Hi, and welcome to Uncommon Sense, from The Sociological Review. I’m Alexis Hieu Truong in Ottawa, Canada. Rosie Hancock: And I’m Rosie Hancock in Sydney, Australia. In terms of seasons, hemispheres, timezones, Alexis, you and I could not be further apart. Actually, you might be able to hear cicadas in the background, because today, on recording day, it’s summer in Australia. Anyway, what we have in common with the whole team behind Uncommon Sense, is our belief that sociology shouldn’t be stuck in a library. It belongs out there in the world, and perhaps it might even change the world. And on that, actually, do tap “subscribe” or “follow” in whatever app you’re using to hear this. It means that every episode will reach you, and hopefully it will reach more people too. Alexis Hieu Truong: Yeah, as well as being a public good, I do think sociology can be good for us at a personal level too. I find it kind of reassuring or empowering. Like, for me, something that came out of the first episodes, like, of Home and Care, was a reminder that it’s important to see our lives and the challenges we face as being shaped by bigger structures. Rosie Hancock: And perhaps that is nowhere more true than for today’s subject, education. Or more specifically, School. It’s a word that conjures up so much, whether it’s badly fitting uniforms or lunchtime detention. And it’s something almost no one has just an abstract relationship with either. It’s something that we often discuss at a really personal level, and it stirs up big opinions really quickly. Alexis, what does school mean for you? Alexis Hieu Truong: I’ve actually always loved school, generally speaking. I remember getting to high school and having a teacher ask us: “What do you want to do when you grow up?” And I also remember answering: “Getting a PhD!” Because that seemed like the farthest one could go in, like, that game of school, like a final boss. But yeah, I also remember not knowing what a PhD was, let alone knowing what discipline or profession I was interested in. Like, how about you? Rosie Hancock: Alexis, we both have PhDs. I think we might be those weirdos who really liked school and education, maybe a little bit too much. And, you know, this is a sociology podcast, I think we should acknowledge that there’s definitely a privilege there that we’re even able to experience school as a place of freedom and aspiration, where we felt we could fulfil our potential. Well, our guest today is going to help us complicate this a wee bit. He’s Remi Joseph-Salisbury. His research and much of his activism is focused on race and racism in the context of education and policing. And crucially, as we’ll hear today, those two things are far from distinct. Hi, Remy. Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Hi, thank you for having me. Great to be here. Rosie Hancock: It’s awesome to have you on here. Alexis Hieu Truong: We’ll talk about your work in a moment. But first, tell us about your own school experience. That was in Manchester, in the north of England? Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah, so, I went to a working-class school in a working-class area. A school that was labelled as low or underperforming, or even failing. It was a racially mixed school, majority White, with a significant Bengali population. And generally, I would say, I enjoyed school. There was a lot about school that I didn’t enjoy, but I enjoyed socialising, seeing my friends. And there were some aspects of the education process that did capture my imagination: some teachers that engaged me, some curricular content that engaged me. But the flip side of that is also to say that there was an awful lot of the experience, before my experience, that disinterested me. At school I saw – and this is perhaps what sparked my interest in education – many of my close friends started out really well as we entered Secondary Education, which begins at age 11, but over the course of the process of Secondary Education, they became the students that were labelled as failing, or students that were excluded, pushed out or kicked out of school and became disinterested. So, looking at my friends and my own experience, led me to think more carefully about what happens during that process that lead students that are seen as intelligent to become students that are no longer interested in schooling. Alexis Hieu Truong: So, it sounds like your experience formed an interest in education more broadly. And things like inequality, surveillance and justice. How can we even start to define education? It’s a process, but it’s also a goal? Remi Joseph-Salisbury: It’s an incredibly difficult question, but I think it points to how broad education is and how much is embedded in that term. Perhaps is useful to think about it as a process. It’s something that’s always ongoing. It’s the way in which we acquire information, the way in which we’re socialised, we’re taught the norms of society and how… And the expectations upon us to fit in with those norms. And it begins in the family and takes place across our lives, but it’s often spoken about specifically in relation to formal education or the education that takes place in institutions, nurseries, schools, universities. And it’s the latter form or education process that has been my primary area of interest. Rosie Hancock: So, when we talk about school as something that sifts and sorts people or labels them, we really quickly end up clashing with romantic ideas that education is this great enabler, it lets us fulfil our potential; basically, the idea of meritocracy, I guess. Can you talk a little bit about that, particularly in terms of racism and racialization? And by racialization, I mean, the way in which characteristics get ascribed to people wholesale, which then shapes how they encounter the world and how it encounters them. Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah. So, meritocracy is a really pervasive idea in our society. And so, the idea is that we all enter into the education system, and if we work hard and do the right things, if we are intelligent and deserve to do well in school, then we will, we will do well in school. So, education is seen as a leveler, it’s seen as an equal playing field: “those that do well deserve to do well, those that fail deserve to fail.” And this is, I think, premised on a denial or an erasure of the way the structures of inequality underpin education. So, there’s an assumption that education is racially equal, that class isn’t a factor in education. But race and class and gender and disability, all of these factors impact upon the education process. Because we live in an unequal society. Society’s institutions actively reproduce those inequalities. So, the critical race theorist of education, David Gillborn, argues that schooling actively reproduces White supremacy. And part of the way that it does that is through this myth of meritocracy. So, if we have this idea that education is equal, when Black students “fail” – I’ve done some air quotes there that can’t be seen on the audio, but when “Black students fail” – in a meritocratic society, the explanation becomes that those Black students have failed because they’re less intelligent, or because there’s a problem with their culture, or home lives, rather than the institutional racism that underpins education. Remi, you argue that the education systems, at least those who study in the UK, need reform, but you don’t just talk about the things you usually hear, like having more apprenticeships, for example. Like, you’re talking about much bigger things. So, staffing, the educational staff, the curriculum, that kind of things. Can you talk to us a bit about that? Yeah, it’s a really big question. And there’s a lot that I would like to say on this, on the question of reform. So, just to give a straightforward answer. First, I think there are some general changes that I think it’d be important to see in education. So, investment in schools, more teachers to ensure that those teachers are less overworked, have smaller class sizes. There’s a longer history, there’s a really significant body of research that suggests that these things are important for our students. All of these things will improve the experiences of our students, and particularly the most disadvantaged students which are racially minoritized students, working-class students, LGBTQ students, disabled students, and others in marginalised positions. There are also a set of interventions specifically thinking about anti racism. So, first would be the need for an overhaul of the teaching force to make it more racially diverse. Literature has been calling for this for a long time. Bernard Coard in 1971 argued that we need more Black teachers in school. And that’s important. But, to complicate that slightly, is worth saying we don’t just need more teachers of colour, we need all teachers who are working in schools to be racially literate. Whatever their ethnicity, they need to be prepared and equipped with the skills to teach in ways that promote anti-racism, to teach in diverse classrooms. I’d really want to challenge this assumption that a Black teacher is inherently anti-racist, and a White teacher is not able to do the work of anti-racism. The research I’ve done interviewing teachers, as well as the research of others – Uvanney Maylor, for example – really, really troubles that assumption as incredibly simplistic, but it’s often put forward as a policy solution. Alongside the need for more teachers we need to overhaul the curriculum that Claire Alexander’s research, for example, is shown to be incredibly White, Eurocentric and narrow. And my point… the point that I always tried to make is that it’s no good just introducing some more teachers or just tweaking the curriculum, several or all of these things need to happen at once. And there are some specific issues that I think should be looked at as well. The issue of school exclusions. School exclusions are incredibly racially disproportionate: black students, gypsy Roma, traveller students are far more likely to be excluded. And that has been the case for several decades; I don’t think it can continue to be the case for any longer. There’s a significant campaign in the UK called No More Exclusions that have been campaigning for schools to abolish school exclusions, to find other ways to deal with students that are more supportive and caring. So, I’d really encourage people to check out that campaign and support.
