I knew from my findings last week, trying to get Year 9 to analyse social class divides and their implications upon Blood Brothers was always going to take more than just reading the text. We had some more fun today…
As the pupils entered the room, they were given a small slip of paper and asked not to open it until I gave them permission to do so; they were told that I would let them know by saying the word “now” and from that moment on, until told otherwise, they were unable to say anything other than what was on the slip of paper that they held.
They were to begin by walking around the classroom and just greeting each other as they passed one another on their journey. When I said: “NOW!” they were to find at least three people of a similar social class to themselves and stand under the appropriate signs which were situated at opposite ends of my classroom: upper or lower.
When the pupils opened their papers, they found sentences not unlike the following: “3. y’all reet?” and “1. Good day good fellow” which they began reading out loud to each other…allow for raucous laughter and extreme volume…pupils found their comrades and congregated under their newly appointed social class signs. The numbers which were printed at the start of their slips of paper corresponded to the tables that I wanted them to sit at, making for an easy transition from standing to sitting with no argument.
The pupils’ challenges were all the same (to create an artistic interpretation of social class divides) but what they had available to them to complete the challenge differed greatly. I had purposefully planned for a larger percentage of pupils to be lower class and I provided them with very little. They had one piece of paper per group, one pair of scissors between them all, one pot of coloured pencils and one highlighter.
Whereas, the upper class had a multitude of resources including paints, glitter, sparkles, highlighters, scissors, glue, and different coloured papers…the list goes on. The rich were allowed to leave their seats and ask for any resource they felt they needed, after all they could afford it, leaving the poor to make do with what little they had. They were not allowed out of their seats at any time.
I presented pupils with the following outcomes:
WHAT? To investigate the implications of social class divides
HOW? Through immersing ourselves in one of these roles
WHY? I left the why blank for them to work out for themselves. I wanted to use this as a starting point for their review discussion.
As the pupils worked, I observed their behaviours carefully, noting down any discussions which helped me to make my point. Here is a snippet of what I heard:
“It’s so not fair that they have all of that stuff and we have nothing!”
“We could steal something from them because we need it.”
“We are totally better than the lower classes.”
“I hate the upper classes.”
“I’m just going to take their rubber, they’re only lower class.”
“We’re stuck here and they can do whatever they want. It’s not fair!”
“There’s lots more of them than there are of us…probably because we are special.”
Without realising it, pupils began to display behaviours which occur in real social class divides in societies like that of Liverpool in the 1980s. The pupils found that with difference came jealously, suspicion, self importance and even crime. There were positive behaviours too; lower class pupils began to improvise when they found that they did not have the materials they need. I was slightly horrified to find one of my pupils putting gum in his mouth and using it as glue but he definately gained points for improvisation. When I stopped them to review at the close of the lesson, I left plenty of time to reflect on these behaviours and how it felt to be part of a fractured society; afterall, the lesson was not to “create a perfect representation” it was to “investigate the implications of social class.”
I returned to the why of my outcomes and asked pupils, “Why have we been learning like this? How has it helped us with our understanding of Blood Brothers?” The answers came with confidence: “This has helped us to feel what it is like being Micky and Eddie.” “We can understand what it was like to be in a fractured society and we will be able to see it better in the story.” “We can analyse social class better when we know what we are talking about.”
The pupils now had a real life experience to draw upon; they felt jealousy, they felt lack, they felt self importance and abundance. They could picture life in Micky and Eddie’s Liverpool because, for one lesson, they had lived it.
One week ago, the pupils told me that Blood Brothers was a boring play; Fingers crossed, I think I am beginning to change their minds.