The Political is Personal, or how the "new normal" helped re-align practice and personal values.
Updated: Jun 24, 2021
I was asked recently to contribute to a discussion on "the 3Ps", that socio-pedagogical concept we use to reflect on how we use ourselves in the relational work we do as social pedagogues.
Briefly, the 3Ps stand for the Private, the Personal and the Professional.
The Private draws attention towards the person we are outside of work, with all the unprocessed emotions and our own needs. This is the part of ourselves we work hard at keeping out of our professional relationships.
The Personal is the part of ourselves that comes through in our relationships with others at work: behind every interaction, what counsellors may call every disclosure, there is reflection and a rationale for offering that part of ourselves to the other person: most often it is to meet a need we've identified.
The Professional, finally, is the part of ourselves that reflects, draws on theories and works with different agencies. Our Professional P draws on professional expertise and team work to keep in check our Private P.
Without the 3 Ps interacting with each other we cannot work in a congruent and healthy way.
Now, COVID came along and imposed different ways of working that forced all of us to re-evaluate our boundaries.... Personally I experienced a really envigorating re-alignment between my private and my professional Ps that was quite Political.... Another P, but let's not get carried away with fully formed fancy phrases. (4Fs)...
This came from a growing awareness of the political stance I was taking both privately by living in a housing Co-op; and professionally (or rather academically) through reading Marx, Freire and Vygotsky as part of my PhD.
Things started to shift when I realised that one of the mechanisms of othering that operates in residential care is the systematic negation of the political being of the young people living there. Indeed, while the young people described themselves in political terms (one of them, for example, told me his nickname was Gandhi at school because he kept on protesting against injustices he saw there; another showed disagreement with what was happening in the home by going on hunger strikes), this political dimension was rendered invisible in the professional discourse used by the team: instead of echoing this political stance, they spoke of the emotional needs of the young people. I could recognise this boundary in myself through the splitting off of the very lively discussions between my private P and my professional (well academic) P, while leaving out my personal P.
Privately, it helps to know that living in a housing Co-op in London takes a rather specific stance on the housing crisis in the UK and around the world. As part of this, I became involved in Mutual Aid during the covid pandemic, and grew my awareness of the philosophical roots of such ideas.
By adapting my work to the constraints of lockdown, I began to hear differently the messages of two of the young people I am working with, and to respond to them more politically.
-One of them spoke abouthis desire to be seen as a good person, as well as to see good in others. He spoke of his worry about the effect of COVID on himself, and his friends in terms of loneliness and a individualistic "every person for themsleves" attitude. I began to talk to him about my experiences of mutual aid, and started looking for ways to involve him in this: we hatched a plan whereby we would form a (postal) factory line to sew bags for the carers in his previous children's home. A few days ago, he reminded me of this and of his intention to make the bags as a second lockdown is imminent. What I believe he values here is the opportunity to contribute genuinely to the lives of the people who helped him, which is a true example of mutual aid.
-The other example is of a young person who has deep questions around different types of justice. His experience of justice (I might call it revange) in Yemen where he grew up is quite similar to that of the gangs he observes in London; and while I can explain to him how restorative justice works it is rather difficult to experience it together. Again I was looking for ways in which he could experience different ways of relating in society where justice was practiced in a more democratic way. During one of our phone calls, we spoke of the increased rate in Universal Credits he just benefited from, and as I was warning him that this would not last for ever, he expressed the wish to do something about it. Here was my opportunity to connect him differently to his community, and we wrote a petition to parliment where he asked for the rate of UC to stay at the same level for all young people under 25 after emergency measures are being lifted.
We continue to share the petition with people interested in signing it.
This is quite a loaded territory and I am cautiously venturing there, however social pedagogy's commitment to social justice supports my exploration. The line between my own private political views and the young people I work with can be thin, however my research into the image of the rich child articulates how vital it is to formulate together what is the good life, the good society and how we can implement it. It is my role to support young people in nurturing their active participation at different levels of society.
In the current political climate, and with a growing awareness of the limitations of the National Curriculum (see for example the recent decision of the Department for Education to constrain the sources of teaching materials schools can use) it is so important to think about this!