Rosie Hancock: Talking of anti-racism, there’s an especially strong reaction to Critical Race Theory. In the US in particular, there have been attempts, some of which had been successful in some states, like in Florida, to ban its teaching in schools. And I hear that in the UK, there have been panic questions in Parliament. So, I think back in January, one MP asked for reassurance that the government would act against a local council that was, in his words, planning to “indoctrinate seven year olds with Critical Race Theory”. Remi, can you talk a bit about what Critical Race Theory actually is, for us, and why you think it gets such a reaction? Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah, so, my understanding of Critical Race Theory is that it’s an approach to understanding the social world that focuses in on the impacts of race and racism and looks at the way that racism is embedded in institutions. So, when we think from a Critical Race Theory perspective we don’t understand racism as something that is limited to individual prejudice or the perception of individuals, but something that’s at the heart of our institutions, whether that’s policing or education; it’s embedded in policies, it’s embedded in cultures, and it reproduces itself as individuals move in and out. So, it’s a far more critical way of thinking about racism. It’s a way of thinking about racism that is in keeping with the radical traditions of Black populations in the, in the UK and elsewhere. And the reason it has received such a backlash is partly because that understanding of racism as an institutional problem, I think, is key to the racial progress we need to see. It’s far more comfortable for the government to … or thosse in power to understand racism as a problem of uneducated individuals. But, that’s perhaps overly generous to the intentions and understandings of those that have levelled an attacker of Critical Race Theory; it suggests that it’s perhaps more just a general attempt to undermine anybody talking about race and racism, anyone involved in anti-racism. It’s interesting that we saw it, combined with or be attached to an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement. So, perhaps the government, those in power, are concerned about those mass mobilizations, those multiracial mobilizations and people using the language of institutional racism. Alexis Hieu Truong: Okay, so it’s clear that school is hardly some bubble insulated from broader social norms, power relations and institutions. Remi, you’ve done work on policing in schools in the UK. Before we get to your own findings, can you tell me what the situation with policing in schools actually looks like across age groups, some facts and figures? I ask because for my part, I remember community officers coming to school and telling us not to steal or not to do drugs, etc. But I know that police presence can look very different in some schools today. Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah. So, in the UK, the latest available evidence suggests that there are 683 school-based police officers. They’re mainly clustered around London, but they’re, they’re in a lot of other areas too. And there’s an awful lot of momentum to put more police in schools. So, they’re being called from Cressida Dick, who was the head of Metropolitan Police, Sadiq Khan, as Mayor of London, Andy Burnham, as Mayor of Greater Manchester, and politicians across the political spectrum, including left-wing politicians. The count, I mentioned earlier of 683 based in schools. That’s the official count that focuses specifically on those officers that have, for example, an office in the school and spent the majority of their time in there. But there’s a whole range of wider relationships that see police officers spending a significant amount of their time in schools. So, the number in reality is far higher than than we’re led to believe. Alexis Hieu Truong: Can you tell us about your research, the research you’ve done on this? What questions have mattered to you? Where and what have you found? Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah, so actually, the interest in this as an issue emerged whilst I was doing some research on racism in schools, interviewing teachers, for a project that was published with The Runnymede Trust called “Race and Racism in English Secondary Schools”. And as I was doing that research, going to schools to speak to these teachers, I was really struck at how frequently I would encounter a police officer in the school, at the reception, walking around the building, and driving into the car park. It was almost every time I went into a school. And again, these are the kinds of schools that are not counted within that 683 schools with school based police officers. So, it piqued my interest. And at this time, I was also at a number of community events where I heard from young people who were particularly young people of colour, who were sharing experiences about policing schools and raising concerns, raising the alarm about the impacts of police in schools. So, that’s when I thought it is something that needs looking into more closely. So, in the research, I spoke to teachers who explained to me how they wanted to create classrooms and school-based communities that were inclusive, that brought along all the students and made our students feel welcome. And a number of teachers suggested that the presence of police in schools undermined that sense of inclusion, undermined the sense of safety. Particularly for those students who already come from overpoliced communities. Those students who are stopped andsearched outside of school, on their way to school, to then have a police officer in school was seen as disrupting that sense of being welcome for everybody. Teachers also explained that they often saw it as symbolic of a culture of low expectations in schools. So, it symbolises to young people that what is expected of them is not high attainment but, potentially, to be engaged in criminal activity that requires a response from police officers. And one important point to make there is the case in the UK, but it’s also the case wherever we see school-based police officers – so, it’s the case in the US and it’s the case in Canada, as well. School-based police are not in all schools. They’re in, primarily, in schools in working-class areas and with significant racialized populations. So, in the UK, particularly areas with high proportion of Black and South Asian students. In the US, particularly areas with high African American and Latino populations. And that has implications for which schools are stigmatised and which pupils are more likely to be criminalised. Rosie Hancock: So, it seems what we’ve been getting at is this idea of school as a site of disciplining and of surveillance. Remi, you’ve written about the school-to-prison pipeline. Is that as depressing as it sounds? Could you tell us what that looks like? What the biography might be of someone who experiences that? Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah, so, the school-to-prison pipeline is a concept that has gained far more traction in the US, but it is significant in the UK too, and people are increasingly starting to talk about it here. The concept of the pipeline describes the ways in which some young people are pushed from schools into prisons, or into contact with the criminal justice system that eventually leads to their incarceration. So, there are a whole range of factors that feed the pipeline. School exclusions are one, young people who are excluded from school and more likely to go on to be incarcerated. School discipline, generally – both significantly – police in schools are a part of the school-to-prison pipeline. And we see that most obviously, to give an example, in issues in schools that previously, when I was at school – even now in some schools – might be dealt with, with a talking to from a teacher or a detention, in schools with school-based police officers what we’re seeing is that that discipline, that behaviour management is becoming the purview of school-based police officers. And police officers default invariably, to the criminal justice orientation, that creates a danger that these issues escalate and become criminal issues. And when we’re thinking about the school-to-prison pipeline, is important to recognise that, in the UK, we incarcerate far more of our population than the majority of Europe. Over 50% of the youth justice estate are young people of colour. And this one is always, I think, surprising to people, that the UK imprisons a higher proportion of its Black population than does the US. So, these are, these are not just distant problems. These are issues in the UK too. And I should also say that a significant proportion of the UK prison estate is privatised. So, when the Conservative government say that they want to increase, to create 10,000 more prison places, we can be sure that those 10,000 prison places are going to be filled. And the danger here, with introducing more police in schools, is that that creates a very direct pipeline from those schools in working-class areas with high racially minoritized populations into prisons. And those disparities, that I’ve just mentioned there, will continue to manifest and even become more stark. Rosie Hancock: Yes. It’s interesting. You, you kind of mentioned the role of exclusions and you spoke about that at the beginning of the programme. And also detention. I mean, I think I said right at the beginning, school just reminds me of detention and all of those … I mean, I don’t mean to sound trite, but there’s this whole pop cultural thing about detention kind of being funny, and there are whole movies based on kids being in detention, right? But from what you’re saying, it’s really actually not that funny at all. There’s quite a serious side to all of this. Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah. And I think we can even think about the pipeline here a little more expansively, or even metaphorically, but there are processes within the school where we’re made to do certain things to move at certain times where young people are detained in a room for detention. These are early manifestations of those forms of control that we see become far more severe in prisons. But there’s these logics, this sense that we should use detention, we should use punishment. They’re so deeply embedded that people don’t even question them. But there are, you know, a range of more caring interventions that we could look to. There’s been a lot of talk over the last few years about defunding the police. And those arguments are often caricatured, but they’re quite powerful and we can apply them to the role of school-based police officers. Simply, a more progressive solution would not be to fund school police programmes but to invest that money in schools and in communities to reopen the libraries that have been gutted by austerity and to invest more positively. And I think we can confidently say that the evidence suggests that those interventions are far, far more productive in enabling young people to live their lives. Alexis Hieu Truong: Expanding on these notions of control and incarceration, at the University of Ottawa, I’m part of an initiative with two other colleagues called “Walls to Bridges”, where we hold university courses in detention centres. And our students are drawn from both the University and from the prison institution. So, the idea is to essentially think together and share our experiences and learn from that, instead of making differences between individuals. Remi, I’m wondering how you regard the idea of prison education, and what you know of its role and status in the UK? Or more broadly maybe – and I know that there are, like, different kinds of programmes like that – but do they participate in reducing the inequalities? Or maybe do they participate in exacerbating those differences and inequalities? Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah. So, there are similar programmes in the UK. And as I think you alluded to, in your question there, my understanding is that it can vary greatly in terms of the way they’re set up and what their purpose is. I think there can be … Such programmes can be incredibly important. But what’s key is that they’re not just reproducing the forms of education that have likely already alienated those people that have come to be incarcerated. Rosie Hancock: Thanks, Remi. We’ll be back with you in a moment. After a quick word for our producer, Alice. Alice Bloch: You’re listening to Uncommon Sense, from the Sociological Review, where we take concepts we all think we know – everyday things like care, bodies, or today’s subject, school – and meet guests who help us to cast them in a whole new light. It’s about seeing our world anew, and challenging assumptions too.
All with the view that change is possible. You can find recommended reading and more on the podcast page at thesociologicalreview.org. And remember to tap “follow” or “subscribe” in the app that you’re using to hear this right now. It’s really easy and it helps us to keep bringing Uncommon Sense to you. And do share this episode with the student or the questioning critic in your life. You absolutely do not have to be a sociologist to think like one. Thanks for listening. Alexis Hieu Truong: Okay, so something we want to do with Uncommon Sense is to create a space to stop and question those ideas that have become so commonplace that we don’t stop to question, whether they’re true or fair, or whether they even do harm. We looked at self-care recently, with Bev Skeggs, and today we want to look at a trope that’s proven pretty resilient. Rosie Hancock: Oh, resilience. Ha. Wow, I think that one’s gonna be one for another day, Alexis. Today we’re focusing on the idea of the inspirational “super teacher”, the person who walks into a classroom and magically transforms a student’s life, multiple students lives. If you haven’t had one in your own life, you will for sure have seen it in films. So, Miss Honey in Matilda, Whoopi Goldberg, Sister Mary Clarence in Sister Act, Robin Williams in Dead Poets Society. It’s an image often pushed in ads trying to recruit new teachers as well. Alexis Hieu Truong: Remi, is the inspiration of “super teacher” real or is it a kind of fantasy? Perhaps, in fact, the very reason we’re so drawn to it in pop culture, we all want that parent figure who sees our true potential. Remi Joseph-Salisbury: This is an interesting question for me, because at each stage of my education, and certainly secondary school, college, which in UK is aged 16 to 80, generally. And at university there, there has been one specific teacher each stage that has really influenced my educational experience and trajectory. And in some contexts, I would describe what they did as “super”. So I think it’s important to pay homage to what they do and some of the amazing work of the teachers that I interviewed who were incredibly committed to anti-racism at schools. At the same time, I really think that this is a myth that needs to be challenged. It is really romanticised and I think generally overstated, and a lot of the popular culture depictions of this are often reliant on a pathologization, or stigmatisation of certain groups of students, particularly Black students. And I think there are a range of problems with it. Most notably, that places a particular burden on those teachers that are seen as the “super teachers”, those teachers that are tasked as having to do the anti-racist work. And it goes back to some of the earlier discussion about the importance of understanding how issues become institutionalised, and we can say the same about solutions. So, if the good work is seen as a responsibility of one individual teacher, is likely that that’s a heavy burden to carry, that those teachers are likely to face stress and be more likely to get pushed out of the profession. And even if they decide to move to another school, all of that good work no longer remains in the school. So, what’s needed is for these interventions to be embedded within the institution of the school. Rosie Hancock: Remi, I guess, even if individual staff are “super teachers”, their work will be undermined if they are made to feel uncomfortable because of their school’s policies about something like uniform or undesirable hair, I know that you’ve written about that. Or if they teach you a curriculum that doesn’t necessarily recognise them. I mean, we were talking it right at the start, at the top of the programme, about how some people are better positioned to enjoy school than others. And I guess that could apply to teachers as well, right? Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. So, as stronger intentions as many teachers might have to do anti-racist work in schools, they’re often explained to me that they’re incredibly constrained by a range of factors, including the workload, which is worth noting, but also a prescriptive curriculum that doesn’t allow room for more critical anti-racist work and a lack of the resources that are needed to deliver a more progressive curriculum. And yeah, there are often institutionalised policies that can be directly contradictory to the aims of teachers that have a commitment to anti-racism and the school hair policies or the uniform policies that often discriminate against Afro textured hair or locks are a big issue. And to plug another campaign there’s a group of young Black activists in the UK called “The Halo Collective” that produced a halo code for schools to sign up to, to pledge their commitment to not discriminate against Afro textured hair. And the work they’ve been doing is truly amazing! Rosie Hancock: Yeah, I mean, I wonder if this is like a good time to bring up the work of Heidi Mirza. She’s a sociologist who’s asked how race and gender intersect in education, and how those things shape the experiences of Black and ethnicized women in those spaces of teaching and learning. And I think some of what you were saying there, Remi, really kind of resonates with some of her themes. Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah, definitely. I think, thinking about having the school uniform policies, specifically, what we can see is that, although black students generally are affected by this, it’s often young black girls. And what Heidi Mirza’s work pushes us to do – as well as the work of other leading black feminist like Heidi – is to pay attention to intersectionality and how issues are not simply attributable to race, but are shaped by race and class and gender and disability. And how all of these factors interconnect and create a particular set of disadvantages or advantages for students based on the combination of those factors. Alexis Hieu Truong: You’ve mentioned how certain staff, and maybe especially staff from underrepresented backgrounds, can end up doing or are expected to do extra work on things like diversity, inclusion, mentoring, etc. That’s got me thinking about whether that applies to students too. So, thinking about campaigns like #RhodesMustFall – so, that’s a movement that started in 2015, at first centred around a statue at the University of Cape Town commemorating the British imperialist, Cecil Rhodes. Is that kind of labour, the work of activism of educating others recognised once those students graduate? Remi Joseph-Salisbury: It’s a very interesting question, the burden? Well, our universities are ill equipped to offer students, the educational experience that they’re looking for. We can see that particularly in the last few years of students that have increasingly been calling to decolonize education. And if we see how active students are having to be as a consequence of the failures of institutions, that’s a significant burden alongside the more formal education. It’s a set of tasks and responsibilities that usually Black students and other students of colour are having to engage in. That is not a task being taken up by other students. And of course, that poses a threat to their mental health and wellbeing, but it also poses a threat to the attainment and that’s significant. In addition to that, conversely, I would also say that thinking more expansively about education, there’s perhaps far more to be learned in those movements, in the #RhodesMustFall campaign, for example, than there is in any university classroom. I wouldn’t want to romanticise it too much, because students go to university to get a degree and that has a significant impact upon their lives after university. But also, it’s important to recognise the value of those forms of education that take place in social movements. Rosie Hancock: Remi, today’s conversation has already touched on the fact that education doesn’t just happen in classrooms, or in the lecture hall for that matter. You often hear the phrase “it’s been an education”, where someone’s referring to an experience that might have surprised them by teaching them something they weren’t expecting. So, for me, I think I definitely experienced that when I spent a couple of months in Palestine on the West Bank doing some nonviolent activism. And I was a pretty naive 20-something thrown in with some completely radical and really, honestly quite wild, Italian anarchists who were awesome. And let me tell you, those months were an education. That’s for sure. Alexis, do you have a similar experience? Alexis Hieu Truong: I guess, the first times I went into the carceral institution around here for the “Walls to Bridges” initiative. Like, I’m diabetic, so, I got to the entrance with my insulin pump and my juice and so forth, in case I had low blood sugar, and they said, basically, like: “Well, you can get that can in because people will turn it into a shiv, it’s dangerous”, right? And by shiv I mean an improvised knife or blade, especially like in prison. So the next time around, I put it in a bottle, I got the bottle to the entrance, and they’re like: “Hmm, you can’t have that bottle, people can turn it into a shiv”. And then I’m like: “Okay, well, what do I do?” And then they ended up giving me a liquid that they served, I guess, to the prison population. And I didn’t even know like how much glucose was in there. It was an education in the sense that it got me really, really thinking about how rules are being applied, and how they apply differently to different individuals. And I felt like really privileged coming into those situations. But I was wondering, like, if I was one of the prison population, how would I be able to take care of myself, my diabetes and so forth, right? Rosie Hancock: Remi, I’m wondering, if you’ve ever had that feeling of: “Wow, that was an education.” Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Many times, I think. I can remember, as an undergraduate, going to the West Indian Community Centre, hearing a Black community historian challenge an academic that was speaking, it was a real formative moment for me that this Black community historian who really, really was so well-versed, but not given the accreditation, not celebrated as a historian, was able to challenge and offer a more compelling account of history than the presenter, who was celebrated as a university-based historian. And I think more generally, in spaces like that, in community centres, in community campaigns, I think there are often forms of knowledge, often shaped by people’s lived experience that are really, really incisive. And I’ve had a profound impact upon, upon my experiences as an academic and as an activist. Rosie Hancock: Yeah, that’s really interesting. And I quite like how the three of us have sort of picked up on different aspects of how we might encounter education or knowledge outside of the formal system as well. Remi, that’s almost it for today. We’ve talked about education in a broad sense, we’ve talked about its relationship to surveillance, to state power, to inequality. But we also wondered what you might want to point us to in terms of films, music, art, or literature that says something important about the idea of school. You know, we like to wrap up with this little pop culture exercise. And we all chip in our suggestion. So I’m going to start with something that’s really light and fluffy. That’s the TV series “Sex Education”, which I’ve been watching and really enjoying. And if I was to try and make it a little bit serious, I’d say, I guess, it might speak to the issue of what’s on the official curriculum and what we might also learn through other means. Is there anything you would briefly mention? Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Yeah, similar to your recommendation, I guess, in terms of the message. It’s a poem by John Agard called “Checking Out Me History”. Some listeners who were educated in the UK will be familiar with John Agard, because some of his other poetry was on the school curriculum. But this poem – “Checking Out Me History” – really speaks to what is not included in our school curriculums. It’s John Agard describing his journey to find those more radical educations that we don’t get taught in schools, and I think it’s a really powerful poem; one that I’ve always valued dearly. And in addition, there was an anthology called “Small Axe” by the director Steve McQueen, a series of five episodes or films pertaining to Black British history. And one of those five episodes is titled “Education”, and it follows a 12-year-old boy, Kingsley, as he is placed in school – a school for the “educationally subnormal”, as they were called. And these schools were disproportionately made up of Black students that … That institutional racism in the education system pushed Black students into these schools, and there’s a whole generation of students who were not given the education that is a … They were referred to at the time as “educational dustbins”. A lot of the literature on racism in education was really catalysed by this moment. Rosie Hancock: Thanks Remi. I’m gonna have to try and get my hands on that poem by John Agard, and that film as well. Alexis, what about you? Alexis Hieu Truong: Hmm, there’s actually a fairly recent book called “From the Ashes” written by Jesse Thistle, Métis/Cree author and academic in Canada. It’s received many prizes and really speaks, I think, to a lot of the issues that we’ve talked about today. So namely, his experience with addiction, homelessness, incarceration, and also education, on top of intergenerational trauma. I definitely recommend it. Rosie Hancock: Thanks, Alexis. That sounds like a good read. And thank you Remi for coming on the podcast today. I guess we’re gonna sign out now. So thanks, and goodbye. Remi Joseph-Salisbury: Thank you for having me. Rosie Hancock: That’s it for us for this month. If you want to see the reading list from today’s show, including a pic of relevant pieces from The Sociological Review, scroll down to our show notes, or head to our podcast page at thesociologicalreview.org. Alexis, what really struck me today about our conversation was the way in which so much of what Remi was talking about, particularly in terms of race and the experience of school, applied as much to teachers as it did to students as well. What are you going to take away from our chat with Remi? Alexis Hieu Truong: Well, I think for me, it was really, like, the complexity of those issues and how they’re ingrained historically. And basically, the fact that it needs to mobilise a lot of different actors and institutions at the same time to be able to address them. Rosie Hancock: There’s so much more to talk about and do in this space. So, if you’ve enjoyed listening, do subscribe or follow and give us a review in whatever app you’re using. It helps us to keep bringing Uncommon Sense to you. We’ll be back next month when we’re talking about intimacy and relationships. Alexis Hieu Truong: Our executive producer was Alice Bloch, our sound engineer was Dave Crackles. Thanks for joining us. It’s been in education.
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