The Education and Exclusion of Heathcliff: a lesson on ‘looked after’ and ‘previously looked after’ children in schools from nineteenth century literature

Elizabeth Chapman Hoult*, Mel Gibson

*Corresponding author for this work

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Children who are currently, or were previously, ‘looked after’ by the state, are educationally disadvantaged, with exclusion rates historically higher than in other groups in the UK. A conventional way of thinking about these children is that they have been affected by trauma and attachment issues in their early years, and that they import their problems into a neutral educational space. A less conventional explanation would be that the school itself is a key player in the production of problematic behaviours and identities that individual children may exhibit. This article attempts to demonstrate how the identity of the excluded care experienced child is formed by the discursive practices of the learning community. We ask: what are the micro-processes and cultural assumptions that might contribute to the levels of exclusion? Emily Brontë’s novel Wuthering Heights provides an interrogative framework. It is argued that the learning environment is far from neutral, and that the young Heathcliff is framed by the discursive practices of those who tell his story, most notably those who teach him whether formally or informally. By presenting this stark, fictional example, it is hoped that the ‘normal’ practices of the contemporary school can be defamiliarized and reconsidered.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-16
Number of pages16
JournalPedagogy, Culture and Society
Early online date16 Feb 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 16 Feb 2023

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