students and clients doing what they do: So can the Milltown Boys show us answers to five career-management ‘whys’? Five is an arbitrary number; the task is to maintain a probing sequence. But let’s try five: the following paragraphs quote the boys in response to a five-fold sequence of ‘whys?’.
1. Why do smart kids sideline school, settle for routine work, turn to crime, and resort to drugs?
Because they don’t expect to find anything better:
I think I knew when I was younger that I was heading that way -
I knew I was going to spend some time in prison -
given what I was doing it was bound to happen sooner or later - wasn’t it?
2. Why do they find that so predictable?
Because they don’t know what else there might be:
I knew I was going to do an apprenticeship but I did not know whether that was what I wanted to be doing -
because I’d not experience of anything -
you know, I might have liked to be a social worker or a solicitor - I just don’t know
3. Why are they so short of ideas?
Because they don’t have the sources, the connections or the contacts:
I knew somebody somewhere was having it -
I assumed it must be in London, or New York or America, or whatever -
but I didn’t have the background, the contacts, the things you needed to be part of it
4. Why do they have that sense of separation?
Because they can justify what they do in other terms - terms that make credible sense of their own experience:
I lost my job because I just couldn’t be bothered working -
I found that thieving with these boys was much more fun -
you didn’t have to get up in the morning and it was more um... lucrative
5. Why are they so ready to run that risk?
Because because the risk matters less than keeping the trust of who they know best:
Danny has been good to me over the years -
same as Ted, when I needed them -
that is what it is about really -
you make them kind of friends only once in your life -
you do things together when you are younger -
and so, when you are older, you know everything about each other
Asking five whys does not make an analysis, it gives us a conversation, based on open questions - which can lead anywhere. A key part of the process is working out what questions to ask of this particular here-and-now. That exchange will develop differently, at different times, with different people, talking to different facilitators.
These are young men whose aspirations we are urged to raise. And there is, therefore, a temptation to insert one of our ready-made and familiar answers to one or more of these five questions. You may have noticed that. But basing sustainable hope on well-founded explanation needs us to resist that temptation and, instead, to follow a sequence drawn by these young men. This is because the task is not - yet - to find a destination, it is - first - to agree a map. The findings of this enquiry signpost how the journey may be plotted - from what we first notice, to where we need to go in order to understand it. It starts with a present reality, but senses an underlying dynamic. This is not knee-jerk stuff.
We need these voices because what they say is more than just communication; language has other, deeper, uses. This is how Vic and the others - like your students and clients - signpost their world. Their images, lyrics, stories, and memories speak of how things are, of what is worthwhile and of what can be expected. It affirms identity - for them a shared identity.
But, although all of this is culturally acquired from ‘out-there’ experience, it is also deeply embedded ‘in here’. There are moments when Vic and the others are voicing what seem to them to be unassailable truths. Those ‘truths’ entice bright kids into dull jobs; and, more that that, they entangle good people in bad action.
So what they describe can look like cultural entrapment. That’s how Paul Willis sees the lads - they collude in their own downfall. And - it’s true - these are stories of lost aspiration: Ted’s hopes were thwarted for too long, and Shaun had hope squeezed out of him when he was no more than a lad.
So it is tempting to ascribe irrationality - even self-destructiveness. And we can easily fit that kind of explanation into the conventional thinking of careers education and guidance. But Vic and the others have learned from their experience in much the same way as people learn from their experience in leafy suburb and gated community. And with no greater degree of irrationality. Neither should we assume that leafy suburbs and gated communities do not harbour, at some level, a capacity for irrationality, dullness, bad moves - and even self-destruction. If we mean to help any of them - Vic or Victoria - to raise their aspirations, then we need to be able to understand them in the terms that they understand themselves.
The lads and the boys found that Paul Willis and Howard Williamson could do that. Theirs is a special kind of research.