I don’t really consider myself as an academic. Maybe I’m a ~cool~ academic. I consider myself an artist before anything else. I suppose that’s a bit poncey to say, innit? It’s alright, I’m gay so I can say it. But I guess I am considered an academic – I went to Uni a handful of times thanks to student finance (god bless – you’re NEVER getting that money back from me) fell in love with learning, and so… that’s that.
I wasn’t the first in my family to go to university – but the second. My sister, who is the middle child, did it first. Which inspired me to do it too. She had MONEY. Which was a rarity in our family. The idea of being able to go a week without the electricity or gas meter running out was… it was unheard of. It was a dream.
I’m working class. Well, I’m whatever is working class, but no one works. Our TV had a box on the side and would only work if you put a pound coin in it. Our gas and electric ran on meters (they ran out EVERY week). Our house was undecorated for years and years, and floors had no carpets. My bed was broken so I slept on a mattress on the floor. Dinners were comprised of frozen chips and fish fingers, while mom had a plate of mashed potato and beetroot (not sure what that’s about).
In our area everyone judged everyone. My mom judged people on the colour of their net curtains. A big thing was clothes. You were called a battyboy (bumboy) if you wore jeans and not trackies. Protecting your postcode from people in other postcodes was a great aspiration. As was sitting atop green electric boxes smoking cigs you’d stole from your nan.
I was born and raised in the west midlands in a small town in which poverty is ingrained. There’s nothing there now. Over the years of my youth, factories – many of which were somewhat notable, considering the town and what they produced – closed down, were knocked down, and replaced by supermarkets and brand new housing, gentrifying the area a tad. My mom was forced out of her council house into a tiny (TINY) bungalow. It’s too small for one person in my opinion. But that’s just how it is. The library was closed, the community centre (which had a swimming pool used by many local schools, including mine) was closed down, and the youth club near the bridge was closed down.
Cuts, cuts, cuts.
There was nothing to do. No where to go. We roamed the streets, getting drunk in a field on a couple bottles of WKD.
Though kids went to school, sometimes, it was never considered necessary. Our area had a lot of manual labour workers who got jobs working with their dad or uncle or cousin. Under the table, cash in hand, so it doesn’t affect their benefits.
I’m not shitting on these people. We did it. We still do, in our family. It’s the only way to make ends meet. Yes, it might be a bit illegal to not declare the £50 you got this week from helping a couple mates out… but what’s the alternative? Be skint again? It’s exhausting.
As I said, I went to uni. I was a young gay boy who had experienced nothing but homophobia and some racism (I’m mixed race) at school, and abuse and neglect at home. It felt like the only way to escape this, was to escape my surroundings. So, I went to University, to study performing arts (shut up) and though I experienced less discrimination, it never went away. Still hasn’t.
I realised I didn’t fit in. These people were not like me at all. They didn’t know struggle. Their struggle was what to wear on a night out.
One of the most sobering experiences was during the first few weeks of university – a girl I barely knew, from my class, was bawling her eyes out because she was broke. She hadn’t paid her rent with her student finance. I asked where her money had gone. She said she’d spent it all on “going out” and buying clothes, and hadn’t paid a single penny of her termly rent.
Twat, I thought.
Anyway an hour later, she was right as rain. Why? Her father had agreed to pay her rent for the term.
Like… what? Are you kidding? My dad would have called me a fucking twat and told me to piss off.
And they were all like this.
“Magnum, come out with us!
“It’s only £5 entry!”
They didn’t get it. My student finance paid my rent, got food for the month and that was it. I had an awful job but it didn’t help much. Once again I was sleeping on a mattress on the floor, in an 8 bedroomed house full of middle class cunts. So, like my parents, my sisters, and everyone I knew from home, I got into debt. It’s not just a loan. It’s a lifestyle. So far I think I have over 10k in debts, excluding student finance because that doesn’t count. I’m actually a pro at avoiding paying anything, so if you need advice on that, hit me up.
I didn’t let other people deter me. On reflection, I acted in ways that didn’t help me at all – I put up a huge barrier around me and didn’t let anyone in. I didn’t want to be associated with these people. To them, University was just another day. For me, for my family, for where I’m from, university was like. A huge step. It was a feat! Everyone in our area says the area is shit. But no one has any motivation to do anything about it. They’re angry at how the system has fucked them, again and again, but so downtrodden that they believe they don’t matter. That their voices, and their VOTES don’t matter. One of the most common things I hear is “what’s the point of voting? Nothing will change”. It’s so sad. But, it’s probably true. The only thing that can help are two things: Money, and confidence. Money into our local councils. Confidence into the people.
The Tory government fucked us harder than a professional pornstar. And frankly, it’s not fair. It’s not fucking fair. As part of my PGCE, I trialled a six-week programme offering extra curricular activities to teenagers. The results were astounding. Participants attendance to timetabled classes improved, their confidence, their social and industry skills, and their passion (!!!!!). And my – and MANY poor communities were robbed of these opportunities. I believe that if we still had the library, the community centre, the youth club… I believe these people would meet different people, have dissenting conversations, and have the confidence and belief that they can make a difference.
In my teaching, I make no effort to cover who I am, despite the area being fairly upper-working/middle class. I make extreme effort to let students know that I’m there for them, particularly the LGBT students.
I genuinely care about my students. I do. I care for their wellbeing, I want them to act in safe and sensible ways when they’re out with their friends. I refuse to baby students (who, in my research, expressed that they hated being babied) because contrary to popular belief, 16-year olds today are a lot more mature than we ever were at that age, despite the tik-tok dances. A lot of these students do drink underage, do smoke weed, but who hasn’t!? We’ve all been there if you’re working class.
And I’m told not to “encourage” this behaviour – love, telling them to be SAFE while they’re doing it (and admitted to doing it) is not encouragement! Maybe for you middle class dickheads it is, maybe it seems uncouth or below you to imagine a 16 year old with a spliff in their mouth. Ignoring the issue doesn’t fix it. Love, in my town, 12 year olds are smoking it. If they’re gonna do it, they’re gonna do it. Might as well tell them to be careful.
They want to be respected and given the chance to act and behave like adults. They want to do more. They want to follow their passions.
In my programme, poorer students couldn’t attend despite being free, because they had jobs, or childcare. It’s an issue. They want to learn; they want to grow. But can’t. But just as with my hometown, governmental cuts are stripping the poorer youth of this country of their prospects. The poor get poorer, the rich get richer. This was a rant. I’m just passionate. I’m tired of being told to act in a certain way. A way which erases who I am. We are bold, brash people, who tell it like it is in the Black Country. But here, in these institutions, it’s considered uncivilised. I’m the pigeon amongst the peacocks.
Well get used to it, ‘cos this pigeon ain’t going anywhere.