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International Socialism, Autumn 1967


Ian Taylor

Drop Out, Brother!


From International Socialism, No.30 (1st series), Autumn 1967, p.32.
Transcribed & marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.


Social Relations in a Secondary School
David H. Hargreaves
Routledge, 32s.

One of the curses of much modern sociology is the tendency to state the obvious in mystifying language. The merit of this book is that it avoids the mystification while intent on stating the obvious. The book is the result of a year’s empirical research at a secondary modern school in some Northern town, where the author took up the dubious role of a teacher attempting to investigate the social relationships of tough working-class kids. The thesis is not a particularly startling one – that is, the structure of the school and the societal demands placed on it dictate various defensive adaptations on the part of the kids. In ‘Lumley Secondary School’ there are, then, two subcultures – the ‘academic’ and the ‘deliquescent.’ The deliquescent subculture is the world known to and constructed by the ‘rejects’ in a streamed school. ‘In this exploratory study we have found that sub-cultural development is generated by a number of mutually reinforcing factors, of which the organisation of pupils into streams is the basic structural component.’ (p.192) Standard liberal platitudes are voiced against the effects of Streaming, and an education system geared to the production of an elite, but no IS reader would find much here that is new, nor indeed get much satisfaction from the limited vision of change that is offered.

The book largely comprises some long discussions of the sociometric tests the author carried out in the school, but later on Hargreaves does pause to examine the relevance of the sub-cultural theories of American criminologists (Cohen, Cloward and Ohlin etc.). He falls neatly into the trap which he warns others against. To demonstrate that sub-cultures develop in school, or in an adolescent group, when members of that group are frustrated in their assumed aspirations for (middle-class) status, is not to demonstrate the ‘futility’ or ‘meaninglessness’ of the behaviour adopted in response to that frustration. ‘In the low streams, boys are deprived of status in that they are double failures by their lack of ability or motivation to obtain entry to a Grammar School or to a high stream in the Modern School ... the boys have achieved virtually nothing.’ (p.159) Hargreaves goes on to describe the passive activities of these boys (hanging around billiard halls etc.) and contrasts these with the ‘healthy,’ ‘active’ behaviour of high stream boys – the ‘academics.’ What a middle-class observer in the teacher’s position sees to be a ‘fruitful’ or ‘rewarding’ existence is not necessarily the fruitful or rewarding experience nor is it necessarily an accurate reflection of what boys actually do, or experience. Hargreaves seems too little aware of the extent to which he interprets behaviour and norms in terms of his own alien value system. And this failure is not entirely mitigated by an otherwise clear and useful appendix on the problems of ‘participant-observation.’

But it’s quite an interesting book to read. There’s no doubt that Clint of Form 4C, a figure of some notoriety throughout the book, would be a good prospect for the local shop-stewards committee. He’s a real delinquent!

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Last updated on 31.12.2007