Lockdown, Home-School and Class
I volunteered to write a daily diary for a week, as part of a study being run by Dr Lisa McKenzie, who is a social scientist and lecturer at Durham University and who was part of the team that conducted the Great British Class Survey. Lisa is a working class academic, woman and mother. I am a working class politician, woman and mother.
A working class female in a position of any level of influence within this society is something to be, so for your lockdown pleasure and entertainment, here is DAY ONE of my home education diary and a few additional thoughts. Spoiler – it is not so much about home education. I will get to that properly on Monday.
It’s Saturday, so not technically a home-school day, but it’s an important day in the week of this lockdown educator because I get to sleep in and there is no stress. It’s a massive relief to wake up with a whole day of nothing to achieve apart from whatever I have on my own list of priorities. Aside from cooking, tidying, cleaning, answering questions, separating fights, bla bla.
I sneak around to not wake them up, because this is one of only two weekly opportunities to think straight, without demands and thought interruptions. My 10 year-old doesn’t ‘do’ independent when it comes to learning (I didn’t know that before) and my 14 year old slides quietly onto Spotify every time I turn my back to help the 10 year-old. It then takes a 20 minute argument to get the 14 year-old back on-task. We cycle through this sequence for six or seven hours per day, five days per week. Suffice to say on one level, I have been going spare. I used to think sarcasm and humiliation tactics had no place in the classroom but now I have an evolving take on that! I have no words for the skills teachers must have – thirty in one room – just saying. I had no idea. Respect.
By the time the kids have gone to bed my brain has had it, because we are all home, making a mess and getting in each other’s faces, so Saturday and Sunday morning are pretty much it in terms of adult head-space. Week nights are a write-off but I am making occasional coherent contributions on Zoom.
However, I feel accomplished at this point, because with three children at home (an additional fourth one has successfully flown the nest) and a sort of job still ticking over remotely (I’m a councillor) I am starting to feel like I am catching up. Even though this progress has taken a month of not leaving the house to achieve, I have been really struggling and stressing in the years, months and days leading up to the start of lockdown, fearing I would never catch up with myself and have time to connect with my own children. I expected them to also fly the nest just as the oldest one did years ago, but with this later clutch, for me to then grow old quickly (I am already 49) and to then die having not really had any proper time with them. That must be standard for far too many parents, it can’t just be me. See if you can relate.
I have felt every day like I short-change everyone and never properly do justice to work or kids and this feeling has increased to extreme levels. Not to make this all about me or to over-share, but just for fun whilst there is a lockdown on, let me say that I feel I am always failing my kids and failing to do my job properly. It is a heavy stress burden of permanent inadequacy to carry in all honesty. I am convinced that the stress and anguish of that, pushed down in order to function for them and us not all go under, has caused fibromyalgia which I have had for about twelve years now. Mothering with fibro is another article though.
In lockdown I have finally had some precious breathing space that I have long-craved, to shift around my priorities and to take stock. I know we don’t talk about this but I think for women – and for working class, working mothers in particular – this is an incredibly common experience. Maybe we just don’t stop long enough to fully see it, or speak about it.
As a political activist on the Left, I have had to take stock lately anyway, like everyone else in my boat. The world has turned belly up for us, when we had felt for a few years prior that we had some hope of changing things for the better for everyone. Lots of taking stock is going on in our Left community right now and the lockdown is giving some much-needed time to regroup, but also in the wider non-Left and non-political world, due to COVID-19 and lockdown, it seems that many of us are better able to take stock.
Back to Home-School…
So I don’t know how much they have learned that is new whilst in my classroom – not much probably. I am absolutely no help to them with maths. Writing, politics and being musical are more my thing, but it has thrown us together as an atomised family, bickering and power-playing and exasperated, horrified by the unfolding news, but forcing us to Do Things Together.
Despite the harrowing circumstances of government failure on PPE, testing, tracing and just about everything else the media are not reporting properly and despite the stresses of home-school, I am knackered and happy and feeling amazingly privileged to get this opportunity to be with my little tribe. But my circumstances are not harsh. We have a garden, we live in a low-crime area with great air quality, we can (as of very recently) pay our bills without being scared every day, my kids are healthy, I have discovered what my strengths and passions are in this life by this point, because I am now older and I had an unusually good political education for someone from my social class background. We have space in and outside the house to get away from each other and the IT and desk space we need to get through the work the schools have set. There is not much more I would or could ask for.
After a month of just being at home I still have not quite caught up with my workload – I edge closer and the homeschooling and housework and then exhaustion stop me quite getting there but it still feels great to be getting so much closer to being on top of my life. It would be heaven after all this time struggling to just feel like I could cope and wasn’t letting people down and dropping multiple balls. So if it is this hard for me, what the hell must it be like for women who don’t have the privileged circumstances I have listed above? I want to reach out and say fucking well done to those most awesome of women.
I am a single mum so I do 95% of this solo. I absolutely love having a break from the world I struggle to not fall off daily and being able to just be at home and not go anywhere for a bit. To not be expected to show up looking smart and like I have my shit together which, for the record, I do not. No one in my circumstances could but knowing that doesn’t stop me feeling inadequate and guilty but I am nothing if not stubborn when it comes to politics, social change and class. I. Will. Not. Give. Up.
