The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age (book review)

This is a review of the book “The Class” By Sonia Livingstone and Julian Sefton-Green for Media & Learning – March 2017

The Class explores how school and learning, home and family, and peer groups impact and shape children’s use of digital media. The two authors followed a class of London teenagers for a year to find out more about how they are, or in some cases are not, connecting online. What is the meaning of learning? What are the objectives of the school and education? What is the relationship between these three aspects of knowledge management? What matters about digital technologies and young people? What is the role of the school in the daily lives of teenagers today? This book “The Class: Living and Learning in the Digital Age” answers these questions through an ethnographic analysis lasting a full year, following a whole class of students aged between 12 and 13 in a public secondary school in the suburbs of London, inside and outside the school. The book starts from the authors’ theoretical perspectives on learning along with the questionsthey put forward, it describes the methodology used and finally provides a description of what living and learning means for these students. It describes the connections, and in particular the disconnections that exist between the three worlds in which young people live: school, family and friends. Daily life in late modernity means we have to constantly reconcile our somewhat ambivalent approaches to socio-technical changes that can be both a threat and a promise. In this society, we are increasingly allowed to make decisions which do not provide any more certainty but which push individualism in a constant drive towards enhancing our prestige and sense of success. Parents are more anxious, spend more time at work and less time with the family, the kids are happy at home even if they are more worried than ever about their future. The school still represents a specific context of agreements, rules and expectations, but which does not necessarily define what it means to be educated. Access to education is provided and valued for its economic benefits to the individual and the economy. The school promotes individual competition and the growth of good citizens, who are both capable of self-control and self-regulation. Students have to find their own motivations in this increasingly individualised risk society. Looking at the students inside and outside the classroom, interviewing families, visiting their homes, watching them when they spend time with their friends, the research team highlights how separate these different worlds are and how intentional this separation is. Teachers fear that kids bring to class tensions that exist in the family, and families do not seem interested in understanding what students do in the classroom or with their computer. Life shared with friends is an area of freedom, a space for self beyond the control of family and school: this social space is out of the control of adults. Families have learned to live together separately and the walls of the houses are no longer the border with the outside world. Families are constantly under pressure to find a compromise between internal warmth and respect and the need for growth and openness to the external world of their young people. The authors’ conclusions are described through the case of an annual school competition which summarises the tensions and pressures of a whole year. One positive note on what they observed; the increased uncertainty regarding privacy in communications has made young people value face-toface interactions even more than before. The book is freely accessible here.

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