Table Of Contents
- About the author(s)/editor(s)
- About the book
- In Praise of the First Edition
- This eBook can be cited
- Foreword: Putting Those ‘Living on the Edge’ at the Centre of Educational Policy and Practice Bob Lingard
- Preface for the Second Edition
- Introduction: Living on the Edge: Rethinking Poverty, Class and Schooling
- Class and Schooling
- Locating the Causes
- A Dialectical Approach
- Remaking the Link
- Part One: Understanding Class and Poverty
- Chapter One: Making Sense of Class
- The Relationship between Poverty and Class
- A Historical Overview
- Economics and Culture
- A Classless Society?
- Bourdieu, Cultural Capital, and Class Reproduction
- What Is the Middle Class?
- Underclass: The Politics of Class Contempt
- Recognition and Redistribution
- The Consequences for Educational Theory
- Why Class Matters
- Chapter Two: Understanding Poverty in the Twenty-first Century
- The Changing Face of Poverty
- Defining Poverty
- The Experience of Poverty
- Differences—Race, Gender, Disability
- The Geography of Poverty
- Defeats and Demoralization
- Stigma and Marginalization
- Cultures of Poverty: The Roots of Underclass Discourse
- Growing up in Poverty
- Part Two: Blaming Individuals, Families and Communities
- Chapter Three: Material Poverty and ‘Problem’ Neighborhoods
- The Material and Symbolic Effects of Poverty on Human Development
- The Geography of Capitalist Development
- The Mapping of Class onto Urban Space
- The Interpenetration of Spatial Scales
- Social Capital
- Children’s Experiences of Disadvantaged Neighborhoods
- Poor Places and Young People’s Engagement with Schooling
- Learning to Speak Back
- Chapter Four: Blaming Individuals and Blaming Their Genes
- Other Concepts of Ability
- The Social History of IQ
- Intelligence Testing and Social Selection
- The Identical Twins Studies
- Declining Trust in Intelligence Testing
- The Zombie Influence of IQ Measurement
- New Thinking, New Practice
- Chapter Five: Speaking the Wrong Language
- The Emergence of Language Deficit Theories
- The Logic of Nonstandard English
- Restricted Codes and Limited Horizons
- A Flawed Research Methodology
- A Faulty Class Analysis
- Alternative Explanations
- Professional Impact
- The Revival of Linguistic Deficit
- Selling Snake Oil
- Poverty and Parenting
- A Way Forward
- Chapter Six: Aspirations and “Cultures of Poverty”
- Policies of Aspiration
- Psychologizing Disengagement
- Positions and Stances within a Field
- Aspirational Maps
- The Complexity of Aspiring against the Odds
- Part Three: The Role of the School
- Chapter Seven: Neoliberal School Reform: Blaming Teachers, Blaming Schools
- The Slow Development of State Education
- Neoliberalism and Accountability
- School Effectiveness Research
- Effective Engagement with Students and Families
- School Effectiveness: A New Form of Deficit Theory
- Blaming Schools for Poverty: “If They Can Do It, Why Can’t You?”
- The Distribution of Material Resources
- Markets and Privatization
- School Privatization
- School Effectiveness: What Brings Results?
- So, Do Schools Make a Difference?
- Chapter Eight: Improving Schools or Transforming Them: The Politics of Social Justice
- Discourses of Educational Change
- Improving Schools for Social Justice
- Ethos, Discipline, and Respect
- School Culture
- Streaming, Setting, Tracking . . . and Expectations
- Critical Community Engagement
- Confronting some Murky Territory
- Chapter Nine: Poor Kids Need Rich Teaching
- Education: Liberation or Control?
- Pedagogies of Poverty
- Cognitive Challenge and Key Skills
- The Faulty Politics of Raising Standards
- Authentic or Alienated Learning?
