The home, class and education

It would be wrong to suggest that formal education has been absent from the household prior to COVID 19. The adult education project has for some time delivered remote learning (simultaneously opening access up for working class adult learners whilst developing a model of education as an “add-on” to existing labour without its own space and time). There has been increasing demand for digital qualification prior to the pandemic in parallel with the sprawling growth of the “flexible” (casualised) workforce and erosion of site-based adult provision in ACE, FE and HE. The workloads of education workers also mean that the home has been increasingly the site of all work which cannot be completed “on-site” within the confines of the defined working day: in particular, marking and planning.  However, the pandemic has generated a huge-scale operation of home-based learning. It has been the key site of contest in trade union education activism under COVID. The right to and necessity of commandeering the household as a site of education has been the central demand of education unions in their activity to defend members and communities, and in parallel, the labour of education trade unionism has also been situated primarily in domestic spaces.

As Crossley (2017) notes, from the deviance of the bedroom (with its link to lone mothers and welfare payments) to frozen chicken nuggets (failure to nourish the future generation adequately), the working class household has long been a topic of bourgeois concern. Pre-COVID in the 21st century UK affluent professionals have been considered “at home” in public, engaging with leisure in the active consumption of arts and culture in galleries, theatres or wine-bars, with the home acting as an outlet for the expression of class and taste, and facilitating meaningful interaction in planned social events such as dinner parties. Education in the affluent professional home has been constructed as the conscious supplementary process of guiding the child in developing thinking and knowing in relation to the social world, as well as continual adult engagement in knowing about society. For the working class household absence of the capital needed to engage in these activities is represented socially as primarily being at home while passive and immobile in the home: TV dinners and takeaways, Crossley suggests. When the working class leave the household they are depicted as roaming around estates, in and out of pubs and each other’s homes, queueing for mass-produced, low-taste, low price goods or experiences such as Primark or Wetherspoons, restless and hostile. Education in the home is represented as imposed by the state rather than a conscious process. The domestic labour of maintaining the home as an everyday living space and as something linked to the rest of society is missing from both of these dominant bourgeois representations.

What has a lockdown meant in relation to this and how are class relations to the home and to society reconfiguring, in particular in terms of the home as a site of education? Two initial lines of interest stand out: firstly, the class divide on working from home under COVID, the key battleground for education unions which has created a sharp division on terms of protection further deepening health inequalities but also arguably (temporarily) reversed the proximal class relationship to the home/public life with consequences for future education.

An additional layer to consider and develop further from my own experience is the relationship the state has had in setting the boundaries of the home and intimacy in pandemic UK. My household has been an extended one for the duration of COVID: I am a lone parent, have two children who I have primary custody and sole financial responsibility for, but the household extends to include my partner who lives with us part of the time, and has joint custody of his two children. Under COVID our potential viral zone has extended across and involved the emotional/thinking work of calculating and avoiding risk across four domestic spaces to include my ex’s house (sealed off from the rest of the extended household for two long periods due to COVID in the nursing home he works in), the house I live in with my children, my partner’s flat, and his children’s other home with their mother.

The “support bubble” combined with the clarification that children were free to move between separated parents has meant that this work has mostly been logistical work in trying to protect and transport a range of people across a range of spaces. Nevertheless, I am conscious that the existence of the children has been the legitimating factor in having a physical relationship or even sharing an indoor physical space with a partner I don’t live with all of the time, which suggests a wider issue to consider around how the state has reinforced the nuclear family as the primary site for intimacy. This is relevant because it has consequences for how we organise around the relationship between the home, the sphere of education and the rest of the state. There are potential “after tremors” of this reinforced carving out lines of deviance of non-nuclear relationships. Historically a large proportion of the students I have worked with are entering education from home relationship systems not treated as “normal” by the state: indeed, under COVID the multi-generational household common for FE and post 92 students and associated heightened risk was widely ignored beyond a line or two in a Sage document. This sits alongside the burden of state labour shouldered unpaid through the pandemic by lone parents. This is something I wish to develop further as I move forward from my pilot.

References:

Crossley, S. (2017). In their place: the imagined geographies of poverty. London: Pluto Press

Blogs in this pilot study sequence:

5 comments

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