In this piece, we will challenge the often-repeated ideology that the panacea for inequity is in the hands of that individual, the choices we have and the choices we give to our students.
We often tell our young people, “Behave correctly, make better choices and work hard you’ll go further in life”. Now I have often written how the idea of the meritocracy is racist, classist, sexist, etc. Today let’s concentrate on the “correct” and “better choices”.
All students can change their life chances through their choices; this narrative is: “You can be anything you want, you just have to choose to work harder seize the opportunity”.
Working hard is the apparent solution to everything.
The idea of the ‘meritocracy’ is racist, classist, sexist, etc. I can see the eye-rolling from sceptics through the page; working hard means earning more outstanding merit, which means you will achieve more. As we have a disproportionate number of white, male, straight people at the top of society’s tree, this must mean that they work harder. Everyone who doesn’t is lazy, or that those characteristics inhibit their ability to do so.
What are the Choices that Exist?
Black and Brown folx have the choice to not talk with an accent, to not wear traditional garments, to not celebrate their own culture, to embrace ‘our’ culture which looks like coming to the pub, eat out food in the staff room, have a stiff upper lip, to keep their mouth shut, to shut up and put up and it goes on and on.
Would you say there is a choice? Do they or you have options? Would I get booked as many talks if I talk with a broad South Asian influenced Black Country accent and dialect? If you didn’t go to the pub because your faith and culture forbid the promotion of or the consumption of alcohol, would you not miss out on those relationship-building opportunities with the powers that be? Can you eat your traditional foods and be chastised for eating with your hands?
What we teach our children is that the only path is to acquiesce because resistance means sacrifice.
Being your authentic self* is often banded around leadership spaces. Integrity and authenticity are essential for even my measure of a good leader.
However, that caveat is important: *within the realms of ‘our’ acceptability (whiteness, maleness, heteroness, etc.). Be authentic and celebrate the parts of yourself that fit? If you don’t, then keep working on taking on those traits till you can.
There maybe be people out there plying the argument that maleness is the best or that the whiteness in our society produces the more significant results. Shockingly, I, yes, me, Pran Patel, I may even agree with you. However, we must recognise that society does not exist in an objective reality; what if I told you that we’d been brainwashed into the correct, the good and the best?
I sat in a car with three men after an international cricket match at Trent Bridge last week, and it was a good day, a day out with family. Our conversation slopes from the test match we’d just left because of the rain to the Hundred. The fantastic new format of the game was introduced in the summer of 2021, and through a masterstroke of marketing, the women’s match is offered for free and before the traditional evening men’s version.
A brother of mine says:
“You don’t see the same power in the women game.”
Another pipes up from the driver’s seat:
“And they think it should have the same commercial value, pay them the same as the men, pah”
“Come on, Pran, hit us with your response *eye roll*.”
I sat quietly, thinking about the thread of the discussion. My mind first interrogated the women’s game, the speed that bowlers bowl and the distances people hit the ball; it must be comparable, surely. Then to the question: Are we trained to see the ball travel further and faster when in the hand of a man, the way stereotype association, salience and perception work, probably? But, there is something wrong with this line of thinking.
Now I could argue about the virtues of the women’s game, the skills, the timing, anything really, there are many measures we could use for entertainment, but that misses the target. We need to swap the bow and arrow for something else. There is something wrong with the very idea of what is and is not entertaining.
Even once we have incorporated the perception and stereotype factor, it’s still likely true that the women’s game doesn’t see fast bowling at the same speeds or batting with the power-hitting. The real question is, why did these become the metric for better cricket? Who decided that power, blistering pace are the sole measure of value and entertainment? Where did that idea come? Who decided that this is entertainment? And who brainwashed us?
The Issues within the Mark.
Why is strength (as a consequence leadership, power and action) seen as masculine primarily? Suppose our measuring instrument is designed to observe a trait that tends towards maleness. In that case, there is a logical consequence that women are placed into a position of inferiority by default. If your ruler quantifies whiteness as the epitome of success, i.e. How articulate you are? How correct your language is? The vernacular and lexical choices you use, the cultural capital, economic capital, credentialed, etc., white people are then seen as superior sequentially.
Then a transformation happens; success is not only measured by whiteness, but whiteness becomes success.
Case study: Classism
Recently Lord Digby Jones criticised Alex Scott’s exposition of sports.
“Enough! I can’t stand it anymore! Alex Scott spoils a good presentational job on the BBC Olympics Team with her very noticeable inability to pronounce her ‘g’s at the end of a word.Competitors are NOT taking part, Alex, in the fencin, rowin, boxin, kayakin, weightliftin & swimming”
She responded with:
“I’m from a working class family in East London, Poplar, Tower Hamlets & I am PROUD 🙌🏾
Proud of the young girl who overcame obstacles, and proud of my accent!
It’s me, it’s my journey, my grit.”
Finally the Lord
“Alex Scott, please don’t play the working class card. You are worthy of much better than that! I admire & often publicly praise the adversity you faced & defeated to achieve all the success you deserve. Not sounding a g at the end of a word is wrong; period. It’s not a question”
Lord Digby seems to value the elocution of the ‘g’, which is his measure of success or correctness.
There is a lot to say here:
- English is not French with the Académie Française; the language is free to live, evolve, and change, the colloquial vocabulary, elocution and pronunciation of the language changes daily and is even recognised annually. So, what is ‘wrong’? If we measure the correctness by standards that are trained into the middle classes, then the middle classes will always be more ‘correct’ than the working classes.
- This idea of the working-class card is classist (and arguable racist by default), recognising that these power structures exist and that you are being denigrated because it is a nefarious act upholds those same structures. The following sentence plays to the value of defeating adversity to achieve success. ‘Adversity’ exists because the system that Lord Digby benefits from, whether she has overcome and defeated barriers, could be used as a measure of her success. This does not mean that the scores of working-class people are not to be admired for not defeating those hurdles.
Decolonisation seeks to challenge the correctness of the exam papers, the content, and the choices that lead to both. While we look at the curricula contents, we must primarily keep these two questions in mind: What is correct? Why is it right? And then feed the answers into actions which seek to change those ideas going forward.
There is a level of correctness to be challenged throughout, which is often dictated by exam boards and pre existing content. As teaching in the UK is measured on exam results, teachers end up teaching to the test. I don’t think this is controversial as ‘what gets measured get done’, but I don’t believe an educator in the country came into the profession to imbue their students with the ability to predict mark schemes and pass exams. As a profession, we should be centring on learning and adapting the assessment to suit. There is a need to flip the narrative.
Yes, we have little choice as educators to teach the material. However, we have the power to deliver through a critical lens and with the skills to empower the next generation to challenge the status quo of ‘correctness’.