.” (p.15) Educational research is used to elucidate this key area in which class oppression is inculcated into vulnerable young people. Her analysis is especially acute about the part played by the middle class in their efforts to maintain their advantage. The working-class student too often “inhabits a psychic economy of class defined by fear, anxiety and unease where failure looms large and success is elusive, a space where they are positioned and see themselves as losers.” (p.147). The middle class are driven to maintain their advantage at all costs by a incessant competitive anxiety that pushes their children to succeed in ways that can only diminish the inevitable losers. Those who do not shine ‘brightly’ in academic terms are destined to be the ‘losers’ in a stratified society. “As both working class young people and working class adults regularly pointed out, they often felt overlooked and disregarded in schooling, part of an anonymous backdrop that middle class children can shine against.” (p.138). As I have pointed out elsewhere the core of class oppression is the claiming of an intellectual function for the middle and bourgeois classes and a manual function for the working class. What goes along with this is a myth that intellectual work is superior to manual work. School embeds and polices that nexus of inferiority/ superiority in the population. This is more cruel than we can easily contemplate… The whole school curriculum and assessment process is aligned to celebrate intellectual success of the ‘brightest’ and to underline the failure of those whose communities do not aspire to that kind of work. Not that working class work in making the world does not use thought and analysis! Of course it does. But the school curriculum is made to study a particular kind of abstracted thinking based on the reading of a literary tradition, rather than thinking that is part of the direct experience of productive doing. It is a curriculum that alienates most working class students from what they know about. Although working class people are those who have made the whole of the world we live in, school suggests that the world keeps spinning because of intellectual work. I have not seen an argument that puts a curricular shift towards practical thinking into a concrete programme whilst having an inclusive approach. Even attempts at a separate ‘technical education’ has never really taken off (p.33). 'Vocational' programmes are seen to be for the school failures. Successful working class led education would celebrate the practical thinking involved with being a successful plumber, mechanic, engineer, nurse, carer, etc. The sticking point here is that the graduate path of training teachers is enclosed within the academic environment of the university, rather than the workshop or factory, so they are not really able to see outside of that mind cage. As Reay says: “This would require an educative relationship between schools and working class communities, on that works in both directions.” (p.191) Different kinds of jobs should be of more equal value. Why should practical makers and doers have to go through the ordeal of being declared intellectual failures before going on to having a satisfying and often reasonably well-paid job? Why should middle-class children be made to jump though intellectual hoops just to please their parents neurotic sense of status? Many middle class people ‘end up’ as successful makers but they often carry a hurtful experience of shame and humiliation from their education through their adult lives. Also there are many graduates in huge debt from doing degrees that are doing dead-end jobs in call centres etc. “Failure within education to respect and value working-class knowledge has resulted in the invidious divide between vocational and academic knowledge.” (p.65). “Working-class students will now graduate with an average of £14,000 more debt and their wealthier peers.” (p.128). Although the book is highly critical of our education system it has a section towards the end that grapples with how to improve things. Clearly a change of policies from above is not going to eradicate centuries of classism. There is a wider struggle against class injustice and the knowledge put forward by Reay needs to be more clearly known by the many groups involved in challenging the class system. Reay says there are 800 co-operative schools in England (p.190) but there seems to be no research of what they bring to education. I would like to have heard more about these schools and other examples of groups offering resistance to the neo-liberal pressure to cream profits from schools and at the same time produce comotose and indebted worker subjects. The world-wide interest in the ‘The Ignorant Schoolmaster’ by Jaques Ranciere is another example of an educational approach that is perhaps too wild to be considered here. (My extensive blog review has had 25000 views) The main contribution that this marvellous book, ‘Miseducation’, makes is in elucidating how class oppression is embedded and maintained through our years of schooling. It is very clear in describing how working class young people suffer intolerable humiliations in their period of schooling. Many, like Reay herself have survived this, but not enough are giving voice to it and demanding it changes. Diane Reay has painstakingly constructed a platform for herself and marshalled the best research being done to empower her arguments. Where there are gaps in the official discourses she has done the research herself and with colleagues. It is up to us now, dear working class readers, to read, discuss and celebrate her achievement. Essential reading for all those who value equality. More quotes: “Educational polices often work to reinforce and entrench the low esteem in which the working classes are held, rather than to modify and alleviate class prejudices and discriminations.” p.25. “If you are working class in England, and especially if you are poor, you're likely to have less experienced and less qualified teachers than more privileged students have, as well as poorer educational facilities…” p.74. “The hidden injuries of class that are enshrined and perpetuated through educational policies and practices… are particularly raw and vivid in relation to the growing processes of assessment and testing in schools.” p.82. “There is a pressing need to re-centre care, collaboration and empathy in our schools.” p.98. “Social mobility is no solution to either educational inequalities or wider social and economic injustices. p.102. “The key issue we need to tackle in education is not social mobility but inequality.” p.127. “Complicated combinations of guilt, shame, anger, fear, defensiveness empathy and conciliation… are generated in response to class inequalities in education.” p.155. “The continued failure to critically educate and to creatively stimulate working-class students is little short of criminal and, at the very least, morally indefensible.” p.161. “The normative working-class educational experience is one of neglect, unrealised potential, an unfair allocation of resources and exploitation and oppression.” p.184.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Beccy

