This unique book explores, through wide-ranging writing including academic text, practical experience, family history, as well as poetry, just what is required to support working class students. Furthermore, it is innovative by its very existence -“ it is a book about teaching that addresses the giant elephant in the room: social class. This is the context that needs to be acknowledged every time there is talk of progress, of achievement and of closing gaps. Further innovation within this book lies in the presentation of the content: sometimes deeply personal life stories, experiences and family histories; sometimes meticulously researched academic journal articles; others just sound practical advice; sometimes poems. All of the contributors offer key insights into social class and education and, as the form of their writing shows, they work in a wide variety of locations where class and education meet. What binds all the contributions together is Ian Gilbert's narrative voice. There is an anger in the voices that underpin the whole book, an anger at the injustice of an education system that too quickly isolates and excludes the marginalised and vulnerable -“ but the anger is balanced with hope and practical encouragement. It is sure to get you fired up for daily work with the excluded and disaffected.
As a coach, teacher and trainer I am constantly trying to challenge stereotypes, sometimes face-to-face with the children and families from the communities who are being stereotyped -“ and with people who believe and have accepted those awful stereotypes. This book has helped me to offer an alternative view.
Inspired by Nina Jackson's and Phil Beadle's highly personal accounts of their family histories, located in very particular times and places, I now provide my alternative provision students with a variety of learning opportunities. We have lessons on Cheadle's World War One horses, a visit to Cheadle's very own -˜Pugin's Gem' (a Catholic church), and one student gets to explore his working class Jamaican heritage and the importance of church in the immigration story. And the learning doesn't end with the students either, because I am learning about these hidden and untold stories too.
Ian Gilbert has long advocated philosophy for children, but this book reminded me of the power of this approach with the vulnerable and disadvantaged. Encouraged by Daryn Egan-Simon and Dr Matthew McFall's contributions, I have also introduced nature poetry into literacy lessons. Why shouldn't boys from homes with no age-appropriate books read poetry on the natural world? And why not collect conkers and design ivy trails after searching the housing estate for both?
Above all there is a call in this book to give working class students agency -“ my work with the disaffected uses a solution-focused coaching methodology for them to work on taking responsibility and making decisions for themselves, which will ultimately give them independence and control of their lives. In the chapter on agency, Ian Gilbert presents a list of -˜areas of social circumstance' based on the work of Antonia Kupfer -“ and this has become a list that informs my planning every Sunday night.
As a freelancer, I have no budget. Fortunately, I purchased the book at a discount offered to celebrate the anniversary of Independent Thinking. As you can see from above, I have enough experience to draw together methods and resources I have used before and it costs me nothing to incorporate a new idea into a lesson or some training, which I have done extensively thanks to this book. There is an Obama quote that goes, -˜If you think education is expensive, try ignorance' -“ and there is an urgency to work with the marginalised and excluded. It has to be done in an engaging and successful way otherwise there is a risk of losing a generation against the harsh grind of an unforgiving education system. When you work with excluded kids on second chances and you have a resource like this to support and challenge you, the results are potentially priceless.