Just Sociology

The Lack of Aspiration Among White Working-Class Boys: Why It’s Time to Rethink Middle-Class Ideals

The underachievement of white working class boys in education has been a topic of concern for many years. Despite various interventions and initiatives to address this issue, the statistics continue to show a significant gap in their academic achievement, particularly in comparison with their female and ethnic minority counterparts.

This article will explore two main topics related to this issue: lack of aspiration among white working class boys and conflicts between their aspirations and the school’s view of success. Lack of aspiration among white working class boys:

A significant proportion of white working-class boys come from low-income households, where the priority is often on survival rather than academic achievement.

However, this does not necessarily mean that they do not have aspirations or ambitions. In fact, research has shown that many of these boys aspire to make a decent living and provide for their families by learning a trade or skill that can earn them a good wage.

Unfortunately, the dominant discourse around aspiration in education tends to be a neoliberal idea of self-crafting, skilling up, volunteering, team sports, music, or other extracurricular activities that are often associated with middle-class values. This view of aspiration assumes that success in the education system is linked to the acquisition of cultural capital, which is attained by developing these types of ‘soft’ skills.

However, Michael Wilshaw, the former chief inspector of schools in England, has highlighted that this view of aspiration is not necessarily the most applicable for white working-class boys. He argues that many of these boys are more likely to be attracted to practical subjects, such as engineering, construction, or technology, which offer clear pathways to employment and upward mobility.

Middle class view of aspiration as disadvantageous for white working class boys:

Middle-class parents tend to have a different perspective on aspiration, often emphasizing the value of academic success for social mobility. This view of aspiration is often at odds with the aspirations of white working-class boys, who may prioritize gaining practical skills that will allow them to secure a decent wage and contribute to their local community.

This disconnect between the two perspectives can result in white working-class boys feeling disenfranchised and disengaged from the education system. They may develop a negative attitude toward academic success and may view it as irrelevant to their future aspirations.

This can further exacerbate their underachievement in education. Working class boys’ aspirations – trades, authenticity, and a decent job:

Many white working-class boys aspire to lead ordinary lives by having a decent job that provides them with a sense of authenticity and purpose.

They may value trades, such as plumbing, welding, or construction, as these offer them a chance to learn practical skills that they can utilize in their everyday lives. The focus on authenticity often stems from the belief that academic success is not a guarantee of happiness or fulfillment.

Moreover, such aspirations can be aligned with the idea of work ethic, which is often instilled in them by their families or communities. This emphasis on work ethic means that they may place a higher value on earning an honest day’s pay for honest day’s work than on ivory-tower academic pursuits.

Conflict over paid work and middling positions in school:

However, the view of success held by schools often conflicts with the aspirations of working-class boys. Middle-class parents and schools may prioritize academic achievement, which may not always be aligned with the aspirations of white working-class boys.

This can create friction and result in working-class boys feeling excluded or disengaged from the school system, further exacerbating the achievement gap. Moreover, the idea that learning is earning may not be linked with academic success in the case of white working-class boys.

The focus is often on practical, hands-on experience, which is seen as a more direct route to employment. The idea of middling positions in the school system often does not align with the aspirations of white working-class boys, who may feel more comfortable and authentic in trade or vocational courses that are more directly linked with their aspirations.

Conclusion:

The underachievement of white working-class boys in education is a complex issue that cannot be resolved with a single solution. The lack of aspiration among these boys is a key factor, which is often linked with conflicting perspectives on what constitutes success in the education system.

Schools need to recognize and validate the aspirations of white working-class boys, which may not always fit neatly into the prevailing discourse on aspiration in education. By understanding their aspirations, schools can work with these boys to ensure that they feel included and empowered to achieve their goals.The previous section highlighted the issue of lack of aspiration among white working-class boys and how their aspirations and definitions of success are often at odds with those of middle-class parents and schools.

This section will explore the harmful effects of the normalization of middle-class aspiration and possible antidotes to this dominant culture. Judging people against a middle-class pathway through life:

The normalization of middle-class aspiration can lead to judging people against this particular pathway through life.

The focus on celebrity culture and the portrayal of extravagant lifestyles in the media can create an illusion that certain lifestyles are normal and desirable while denigrating other lifestyles. This normality can foster a sense of inferiority and a feeling of not measuring up among working-class communities.

This can be seen in the education sector, where middle-class aspirations and pathways are often considered superior to others. The emphasis on academic achievement, cultural capital, and extracurricular activities encourages students to try to fit into a particular mold, which often does not fit with the ideals of working-class communities.

