Investigating Gender: Contemporary Perspectives in Education

By Becky Francis; Christine Skelton | Go to book overview

13
Social class, gender
and schooling

Helen Lucey


Introduction

In this chapter I will be looking at the relationship between social class, gender and education. The dynamic between the structures and processes of these cannot be viewed in isolation from the profound transformations that have already taken place and continue to take place at all levels of the individual, family and social world – local, national and global. At the heart of all of these changes are subjects – girls and boys, men and women – who have had to transformthemselvesin order to cope and survive in a maelstrom of change. As if that were not challenging enough, it turns out that the 'new social order' of the twenty-first century retains some distinctly 'old order' features which even the shiniest meritocratic rhetoric of 'can do', 'can have' and 'excellence' cannot entirely banish. While some attempted to celebrate the 'death of class' in the 1980s and 90s (Gorz 1982), we find in the new century that the power of class never went away after all and that, alongside gender, race and ethnicity, class continues to be a vital factor in determining the educational experiences, achievements and trajectories of girls and boys. There is no doubt that viewed from a distance the overall educational achievements of all girls as compared to boys would seem to have improved significantly over the last 20 or so years. But as with any distant object, moving closer reveals details which appear insignificant or are invisible to the distant view, the macro gaze. What appear to be tiny specks on an otherwise smooth surface turn out to be towering mountains of hierarchy; hairline cracks become huge fissures of difference. So it is with gender, social class and educational achievement. Working-class girlsaredoing better at school and gaining more qualifications at higher grades than working-class boys, but this improvement in no way challenges the vastly and consistently superior

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