One of the settings created for 'In and Out of Step' is a high school. It represents a microcosm of society with diverse generations. Everyone has a school experience and can relate to that environment. The school subplot, in part, works as an extended metaphor about BELONGING.
The school in the novel is a static workplace (one of the last bastions of male supremacy in fact) where the culture has become entrenched. That workplace dynamic is stable. The men are secure in their knowledge of one another including their shortcomings. Their security and comfort stems from knowledge and acceptance of the established pecking order and the way the workplace functions. A locker-room mentality and behaviour exists.
That world is threatened when a minority group (in this case, women) enters the workplace.
During the drive to the boarding house, Cassie sifted through the day’s images. The staff room was cramped and hot. The men were a defensive pack obviously resentful of female intrusion. The English Head appeared to be a control freak.
The women arrive with their focus on the job. Like all workers, they were trained to do a job; issues related to BELONGING were not part of that training. Their very presence in the workplace requires a sensitivity that the men and management are not prepared for, have not thought about, or indeed care about. The women are an alien culture that was 'understood' from a distance.
The men not only resent the presence of the women but also experience discomfort because what they see as the 'natural order of the workplace' is upset. The men want to retain the status quo although not everyone is prepared to take countermeasures to achieve it. Some men choose to be sidelined in the tacit resistance - they become bystanders.
‘Most uncharitable of you,’ Van der Huffen responded, looking at Talbut and his group of men, ‘in word and planned deed.’
‘Shabby,’ Selton added.
‘You follow our drift?’ Van der Huffen said to the men, ‘A reflection of the ignoble spirit that drives —’
‘Give it a rest,’ Fuller said. ‘We get it! You’re not party to that book.’
‘Were Selton and I ever?’
‘And sadly the wheels are already wobbling on the fac¬ulty wagon,’ Talbut said. ‘So ladies, how did you find your classes?’
The other men don't openly plot to get rid of the minority group, but they don't compromise or give ground either. Therefore, what follows is a natural resistance to change in the hope that the
In real terms in the novel, that translated to a change in the way business was done within the faculty and the withdrawal of collegiate support for the newcomers that previously had been standard practice amongst the men. The women were given the hardest and worst jobs to do. They were denied access to corporate knowledge to do the jobs. The women became isolated and alienated from the corporate group, in this case the male English teaching staff. The passive aggression of the men translated to a lack of support for the women and a subsequent shift in attitudes toward classroom discipline. Consequently, the women were subjected to abuse and harassment and expected to 'go it alone'.
The treatment of the women mirrors the previously observed and learnt behaviours of the faculty men who are entrenched and indoctrinated in the wider school system and its processes. The Coachman subplot explores how the system reacts to efforts to achieve change. His recognition of the need for change involved a partial withdrawal from the larger group and its practices. Within the wider system, Coachman is subject to the same process of estrangement as the women.
You will find the complete discussion in Belonging: A Related Text Companion: In and out of Step. You can buy the companion from this website or from Amazon