This can lead to a sense of exclusion and disempowerment among working-class students. Disempowerment and self-blaming for failure:

The dominant middle-class culture of aspiration can contribute to the disempowerment of working-class students.

The emphasis on academic achievement and cultural capital can create a sense of inferiority among students who do not conform to these ideals. Working-class students may internalize a sense that their failures are their own fault, that they have not tried hard enough or that they do not have the right cultural capital.

The acceptance of self-blame can lead to a negative cycle where working-class students may become disengaged and less motivated. They may feel that they do not belong in the education system or that they cannot achieve success.

This can result in lower academic achievement and disempowerment, leading to limited choices and narrow pathways. Individualisation process and questioning the “learning=earning” equation:

To counter the impact of middle-class aspirations, it is necessary to view education in a more individualized manner that considers the diversity of working-class experiences.

This involves focusing less on the “learning=earning” equation and looking more closely at individual responsibilities and biographical solutions. The emphasis should be on offering diverse opportunities that reflect the interests and aspirations of working-class communities.

Formal education and qualifications should not be the only gateway to success. Alternative pathways, such as apprenticeships, vocational training, or community college education, need to be emphasized as viable alternatives to traditional university education.

A secure income, rather than solely academic success, should be seen as the primary goal of education. Validating the aspiration for a decent job, paying your way, and contributing to society:

Working-class aspirations should be seen as legitimate, and the contribution that working-class communities make to society should be recognized.

A decent job that allows individuals to pay their way and contribute to society should be valued as much as cultural capital and academic achievement. Education systems should offer pathways to employment that reflect the aspirations of working-class students.

The focus should be on mentorship programs, counseling services, and networks that offer support and tangible pathways to success. Work-life balance, personal fulfillment, and a sense of purpose should be promoted as important aspects of success, rather than simply acquiring cultural capital, which is often associated with the dominant discourse of middle-class aspiration.

Conclusion:

The harmful effects of the normalization of middle-class aspiration and the narrow definition of success that accompany it have been highlighted. To counter this, alternative pathways, vocational training, alternative pedagogies need to be promoted.

It is necessary to affirm the diverse aspirations of working-class communities and validate the contribution that these communities make to society. Students should be offered diverse opportunities that reflect their interests and aspirations, and support networks that offer tangible pathways to success.

The shift toward an individualized approach to education that values a secure income and work-life balance as much as cultural capital and academic achievement will lead to greater inclusivity and equality among diverse student populations. In conclusion, the underachievement of white working-class boys in education is a complex issue that requires attention from educators, policymakers, and society as a whole.

The lack of aspiration among these boys and the dominant culture of middle-class aspiration are significant factors that perpetuate this issue. Validating the aspirations of these boys and recognizing their diverse pathways to success can lead to a more inclusive and equitable education system that empowers all students.

FAQs:

Q: Why do white working-class boys have lower academic achievement compared to their female and ethnic minority counterparts?

A: This is a complex issue that is influenced by various factors, including lack of aspiration, disconnect between aspirations and school views of success, and the normalization of middle-class aspiration.

Q: Are there any specific subjects or areas white working-class boys are interested in? A: Research suggests that many white working-class boys are attracted to practical subjects, such as engineering, construction, or technology, which offer clear pathways to employment and upward mobility.

Q: How can schools address the issue of underachievement among white working-class boys? A: By recognizing and validating the aspirations of white working-class boys, schools can work with these boys to ensure that they feel included and empowered to achieve their goals.

Offering diverse opportunities that reflect the interests and aspirations of working-class communities, alternative pathways, apprenticeships, vocational training, mentorship programs, and counseling services can be helpful. Q: What are the harmful effects of the normalization of middle-class aspiration?

A: The normalization of middle-class aspiration can foster a sense of inferiority and a feeling of not measuring up among working-class communities. Moreover, the acceptance of self-blame can lead to a disempowering cycle where working-class students may become disengaged and less motivated.

Q: What are some possible antidotes to the dominant culture of middle-class aspiration in education? A: To counter the impact of middle-class aspirations, it is necessary to offer diverse opportunities that reflect the interests and aspirations of working-class communities, promote alternative pathways, vocational training, and alternative pedagogies.

Moreover, affirming the diverse aspirations of working-class communities, recognizing the contribution that these communities make to society, and focusing on mentorship programs, counseling services, and networks can be helpful.

Popular Posts