What can we protest about?

lizzie ewart-james
4 min readJan 24, 2021

The London School of Economics’ reputation in the 1960s was all about protests, chaining oneself to railings and sit ins. So on day one a group of our year of 90 students called a meeting to organize, yes you have guessed it. a protest. In those days community workers. who led the protest, tended to be very political in outlook, not surprisingly as they were working in almost exclusively very deprived communities. So we all assembled and they outlined their protest. It was, would you believe it, about having to sit exams! They strongly believed that we should only be subject to continuous assessment and that exams should be abolished. Not that I am a huge fan of exams, but I preferred them to having to write three thousand word essays or have someone breathing down my neck for a whole year. It seemed pretty fatuous to me but I did not feel confident enough to object.

The head of the course, an eminent psychiatrist, had a nervous breakdown as a result, but the group of activists ploughed on with their complaints and the rest of us followed like sheep. In the end we were told that we could choose essays or exams. Maybe some of them are big cheeses in the education department today and contributing to all the chaos. On reflection they will all be too old by now.

Gavin Williamson is too young and too right wing(can’t really see him on a social work course) but the effects of all this chopping and changing is much the same. The sweetest moment for me was towards the end of the year when the activists asked all the next year’s students to a meeting and proudly claimed that they had made great progress . One chap from the new intake stood up and said ‘that is all very well but we are a new group and we may want to change it all back again’.

We also could choose to go to a ‘T’ group — I think it stood for training and was all the rage in American management training. Clearly they hoped we would be the managers of the future. I was intrigued and went along. There were about 15 of us sitting round a table. The leader of the group came in sat down and said nothing…….and I mean nothing. He just sat there and we were left feeling increasingly uncomfortable until the most confident amongst us said ‘well what are we all doing here?’…..still nothing. People got angry, muttered about it being a waste of time…some (me) made a joke about it, others left. At the end of the hour session the group leader just got up and left. It was to illustrate fight or flight behaviour I think??

On another occasion we had to line ourselves up in order of leadership. There were people who shuffled people around and then put themselves at the top and people who just giggled like me and ended up well….. I am not telling you. Some even ended up in tears they felt so threatened. In tutorials we were then asked what we learned about ourselves. One tutor had a thing about punctuality -she said if you were early you were over anxious, if you were on time you were obsessional and if you were late you were indifferent. (A no win dilemma). I have never forgotten this and having grown up with an obsessively punctual father, I struggle with being politely late so if you ever ask me to dinner I am likely to be on time or horror or horrors early. We had a very non PC bad taste party once and one couple arrived three quarter of an hour early and sat by the fire with their slippers on. Brilliant!

The Tavistoke clinic (of transgender fame) was the most sought after placement but I ended up first at St Mary’s hospital. I think at one time the lady almoner ( I have a vision of twinset and pearls) as hospital social workers were originally known, were quite well respected but I think the hospital had become a bit suspicious of the new breed of social worker who was often long haired, with dreads and a spliff at breaktime. So long as I could empty the beds moving on patients to care homes or their own homes with the necessary help was all the doctors were interested in, so I resolved not to work in a hospital in the future.

I then went to a child guidance clinic We did not do home visits and as a result hardly anyone seemed to attend appointments which made it a bit boring. If they did attend. the psychiatrist would see the child and the social worker would see the parent — I used to think it should be the other way round as it was usually the parents who had the problems.

One of the psychiatrists appeared to be completely insensitive. Once in front of a whole lecture theatre of 90 or so students he brought in this 13 year old boy (having assured us that he had his permission) and quizzed him about his bed wetting. The child said absolutely nothing and the doctor ‘ I think you are feeling a bit hostile towards me’…….I am sure the boy wanted to punch him in the face.

Everything was analysed. A nice west African lady brought me a bag of apples and the whole of the following supervision was taken up with why she had done this and something about transference and counter transference. I dared to say I think she just wanted to thank me for listening. Wrong answer

I made one really good friend but never saw the rest of them again — I think it is not the same when you are not residential and by then I had another life to go home to. So the end of the year came and with my diploma in hand I took off for Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe.