Changing Roles of Men and Women

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In Britain in the 1960s and 1970 sociologists were examining the levels of underachievement of working class pupils. It was clear from the evidence that they were underachieving compared to the middle classes in terms of gaining access to selective schools, achievement at 16 - O Levels/CSEs/GCSEs entry to university and further training. In other words, it was clear that working class children were most likely to end up doing working class jobs. Despite this evidence, it was not entirely clear how working class pupils failed. This was revealed by the pioneering work of Paul Willis (1977). Whereas previous explanations of working class failure in the education system tended to provide very mechanistic approaches which were based on the logic of a particular theoretical approach, Willis set out to examine the actual experiences of a group of working class ‘lads’ and to investigate what actually happened to them. It is only through a more qualitative approach that such an insight can be gained. It is believed that ethnography provides a more valid (accurate) picture of social life which more quantitative methods such as questionnaires cannot do. In Willis’s book Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, he is a participant observer of 12 boys in a West Midlands school in the 1970s. He follows them during their last year and a half at school and their first few months at work. (The small sample – 12 boys – is clearly a limiting factor to his work as well as the fact that he only focuses on boys). In this essay there will be an examination of the issues raised in relation to Willis’ study by Gordon (1994) and an assessment of how well she seems to explain these issues and whether her points are shared by other critics of Willis’ study such as…
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