THE CULTURE OF ALCOHOL IN RELATION TO SECONDARY AGED PUPILS: a feasibility study
Report submitted to funders in 1989, John Schostak, Richard Davies
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Analytic Profile 4. Ernie.
Ernie's major orientations are towards 'public space' and the consequent public presentation of Self. He lives his life out of home. School is of no interest to him. In fact he was so consistently disruptive that the school could not contain him. Academic qualifications are of little significance to him at this point in his life. He wants to be a bricklayer as soon as he leaves school. He lives his life in public space; evenings, weekends, nights are his characteristic times for action/ activity. He eats and sleeps at home, but this is marking time for Ernie. He is devoted to his appearance and this requires the appropriate audience. His theme is the latest fashion and his audience his peers. The stage for this appearance and its audience, Ernie's theatre is the fashionable city centre nightspots, where young people congregate to see and be seen. This theatre is constructed of music, ' glamour' or 'designer' disco/club/bar/pubs, chart dance music , drink and extended licenses. What is required is money, youth, good looks, the right clothes, a capacity to drink. What is aimed for is respect. What is this respect and how is it obtained? Some ingredients of it are derived from basic myths of masculinity, i.e being 'hard', being able to fight. What is interesting in Ernie's account is how little, it appears, that women or sex features. He makes a somewhat desultory mention of a girlfriend when he was about fourteen and he also says that he goes to the sort of venue where young women are likely to go i.e. not a local pub. But the principle themes are fighting, arcades, petty crime, and drinking. His company most of the times seems to be male oriented. At first with groups of up to ten boys but now with one main friend who represents a change of direction for Ernie, a settling down.
Ernie is 16 going on 17 and has no difficulty obtaining access to pubs and so forth. Like Maria alcohol is a central motif of the social life he requires and pursues. But unlike Maria his social world is constantly threatened by disorder, by the potential for violence. His orientations remain basically similar, have similar objects to those he had when he was 14. But their climate is changing. Where once he seemed to celebrate violence, now, he tries to avoid it whilst recognising it as a potential feature of the social world he inhabits. Maria, from a different class, hoping to read physics at university, such violence is not a feature of her social world, and where and if it obtains, it is not only to be avoided but despised. For Ernie it is difficult to despise violence at this stage. First because there seems to be an actual threat of violence; Ernie is historically linked to violent elements in his community. Second there is still a badge of masculine respect, an important male identity to be found in acts, threats or a capacity for violence. The important question one can consider with Ernie is the relationship of alcohol to violence. Is alcohol a means to be violent? Or is it used to ensure violent outcomes? Does alcohol provoke or merely enhance a given potential for violence.? Ernie in his account tells of an occasion when he was younger of fighting in connection with being drunk. What happened? Why? What role did the alcohol play, if any?
2. transitional event(s)
Ernie has experienced a number of key transitions. A great many of these have taken place in the context of an overall orientation to a particular culture. He has been expelled from school. This was the dramatic transitional event marking a transition that must have taken or been taking place in Ernie for some time before i.e a commitment to refusing school. By the time he was 16, Ernie had placed himself into a minority i.e. those children and young people who cannot be accommodated by the mainstream educational provision. He had placed himself on a kind of periphery. It is hard to say to what extent he knew what he was doing, to what extent he was making conscious decisions. More research would be needed to uncover the nature of Ernie's decision making at that stage in his school career and what if any educational responses would fit. The educational implications however are relatively clear. Ernie will by and large go his own way, he will take risks. The conventional classroom environment was rejected by him. Thus any considerations of health education in relation to Ernie has to take these factors into account. In short, he will not be told.
Another important transition took place when he was 13, when he first started 'going out'. This was clearly associated in Ernie's mind and that of his group of friends with alcohol. More research would be needed to establish why this was the case. Certainly Ernie can be asked. What was the link that he made between 'going out' and alcohol? From that point on Ernie's social career featured the consumption of large quantities of alcohol. Pleasure played its part. He and his friends enjoyed and continue to enjoy the experience of getting drunk, of going from sober to non sober states. But the other point of transition marked by these events was that of week to weekend. Throughout his adolescence his drinking has focused upon the weekend. The wekend is a crucial factor and is itself a recurring form of transition. So although Ernie may embody the concept of the young person drinking dangerously, there is nevertheless a deep structure involved; a sort of discipline, structured by the week/ weekend configuration. At this stage. The problem for Ernie is in a sense one of direction. Where is his culture of drinking taking him? What judgements would he make about his own drinking? How does it compare with those of his contemporaries? Does he, in his own eyes, constitute a norm? Clearly by BMA standards he is drinking too much, well in advance of the recommended weekly units of consumption. What relevance or meaning does (or would) the concept of units of alcohol and a recommended limit in the number consumed in a week have for Ernie? If there is nor relevance or meaning, why not? Or, alternatively, does he ever experience anxiety in connection with his drinking? Is it important to a young man like Ernie, dedicated to an ideal image of a kind of working class masculinity, to consume and be seen to consume large quantities of alcohol? Ernie may well argue that he has changed; that his drinking is reduced or reducing and that his whole life is becoming less 'wild'. He recognises change in himself; sees himself as having become maturer. What can be discussed at this stage is the extent to which alcohol per se is, so to speak, inherently educational. Young people will find out through highly complex experiences what alcohol does and how, and will eventually arive at reasonable levels of consumption. It is something that can only be handled through experience (inlcuding mishaps) thus raising questions about the scope and efficacy of any forms of alcohol education. These in turn can be countered by the experiences from which one can never learn e.g. a car accident in which the young drunk driver is killed or kills others.
What theory of the personal does Ernie have? In other words the issue of alcohol with Ernie may not be about making responsible personal choices but about responding to the perceived expectations of his culture. Educationally then the response is to reflect upon the ways in which culture constructs modes of consumption and behaviour. Ernie makes choices but there may be levels of reasoning to which reflection over time, the shared experience of others and open discussion in the class, may lead him. Any educational strategy attempting to address the role of alcohol in Ernie's life has first to address the role of alcohol in the reproduction of the culture that Ernie inhabits.
3. Career objects/aims/values
Alcohol is a key object in Ernie's life and is a major determinant of the shape of his social life. He may object to such a bald proposition. But on his own account when he is not out on the town (in which drink features strongly) or having 'a quiet pint' with his friend he is 'not doing very much'; watching television or playing cards with his parents. Sometimes he is in his room listening to music. As a younger teenager he was attracted to 'a wild time'. Arcades, gangs, cigarettes, drink, the very objects sustaining the very values so decisively rejected by Chris at approximately the same age. Where Ernie was attracted, Chris, following experiment, was repelled. More research would be needed to uncover the reasons for this. But what it points to is the significance of biography, of what is brought into any given situation by the individual, by their history. When an individual arrives in a certain context requiring decisions, the immediately present objects are one part of a total equation that includes the invisible matter of the person's life prior to that point. Chris and Ernie, although they arrived in the same amusement arcade perceived two quite different objects; one that attracted and one that repelled. This puts it very crudely, but it is a useful example of difference and the difficulties inherent in targetting edcuational materials in the area of PSE. It also presents the possibilites of using such difference to sustain debate in the classroom. Thus it is important that, for example, Ernie is not seen as having made the 'wrong' choice or Chris the 'right' one. The discussion proceeds on the assumption that what people bring to the classroom (in this case their own stories) is evidence of alternative life styles each with their pleasures, problems, strategies and outcomes, not confession for the purposes of moral judgement.
Alternative careers emerge, dependent on the kind of decisions made and events experienced. These can be called critical decisions and critical events.