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Wednesday, 11 May 2011

Dear Jonathan, I Don't Think I Can Help You

To those fellow students who now share lectures with me, it will come as no great surprise that I am in the habit of emailing sociologists for the purposes of chit-chat. This is no less geeky than being the kid who puts an apple on his teacher's desk on a morning (I didn't ever do that).

Out of a desire to avoid the abomination that is criminology, I started looking through my saved emails on my old account, and as well as finding a link to a porn site sent to me by a fellow thirteen year old way back in lower school, I also found this gem from 2007.

I quickly got besotted with conducting sociological research, but my knowledge of the social norms of academia had not yet developed that sense of shame I now have. So, thinking about what to do for my coursework, I emailed the legendary sociologist Howard S Becker and the short exchange is quoted here verbatim, in all its cringey but somehow quite sweet glory. Note the misuse of postmodern and the alarming (female naturally).

I like his patience with my blatant lack of knowledge about anything I'm talking about.

Dear Mr Becker

I am soon embarking on an Interactionist study for my A-Levels, most likely relating to labelling theory and the concept of the 'ideal pupil' and how this relates to social class. With the much documented 'social changes' in British politics and the supposedly more equal education system, would you say the concept of an ideal pupil has changed at all? Moreso, now I feel that as the profession of particularly primary education is attracted many W/C (female naturally) graduates, the social class of teacher must greatly impact the 'ideal pupilism'.

It is irrefutable that labelling still exists; since i first began volunteering in a primary school to complement my studies, I have seen amazingly blatant examples of your theory practically each day. What would you say constitutes the ideal pupil of postmodern Britain?

I appreciate I am unlikely to gain a reply to this due to your status and workload, but thank you for your your time regardless.

Many Thanks
Jonathan Walker

Dear Jonathan:

I don't think I can help you. The question you ask is what is called in the trade an empirical question, which is to say someone would have to do the actual research to see what the answer is, you can't get to an answer by just thinking about it and having opinions. If you want to know the answer to that, the best thing to do would be to ask some British school teachers, since it is their ideas that you want to know about. I know this sounds simple minded, but that's the way science is, you know, it's mostly hard work of gathering data, finding out what is actually going on.

I wish you luck with your project.


Howie Becker


Howard S. Becker
884 Lombard St.
San Francisco, CA 94133

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