The thing is, living your daily life as a Mum and securing survival for your family should not make you ill, but working class women live like that – it is our normal. It’s bad for your health. It’s not great for your parenting. It sucks when it comes to career prospects, income, creativity and self-expression. Don’t even mention relationships or maintaining friendships.
As a councillor I feel like I have some small part to play in influencing this capitalist and Tory shit show in general and having a sense of influence, however small, over where we are going as a society is a very rare vantage point for anyone working class of any gender.
I turn up late frequently, unprepared, dishevelled, in a state of constant panic and guilt and inadequacy and my voice still shakes when I speak sometimes; I doubt myself all the time but I know I am an important part of the jigsaw because I have a big gob when it matters for people who have no political voice. Because of my background, I spot things other people might either miss or fail to mention in order not to rock the boat. I come unstuck because I say things without the middle class flowering or diplomacy that oils the wheels and avoids offending hierarchical sensibilities. It’s hilarious and tragic but is what it is.
I want to encourage many more low status, low-paid working class people to get stuck into Left political activism in whatever way because we need each other and we are best placed to articulate those struggles and to feel unable to shut up about them, even when it is socially awkward to do so. You can get a political education online and can learn how to be a political activist by just making a start. Don’t expect to be welcomed with open arms just because it is the Left. Get advice on how it might affect Tax Credits and stuff but don’t expect anyone to know. If possible, get a mutual support network going around you and get involved in small groups, but just get online-educated and get involved. The Left movement needs your input more than it knows it does.
No one can book-learn how every-day-shitty-hard things are when your life is stuck on the underside of the great class divide or what resilience it requires to survive that. People who have lived through hardship are harder to corrupt.
Do The (Never Been Any Good At) Math
Being stuck characterises that class divide – not the one that middle class people love to emphasise, between the mega rich 1% and the everyone else 99%- but that stubborn, out of political vogue class divide at the critical point between working class and the middle class upwards. What is that? A non-mathematical guess would be that we are talking more of a 40%/60% divide, which has less of a marketable ‘ring’ to it but is much nearer to the lived reality that adversely affects those on the wrong side of it. They are stuck and then rendered further powerless to change their circumstances within a rigged system, through being denied within the education system the political vocabulary and within the political, academic, economic and cultural systems the platform through which to make proper sense of their class enslavement and to do something about it for themselves. Well, Lisa is. And I am. The drawbridge is very much down – ok I’m in a bungalow and not a castle and not very good at helping other working class people across it yet but I will keep going until I am and Lisa is quite accomplished and worth looking up. Also my main vehicle is the Labour Party and I have to admit, we have a way to go there too.
Yes, the mega rich are speeding away from us all, we get it. And the Great British Class Survey focussed on that as if it is the class issue that most defines our generation, but in too many important ways, I really don’t think it is. I think that’s just a more comfortable way for middle class academics to frame discussions around class.
In that bottom 40% you are more than TWICE as likely to die from this virus as anyone in the 60%. That kind of maths is why an ongoing honest conversation about how any crisis in life plays out catastrophically differently for the working class than everyone above, including the middle class, is just as vital as ever, perhaps more so as we approach what feels like an endgame, globally, in terms of capitalism as the dominant economic system but perhaps for consumerist, class-clueless human society at large. Don’t talk to me about ‘working people’. Boris Johnson is a ‘working person’. Your average accountant, lawyer, senior manager, professor, consultant, architect, is a working person. They are not twice as likely to die from Corona Virus.
This is also the case when it comes to who is even able to manage home educating their kids during this lockdown. We will see the massive educational attainment divide that already exists between middle class and working class massively increase – more than double probably – as a result of class inequality and note – the divide we will see this play out between will be the 40/60 one, not the 99/1 that everyone loves to talk about.
Who Gets To Matter
The divide is still there, in pretty much the same place; the most significant outcomes are just the same. Who gets to live a healthy life; a ten years longer life. Who gets to live a reasonably financially secure life and to have some savings and contacts as a back-up. Who gets to progress in their income and status throughout their working life. Who gets to travel. Who gets to influence culture, influence politics and national political opinion. Who gets to succeed at school and who gets to home educate their kids during a lockdown. Who dies from a pandemic and who survives. Who gets to protect themselves and who doesn’t. Who gets to live in clean air. Who gets listened to and taken seriously and who doesn’t. Who matters. We can’t ignore these divisions when we think about and discuss class on the Left. We are not really Left at all if we do.
I think generally though, that my own personal experience of lockdown and home educating my kids will be much more of a middle class experience than a working class one. I’m not middle class, so I do feel weird being able to report a positive personal angle on it. I know a lot of people will be going out of their minds through lack of space. I know people who are really suffering mentally from feeling trapped in small spaces and controlled.
I am putting out articles doing other political stuff during lockdown to try to keep raising the flag on class inequality and also to agitate, because until I see a greater willingness from those within and outside of the Labour Party show a willingness to have a quality conversation about class, I believe the most effective protest and change can only come from the working class. It doesn’t feel like I am doing nearly enough. Anyway thanks Lisa for using your platform and insight to help working class strong women (and men) like us to tell the untold stories. You are a huge inspiration to me in everything you do.
9.42am the first one is awake