Uncivilized we call him,
but I just saw him eat off the food we waste
Civilization, are we really civilized, yes or no?
Who are we to judge?
Mr Wendall – Arrested Development
It seems that amongst the school shaming, pouring scorn on blog reviewers and general whataboutery of Twitter we are in the middle of a new divide on class. Wholesale misunderstanding of how class works maybe at fault here but it is hard to see beyond some people having a superiority complex over their own upbringing at times. Take this for example:
I reckon the answer lies in looking at how advantaged children rock up to school at age 5 with a vast store of words and facts in their heads, as well as that advanced ability to concentrate and communicate: I don’t think they gained these advantages from trips to museums or karate class, I think they gained these advantages at the dinner table.
Now I know little about the author except they are a primary school teacher. What her blog seems to postulate though is that our “advantaged” children (I asked for a definition of how they are advantaged but haven’t had reply yet) learn more from sitting around the dinner table discussing their day’s events. However I’d possibly change this position slightly; maybe some of the children we perceive to be from “advantaged” backgrounds (and I can only assume we are talking relative wealth here) actually have less interaction with their parents/carers than we think.
What worries me more about this position is the idea that money brings advantage. As a child who spent the formative years of my life growing up in a tower block in a Lanarkshire town after the death of my father, I know the struggles my mother (and later my stepfather) went through to ensure my development went well. This wasn’t a matter of class or money, it was a matter of common human decency. You see I didn’t have dinner with my family every single day. My stepfather worked (and still does) for himself repairing damaged cars. Work could be sporadic and he worked the hours necessary to put food on our table and a roof above our heads. As soon as my mother could work (mostly part time until I was in secondary school) she did. This meant I was either in some sort of provision after school, picked up by a friend’s parents or a latch-key kid. None of this did me any harm in the long term.
When I joined the military I joined a fairly classless environment. Yes there were those public schooled types who joined the officer classes but the rise of well-educated young men and women who just wanted a career in the ranks took off in the early 90s. Class was no barrier to advancement, rather hard work and determination helped – the true rise of the rewarding of endeavour.
So to base our idea of child development and “advantage” on social class seems an anathema to me nowadays. It seems to pander to stereotypes that I thought we had long left behind; indeed it seems that those stereotypes are blown out of the water nowadays with the rise of dual-income parents who use all the wrap-around care that a school can give in order for them to fulfill their careers.
I have a working class background and I regularly ate dinner at a table with my family and discussed my day when I was a child. It is possible to be poor and civilised. I know this is a shocker to some.
This tweet from a friend caught my eye this morning though. The idea that we can divorce class and “advantage” touched me deeply and distilled thoughts I’d always held about “advantage”.
You see, my definition of advantage comes from nurture. The social class of the parent is meaningless – what matters is an environment that allows the child to thrive regardless of the financial situation. Being poor doesn’t mean we cannot use language, provide meaningful opportunities for our children or provide hope. Giving our children the “advantage” of reading, writing and counting from a young age can be provided regardless of our income or working lives. Providing rich conversation around the dinner table (tea time where I live!) isn’t the sole gift of the middle classes. In fact, I’d wager lots of so-called “middle-class” families do not sit around the table together every night, instead feeding the children separately to the adults whilst one is still working then the adults enjoying a child-free meal later.
Class distinction adds nothing to educational debate.