Neo Marxist Views on Education: Paul Willis
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Paul Willis Learning to Labour

Paul Willis in "learning to Labour" developed a neo Marxist approach to education. Willis in common with American sociologists Bowles and Gintis focuses on the ways in which the education system in capitalist society prepares the workforce for capitalism. However Willis asserts that the education system is not a particularly successful agency of socialisation as education can have unintended consequences on pupils, consequences which may not be completely beneficial to capitalism. Willis suggests that working class pupils actually develop oppositional or counter sub cultures which in part some class consciousness on their part. He therefore rejects the idea that working class children just passively adopt the culture forwarded by school and capitalist society.

Willis studied working class boys in secondary schools in the 1970's. He used observation and participant observation as his research methods. He regularly recorded group discussions with pupils and informal interviews. He tried to gain a real understanding of the "experience" of schooling from the perspective of the pupils.

Willis followed twelve working class boys over their last eighteen months in school and their first few months in the world of work. The "lads" as Willis referred to them developed their own counter school culture which was opposed to the values pushed forward by the school and the teachers.

Main Features of lads counter school culture
1. The lads felt superior to both their teachers and "conformist" students who they referred to as "ear 'oles"
2. The lads attached little or no value to academic work and had little interest in gaining qualifications
3. the lads did everything they could to avoid lessons and when they were forced to go tried to do as little work as possible - they would boast when they had managed to go weeks without putting pen to paper!
4. The lads resented school trying to take over their time and constantly attempted to win physical and symbolic "space" from the institution and its rules.
5. The lads avoided work in lessons by "having a laff" through misbehaviour such as sabotaging school equipment, continuous fidgeting, sprawling all over chairs or making a huge fuss when asked to do something
6. The lads couldn't wait to get out of school into the male adult world of manual work
7. The lads counter school culture was both highly sexist and highly racist - school work and conformist pupils were seen as "cissy", ethnic minorities as inferior.
8. Manual work was seen by the lads as superior to mental work
9. The lads had appeared to have worked out that the sort of jobs and marginally better pay jobs requiring qualifications would bring them were not worth the extra years of study and loss of freedom and independence

Willis' Conclusions
1. The education system was failing to produce ideal compliant workers for the capitalist system
2. The lads were far from the obedient and docile workers Bowles and Gintis said capitalism required, however the lads were paradoxically well prepared for the manual work they would eventually do
3. When Willis followed the lads into their first jobs he found similarities between counter school culture and shop floor culture - "having a laff" was just as important in the attempt to relieve boredom, the lads and their fellow workers would do everything they could to control the pace of the work they had to do and relieve the boredom of it.
4. Willis claimed that counter school culture and shop floor culture though in part oppositional to "the system" don't challenge the institution "head on". There is recognition in both of the need to do some work or risk expulsion or dismissal
5. Willis suggests that counter school culture contains some perceptive insights into the nature of capitalism for workers. .
6. Willis suggests that it is actually their rejection of school would prepares the lads for their futures in manual work
A) The lads recognise that there is no equal opportunity in capitalism and that no matter how hard they work they are unlikely to be very upwardly socially mobile.
B) The lads recognise that individual effort is likely to achieve little for themselves and that the collective loyalty between themselves as a group is far more important.
C) The lads can see through the careers advice given them at school. Even if they were to work really hard the changes of advancement are very limited

Willis does not suggest however that the lads or shop floor workers have a sophisticated understanding of capitalism and Willis is particular critical of their sexism and racism.

Using Willis in exam answers
Willis' insights can be used in both explanations of working class underachievement but also in the underachievement of boys in education. Especially with the recent decline in traditional male manual work