- Open Architectures and Authentic Assessment
- Connecting Cognition with Experience
- Real Literacy: Liberating Voice, Agency and Identity
- Curriculum Reform: The Dilemma of Relevance
- When Policy Makes Matters Worse
- Part Four: “Walking the Talk”: Pedagogical Responses to Poverty and Social Exclusion in Schools
- Chapter Ten: “Live on the Edge… Be the Best You Can”: An Australian Study of Student-Oriented Curriculum at Plainsville School
- Methodological Features
- A Portrait of Plainsville School
- Student-Initiated Curriculum at Plainsville
- Talking Circles and Learning Plans
- Revelations from Portraits
- Portrait #1: Robert (Ex-student)
- Portrait # 2: Mary Lou (Principal)
- Portrait #3: Matthew (Novice Teacher)
- Discussion: Rethinking Poverty, Class, and Schooling at Plainsville
- Contesting Deficit Views of Young People in Poverty
- “Live on the Edge”: A Paradigm Shift in Curriculum and Pedagogy
- Student Voice—Giving Students a Genuine Say in Their Learning
- Bringing the Community into the School
- Bold and Courageous Leadership
- Socially Just Schooling
- Ongoing Tensions and Struggles
- Concluding Comments
- Chapter Eleven: “This Is a Bit of a Life Saver for Me”: Insights from Stepping Out, an Alternative Education Program for Students “Living on the Edge” in Regional Australia
- Poverty, Deprivation and Educational Disadvantage in Rural and Regional Australia
- Something about the Regional Setting, the Community and Schooling
- Stepping Out
- A Little about the Lives and Circumstances of Participants
- Voiced Research: Listening with Intent
- Re-engagement with Learning: Revelations from Portraits
- Portrait #1 Ben (Student)
- Portrait #2 Christine (Student)
- Dialogic Portrait #3 Mia and Chloe (Students)
- Portrait #4 Simon (Student)
- Portrait #5 Shirley (Student)
- Portrait #6 Jenny (Student)
- Portrait #7 William (Student)
- Portrait #8 Dianne and Ruby (Students)
- Portrait #9 Kate (Manager and Teacher)
- Portrait #10 Wendy (Maternal Health Care Nurse)
- Discussion and Reflections
- How and Why Did Our Young Participants Get to Be in Stepping Out?
- What Was Young People’s Experience of Learning and Living in Stepping Out?
- Affirming Agency, Identity and Self-worth: “I’m in Control”
- Fostering Relationships: “They Take You as You Are”
- Liberating Pedagogies: “You Bring Your Life in Here”
- Developing Social and Community Networks: “Stepping Out Is Much More Than School”
- Has Stepping Out Made a Difference?
- What Are the Problematic Aspects of Alternative Education Programs?
- Conclusion: Schools for Social Justice: Theories of Good Practice
- The Emotions of Class
- False Beliefs and Harmful Policies
- Some Directions for Research
- Rethinking Schools for Social Justice
- Systems of Inequality
- Some Principles of Renewal
- Ethos: Enacting Democratic Forms of Practice
- Being Community-Minded
- The Curriculum and Pedagogy
- The Change Process: Meaningful Collaboration and Purposeful Leadership
- Final Words
- Author Index
- Subject Index
- Series index
Sometimes books come about as a result of long processes of professional interaction that culminate in bringing the work into existence. This is not such a book. Before starting to write this book, Terry and John had only a cursory relationship, had never met face-to-face, and even now have had only limited contact with one another. The fact that a text as complex as this one could be written against this background is testimony to the power of ideas and the passion with which we hold them. In an era in which egos are everything, we had an incredibly generous and harmonious professional relationship in bringing this book into existence.
John extends his appreciation to the Australian Research Council for the several grants that supported his thinking lying behind some parts of this book. Appreciation is expressed to the remarkable people at Peter Lang Publishing—Chris Myers and Bernadette Shade in particular, in the first edition of the book—who continue to believe in the importance of our work, and to Joe DeVitis who has been such an academic stalwart as series editor in supporting our work. As always, he is incredibly grateful to Solveiga for her contribution to the formatting aspects and for reminding him that there is more to life than writing books!
Terry wishes first of all to thank Bob Lingard for his ongoing support and in particular for his timely advice to examine the wider sociology before returning to the world of education. Also thanks to Lew Zipin who struggled through the draft of the first edition and made many perceptive suggestions for its revision. ← vii | viii → Finally, to Kathy for being so tolerant: from time to time she tries to explain that retirement from a full-time university post should mean taking things easy, but he is such a slow learner.
We wish to thank the many committed and creative teachers who have found diverse ways to make a difference to young people’s learning and lives in very difficult circumstances. It has been a privilege to see them at work and to listen to the explanations and theories they have formed. Thanks also to academic colleagues in many countries who have helped us clarify our thinking.
Finally, we are very much aware of the political context of our writing. Poverty shows no sign of abating in this Age of Austerity, as governments try to make the many pay for the greed and folly of the few. We continue to be encouraged by the energy, courage and resistance of millions around the world who continue to fight for a better future.