    I wish I could give it more stars! Absolutely fantastic insight into how the British education system has been set up to disempower and villainise the working classes.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Kira

    Eloquently illustrates the marginalisation and demonisation of the working-class and state schools. Interestingly Reay also explores the working-class pupils who “succeed against all odds” and yet their newfound ‘social mobility’ still alienates them from the middle class. Great questions posed and discussion about working-class students attending university, a hostile and unfamiliar environment, and the heavy psychological toil that is has on them whilst navigating a system which has been desig Eloquently illustrates the marginalisation and demonisation of the working-class and state schools. Interestingly Reay also explores the working-class pupils who “succeed against all odds” and yet their newfound ‘social mobility’ still alienates them from the middle class. Great questions posed and discussion about working-class students attending university, a hostile and unfamiliar environment, and the heavy psychological toil that is has on them whilst navigating a system which has been designed and upheld by the middle- and upper-classes. Such as, is a working-class student’s first class degree of the same value as a middle-class student’s first class degree? Short answer: no. And this book delves into the many socio-economical reasons as to why that is. This is a disheartening read which highlights in excruciating detail the way in which the entire education system is set up to fail the working- and lower-class yet benefit and alleviate the middle- and upper-class. The interviews with the middle-class children and parents was incredibly difficult to read: blatant ignorance and discrimination was evident in each and every choice of their words. Of course, not all middle-class students and parents will possess these same beliefs and attitudes, but this book shows that clearly the majority do. It’s worth noting that this was quite a white-centric perspective. Although Reay does acknowledge multiple times that BAME working-class pupils are at a further disadvantage than their white working-class peers, nearly all interviews were conducted with white students; giving only a white perspective of how the working-class navigate the educational system. I have so much else to say, but will keep it for a blog post :) https://www.kirareadsandwrites.wordpr...

  5. 4 out of 5

    Lizz

    This is an open ask: is there a similar book like Reay’s for the American education system? Reading this book was like trying to push pins in an unstable cork board. I was always only 70% sure I knew (or had an analog) for the system she was talking about. While I had very little knowledge going in about the British educational system (and Reay honestly never really bothered to quite fully explain the tripartite system in the way that I needed), I could supplement my lack of background with some This is an open ask: is there a similar book like Reay’s for the American education system? Reading this book was like trying to push pins in an unstable cork board. I was always only 70% sure I knew (or had an analog) for the system she was talking about. While I had very little knowledge going in about the British educational system (and Reay honestly never really bothered to quite fully explain the tripartite system in the way that I needed), I could supplement my lack of background with some vigorous googling. I appreciated this novel enunciating how crude and traumatic education and class mobility can be/is. The education system, instead of being a meritocracy and “helping realize working class potential,” actually functions as a “sieve that [sorts people in an often] brutal process that rewards middle/upper class qualities and resources.” This book also brought up “principled choice” (making choices within a larger idealogical framework/ethics system) and “austerity education” (where “low achieving” kids are getting taught towards the book/to the test and getting little practical skills) which I hadn’t heard of before. I had previously read about “Principled racism” in one of my academic reading (in reference to Jim Crowe racism—outward and on principle vs. the present day bias/vague distaste/prejudice of.) and I wonder if they’re similar terms. This book felt very relevant too as I thought about my public school education (the entitlement/general sentiments etc.) and heard about my friends experiences at a competitive but corrupt magnet school (rated very highly in the state) ans another experience at the Betsy DeVoss private school (which I expect was an experience in and within itself).

  6. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    masters reading, fascinating and important !!

  7. 4 out of 5

    Matt Butler

    This book outlined a perspective on education that I hadn't really considered, that of the working-class. My main takeaway from it is the impact a lack of belief can have on a child. It also made me aware of some of my own biases, putting too much emphasis on laziness and bad parenting leading to poor educational outcomes. Instead, as always, it is more nuanced than that. Also interesting was the debate over what school to send your children to. Do you sacrifice their potential academic success This book outlined a perspective on education that I hadn't really considered, that of the working-class. My main takeaway from it is the impact a lack of belief can have on a child. It also made me aware of some of my own biases, putting too much emphasis on laziness and bad parenting leading to poor educational outcomes. Instead, as always, it is more nuanced than that. Also interesting was the debate over what school to send your children to. Do you sacrifice their potential academic success to adhere to equality? The system is the problem when two different measures of what is right point to different actions. Although this book never set out to provide comprehensive solutions, I wanted a bit more from it. I kept thinking to myself, so what should we do about it, but will have to keep asking myself that question. Maybe this is intended

