Monday, 27 July 2009
The Admirable Confidence of Bored Working Class Teens
I was walking through Sandall Beat Woods today with my friend Naomi after a game of tennis. We needed to cross a bridge over the rail-lines, but there was a group of young teenage girls, probably about 13-15 years old and about 6 of them, sitting on the steps, blocking our path. We went to walk through them and Naomi and I knew what was likely to happen, and happen it did. "Going for a game of tennis?!" "Alright Blonde head!!!" "greasy!" and something about our underwear. We didn't say anything back but we weren't intimidated either - there comes a time when it is so predictable as to be funny, even admirable.
In few other situations can I think of people being so confidently outspoken without fear of consequence. I'm hardly the doorframe-filling man-stallion, but I am 6ft 2 and 19 years old, but this didn't mean anything. Their insults are not discriminatory - they would be equally as harsh and rude to those their own age, those older and those younger. Indeed, they were; we heard "skinny bastard" being shouted and a minute later a middle-aged jogger ran up behind us from the bridge.
The disregard for age barriers is quite an important distinction that I'd identify in kids in working class areas. In the classrooms, I find it far easier to teach once you stop 'being teacher' and talk to them at their level. It's not a matter of acting like a child, but it doesn't aid communication and understanding for the child, if the teacher isolates themselves in order to maintain an intentional distance. And in any case, the kids quite often seem not to consider there to be a huge divide. I know that after Michael Jackson's death, an 8 year old boy (ironically one feels) told me the one of the most horrific and graphic paedophile jokes to me that I've heard (he didn't understand it and knew only that it was rude) - the fact that I'm a 'grownup' just made the joke even funnier for him. When I worked in Year Two, I was asked by one of the kids if I am a 'sekshual luv sheep'. The confidence is not only quite often funny, but it leads to better chat and ultimately in the classroom, a better mutual appreciation of the characters of the child and the teacher.
But back to the teenage girls on the bridge - their level of self-confidence and arrogance is commonplace among those bored teens hanging about on council estates, but you have to feel it's a misused and misplaced skill. If that anger, and that enjoyment in being rude to people, could be directed into other forms of expression - such as politics - it would be nothing but admirable.
It seems that only two types of people can fairly be stereotyped as being self-confident, arrogant and rude - the very successful and the very poorest. For the successful it is a virtue, but for the poorest, the bored working class teens on the bridge, it is most often perceived as nothing but menacing and threatening. Me, I think its admirable and their outspokenness, their anomie, is something to be quite arrogant about - I'm certainly nowhere near as confident.