For this second edition, we would like to express our deep gratitude to our faithful band of readers who through their support for the first edition, have made this revised version possible. We also express our appreciation to the Teachers College Record for permission to use an abridged version of our paper in Chapter 10, originally published as Smyth and McInerney (2007a). We also extend our sincere appreciation to the schools, students, teachers, parents and community members involved in the original research reported in Chapters 10 and 11—“Plainsville” and “Merino Plains”, and to the South Australian Department of Education and Child Development, and the Victorian Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, respectively. The research reported upon in the two cases studies, was made possible through an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant (2002–2004), in the first instance, and an Australian Research Council (ARC) Linkage Grant (2010–2012), in the second instance.
This is an important book concerning more socially just ways of educating disadvantaged young people. It builds on the influential work that both John Smyth and Terry Wrigley have done over the years. The book re-examines many of the faulty explanations and damaging policies which continue to dominate educational practices and exacerbate the problems of poverty. Never content with simply producing a critique, the authors develop a well-theorized basis for a socially just and pedagogically productive education.
This book is especially relevant in the contemporary geo-political and policy context. Despite the depredations of the global financial crisis, neo-liberalism still remains intact, almost inviolate as the framework for education and other public policies across the globe, albeit vernacularized in its mediated impact in different nations. Associated austerity policies or dogma about surplus budgets as political responses to the crisis have most impact on those with real unmet needs, with unjust effects.
In Living on the Edge, Smyth and Wrigley draw on good evidence and analysis of how and why schools produce and reproduce class-based inequalities. They reject ‘blaming the victim’ accounts of class-based underachievement in schools: specifically, they expose the poverty of accounts based on supposed pathologies, whether located in individual deficits (e.g., low intelligence), family defects (e.g., a lack of aspirations for their children) or community dysfunction (e.g., the underclass ← ix | x → myth). They point to material poverty as the root cause, while acknowledging that poverty does have profound psychological and cultural effects.
They also reject accounts that blame teachers and schools located in such communities. A sustained and myopic focus on teachers and quality teaching has become the policy mantra in most societies today. In this policy setting, sharper control of the teaching process and a competitive version of ‘accountability’ are regarded as the ways towards better learning outcomes for all students, denying contextual influences on student performance. This accountability gaze on teachers and schools distracts from the need to challenge politicians and policy makers and hold them to account on the basis of ‘opportunity to learn standards’ for impoverished populations, that is, the provision of resources of many kinds necessary to socially just outcomes.
In Living on the Edge, Smyth and Wrigley proffer a structural account of the impact of social class and poverty, but one which brings into focus the cultural mediations of class divisions. They make good use of Bourdieu in this respect. In a challenge to much contemporary sociology of education, they bring a relational class analysis back into their account and recognize in so doing the ways in which globalization has affected class structures in relational ways across developed and developing countries. They also rightly acknowledge the intersectionality of class with gender, ethnicity, race and sexuality. We also probably need to think about digital technologies and their effects on contemporary class relations and cultural manifestations of class.
Yet, on the basis of schools they know and have worked and researched with, they nonetheless also proffer a substantiated argument that schools and teachers can make a difference here and now through changed school culture, different leadership practices, through pedagogies of hope—‘rich teaching’ in their terms. Rather than locating blame with marginalized young people or with those who teach them, they pursue an interactionist understanding of how teaching can reconnect to learners’ lives, through school/community engagement and recognition of the deep ‘funds of knowledge’ embedded in all communities, however disadvantaged they are made by contemporary economics and public policy.
At the same time, they also recognize that a broader political project is needed to move towards more socially just schooling and a more socially just society, particularly in this age of neo-liberal globalization and growing inequality within and between nations. With Anyon (2005) and Hayes et al. (2006), they recognize and outline how schools and teachers can make a difference but not all the difference: complementary social and economic policies are required that confront cruel social and economic inequalities. This point is also well made by Condron (2011), who writes about inequities in US schooling and the failure of policymakers to recognize the educational effects of an inequitable social structure and inequitable funding of schools. There is an important educational politics, and broader politics, ← x | xi → deeply embedded in the analysis provided by John Smyth and Terry Wrigley in Living on the Edge, which offers a perceptive critique of contemporary politics, in addition to a practical educational politics of hope.
The educational politics of Living on the Edge argues the ethical necessity of redistributive politics so that extra monies are expended on schools in poor communities in response to complex barriers to learning. These politics also acknowledge the need for recognitive justice in such schools, whereby cultural differences are accepted, supported and valorized; schools need to work with and value difference. In terms of school and community engagement, a new representative politics is needed that supports and works with community funds of knowledge, to scaffold a transformative change in school pedagogies and curriculum. Schools need to be in their communities and encourage communities in the school. New horizontal accountabilities are also needed between schools and their communities, and communities and their school.
Smyth and Wrigley also address the negative impact of high stakes testing on pedagogies. High stakes testing serves to restrict the breadth and reach of curriculum, particularly for schools in poor communities, where contemporary policies of accountability have their most reductive effects. This is well exemplified in Australia: the Gillard Government is to be commended for their redistribution of federal monies into schools serving low socio-economic status communities, but unfortunately the accountability for such redistributive monies is framed largely in terms of improved performance on what have become high stakes literacy and numeracy tests. This has seen the introduction of scripted pedagogies—‘pedagogies of poverty’ in Smyth and Wrigley’s terms—in many schools serving poor communities, thus enhancing curricular inequalities. Smyth and Wrigley are surely correct to argue that, instead, enriching and intellectually demanding pedagogies are an imperative in such schools. Quality of pedagogies is a social justice issue. We also need to think about curricular justice.
In their account of necessary school reform, Smyth and Wrigley challenge the school effectiveness and school improvement literatures for their anodyne politics and failure to challenge reductionist goals for contemporary schooling, especially for young people living in poverty. They suggest both of these reform approaches demand an intensification of what schools are already doing and that this does not work. Einstein is reported to have said that insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome. Such a view is central to Smyth and Wrigley’s stinging critique of school reform practices to date. They also offer such a critique of the thinned-out ‘policy as numbers’ approach which accompanies high stakes testing today and which substitutes for the lack of imagination about what schools can and should be aiming to achieve for all students.
Despite the global financial crisis, neo-liberalism appears hegemonic. Implicitly, Smyth and Wrigley argue the need for a new social imaginary to underpin ← xi | xii → a new politics and educational policy: other globalizations are possible (see Rizvi and Lingard, 2010, Ch 9). This is the bigger political project embedded in the argument of Living on the Edge, one that challenges the possessive individualism underpinning neo-liberalism and foregrounds instead concerns for the common good. The explication of such a politics would require another book, but the necessity of such a new politics rings loudly from the pages of this one.
There are important lessons here for all involved in education: politicians, policymakers, principals, teachers, students, parents and communities. There are recommendations for changes in practice and policy right now, to provide better schooling for all young people, but especially those young people living in poverty for whom schooling is the only way to a better future. They also argue most persuasively that this is the way to better societies and a better future for all. Darling-Hammond (2010) has argued similarly in The Flat World and Education, suggesting that the USA’s future depends upon achieving more equitable schooling and a more equal society. Sahlberg (2011) has also argued this position in his Finnish Lessons, a book that demonstrates how Finland’s high quality and high equity school system correlates to low levels of social inequality, equitable provision of schooling (all students attend government schools), valuing the professionalism of highly educated teachers, early intervention for students in danger of falling behind, and rejection of the neo-liberal policy frame that underpins school reform in Anglo-American countries (see Ball, 2013). John Smyth and Terry Wrigley offer an agenda for a way forward and a progressive politics of education. Their arguments and analyses are vital for all those committed to more socially just schooling. From a social justice perspective, it is difficult to argue with their stance that young people living on the edge should be put at the centre of educational policy and practice.
School of Education and the Institute for Social Science Research
The University of Queensland
Many things have transpired since the original edition of this book in 2013, and not all of them have been for the better. The parlous and precarious state of disadvantaged young people in schools has become even more poignant with Brexit in the UK and the election of Donald Trump in the US and variants of populist politics on the rise in many other countries, including Australia.
While these wider developments may seem on the surface to not directly impact schooling, at a deeper level they are a profound reflection of the state of unease and anger also being expressed within the body politic of education—they have the same exclusionary genesis. The young people who are rejecting schooling—or the reverse, being ejected from school—are the progeny of the same voters who brought on Brexit and that elected Trump. How to understand and make sense of these developments is one of the sociological challenges of our times, and it is something we seek to do in this revised edition through the inclusion of two close-up case studies of young peoples’ educational lives while living on the edge.
But before we come to that, it may be worth commenting briefly on the deeper issues that are framing these young lives because there has been a good deal of misinformation and misunderstanding, some of it mischievous.