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lisa Cherry

    Brilliant critical work on the fact that this is NOT a level playing field and simply cannot be in education's form. Brilliant critical work on the fact that this is NOT a level playing field and simply cannot be in education's form.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Hannah

    I started this book because I watched Professor Reay in a debate, 'What if… we really wanted to further social mobility through education?' [You can watch online at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/news-events/...]. I was astounded by the brilliance and passion of her arguments, which seemed to resonate with my experience as a classroom teacher teaching primarily working class children. This book presents an entirely contrasting perspective to that which I am used to hearing, on twitter, in the blogosphe I started this book because I watched Professor Reay in a debate, 'What if… we really wanted to further social mobility through education?' [You can watch online at http://www.ucl.ac.uk/ioe/news-events/...]. I was astounded by the brilliance and passion of her arguments, which seemed to resonate with my experience as a classroom teacher teaching primarily working class children. This book presents an entirely contrasting perspective to that which I am used to hearing, on twitter, in the blogosphere and in the books on teaching I have read thus far [Didau, Bennett, Christodolou, Birbalsingh, etc]. It is much needed. The most shocking, and yet simultaneously recognisable aspect was that our education system was this way because society did not care whether its working class pupils felt empowered and liberated by education or not. She captures the utter hopelessness and righteous indignation that some of my pupils voice, and the alienating effect of an education system designed to further middle class interests. Of course, the practicals of how we can change this are up for debate. In parts Reay seems to disagree with learning knowledge, for instance, and seems to advocate group work in very general terms. I want to read more of Reay's work to discover the practical implications of this treatise for my practise, but this book was far more important than that as a rallying cry to pay attention to what has happened to our education system. I couldn't recommend this book enough for everyone.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Sparrow

    'Miseducation: Inequality, education and the working classes' by Diane Reay powerfully explores the question of why the working class are still so much more disadvantaged than the upper and middle classes in education. Reay carried out more than 500 interviews for this book and identified most with the children who were difficult and out of place: the “fighters”, as she calls them. “That was the sort of child I was in school.” Reay’s background informs her book and her opinions throughout this p 'Miseducation: Inequality, education and the working classes' by Diane Reay powerfully explores the question of why the working class are still so much more disadvantaged than the upper and middle classes in education. Reay carried out more than 500 interviews for this book and identified most with the children who were difficult and out of place: the “fighters”, as she calls them. “That was the sort of child I was in school.” Reay’s background informs her book and her opinions throughout this powerful book. The daughter of a coalminer, and the eldest of eight of working class parents, she grew up on a council estate and received free school meals. She then spent 20 years working as a teacher in London primary schools before moving into academia and ending up at Cambridge. Miseducation examines the different aspects of working class peoples experiences of education, in doing so she movingly critiques the conveys the British education systems inherent inequality, the lack of social mobility and its damaging human consequences. The book is packed full of empirical evidence, based on the authors wealth of research insights accumulated over the past two decades. or so. An enjoyable, insightful must read for anyone interested in education inequality in the UK.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jo Gaffney

    Not an ‘easy’ read- personally, I found it lacked flow in its style and over complicated itself at times. However, an important book which highlights historical inequality in the U.K. education system and the impacts of this on our society. I found it insightful and very interesting. Definitely recommend to anyone working in education.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Stephen Bigger

    A topic close to my heart. One twitterer said she is wrong but it was clear her hadn't read the book. Typical male (headteacher) hegemony. Working class experience not quite my own but close enough who we damaged by the education system and know that we had to work twice as hard to succeed. Even today, professorships to not go with merit. Women, minorities and others have to fight for what others expect as a Christmas cracker prize. A topic close to my heart. One twitterer said she is wrong but it was clear her hadn't read the book. Typical male (headteacher) hegemony. Working class experience not quite my own but close enough who we damaged by the education system and know that we had to work twice as hard to succeed. Even today, professorships to not go with merit. Women, minorities and others have to fight for what others expect as a Christmas cracker prize.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Amy Rebecca

    A poignant and insightful discussion on working class experience and treatment within the past and current UK education system. Of all the academic texts I have read, Reay’s thoughtful and provoking critical analysis and commentary has been by far the easiest to digest and throughly understand. Couldn’t put this down, a conversation written with the most precise care and consideration.

  14. 4 out of 5

    MS T M WILKINSON

  15. 4 out of 5

    Grace

  16. 5 out of 5

    Jordan Hawkesworth

  17. 5 out of 5

    Hannah Ground

  18. 5 out of 5

    Jenny Bryant

  19. 5 out of 5

    Gemma

  20. 5 out of 5

    Tom Masterman

  21. 5 out of 5

    Polina A

  22. 4 out of 5

    Ceridwen

  23. 5 out of 5

    Melissa Isbell

  24. 4 out of 5

    Charlotte

  25. 4 out of 5

    Tania Aramburo

  26. 4 out of 5

    Sarah Ashton

  27. 5 out of 5

    Eoghan

  28. 4 out of 5

    A

  29. 4 out of 5

    Senza Arsendy

  30. 5 out of 5

    Matej

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