We can get to our point fairly quickly by citing from an interesting albeit quixotic venture by an English academic J. D. Taylor (2017). In the spirit of William Cobbett (a 19th-century British social reformer who rode around on ← xiii | xiv → horseback recording observations of what was happening in villages and towns and published in 1830 as Rural Rides) and George Orwell (who wrote his 1937 book on the living conditions of the working class in northern England in his Road to Wigan Pier while living in poor communities), in the months following the 2016 Brexit referendum, Taylor spent time cycling through the ex-industrial towns of the Midlands and the north of England that had voted so strongly for Brexit. Taylor followed up places he had visited two years earlier, having serendipitous conversations with people he encountered, around the guiding question “what is life like here?” (Taylor, 2017, p. 2).
What Taylor (2017) found himself speaking back to was that the stereotype of “Barnsely man”—a shorthand derogatory depiction of the “old, white, working class, ignorant, racist and unable to speak without losing his temper” (p. 2)—which he discovered to be a far too simplistic and limiting narrative. Rather, what Taylor found was a deep and long-standing resentment among the people he spoke with towards metropolitan elites, generally labelled as “London”, and who were seen through their greed as having been responsible for the demise of once proud and viable working-class communities. What he found were people who had lost their cultural identity, and who were forced to survive either on welfare or in poorly paid service work typified by “call centres” where they had become trapped in a cycle of poorly paid, insecure, demeaning and stressful work. As Taylor cycled from “one former industrial town to the next” (p. 4), he not only saw the result of industrial collapse but he also observed an overwhelming pattern of “unpredictable” shift work that came with “zero hours contracts” (p. 5). Taylor’s stories were of people in ex-industrial and rural areas who expressed feelings of having been “left behind” and excluded by metropolitan developments. Taylor invokes Jeremy Seabrook’s (2016) explanation of what he calls the “unhealed social and psychological lesions of class”—that is to say, people who have not been “given the chance to grieve for the industries they have lost and around which generations of communities had developed” (p. 9)—what Bright (2016), among others, calls a form of “social haunting”. The tension here is to see the “working class” as constituting those who have suffered a loss of pride through the disappearance of “manual work”, but the reality as Taylor notes is that if the notion of working class is to mean anything then it probably more accurately encompasses “those who must work, will work, or have had to work full-time for a basic living” (p. 10).
As with what has happened elsewhere in the world, none of what Taylor observed has happened only recently—it has been well in train for the best part of half a century. In the case of Britain, “The Brexit vote has exposed rather than initiated the incoherence” of people “just trying to get by” (p. 9). Taylor’s observations are consistent with those in the “unwinding” (Packer, 2014) of the US rustbelt (see also Dandaneau, 1996; Linkon & Russo, 2002; Murray, 2012; ← xiv | xv → Young, 2013), and the “revolt” that has followed (Bageant 2008, 2010; Smith, 2011; Vance, 2016) as Americans have variously become “strangers in their own land” (Hochschild, 2016) enduring the “necessary trouble” (Jaffe, 2016) that has taken its latest form in the election of Donald Trump. Similar trends exist too in Australia in rustbelt states like South Australia with the demise of the car manufacturing industry (Peel, 1995; Thomson, 2002), and in the western suburbs of other large Australian cities (Peel, 2003).
These wider framing issues clearly have the potential, at least, to have a “haunting” effect on what occurs in schools. Young people do not park their lives at the school gate or the classroom door, and what goes on in their lives beyond school powerfully impacts what transpires inside school.
What the case studies to this revised edition do is both provide an elaboration of these wider social forces, while at the same time providing some concrete contexts to the theoretical ideas canvassed in the remainder of the book. Our intent in providing these case studies is threefold; first, to provide some positive accounts of schools that are struggling to work with young lives disrupted by the kind of major social and economic eruptions already alluded to; second, to give a realistic, but not excessively rosy, account of what schools can do to try and repair young lives through education; and third, to provide this alternative narrative to the dominant despairing one provided by the media and that is in the wider public imagination, by giving the accounts through the voices of young people. The emphasis is upon what was happening to their lives, a different set of educational conditions that had been brought into existence, and how their lives were impacted as a result.
John Smyth and Peter McInerney
- XVIII, 310
- ISBN (PDF)
- ISBN (ePUB)
- ISBN (MOBI)
- ISBN (Softcover)
- Publication date
- 2018 (March)
- underachievement education theory
- New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. XVIII, 310 pp., 1 b/w ill.