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Critical Politics of Teachers' Work

An Australian Perspective

John Smyth

This book is about the damage that has been systematically inflicted upon teachers’ work globally over the past two or more decades. It chronicles and traces the major policy maneuvers in what can only be described as «difficult times». The effects are not hard to see in the language of the new technologies of power: competencies, vocationalization of the curriculum, appraisal, testing, accountability, restructuring, enterprise culture, and self-management, as well as through the cooption of progressive categories like collegiality, teacher development, and other reflective approaches to teaching. While these discourses mark out the oppressive contours of teaching there still exists considerable space to imagine and live out alternative discourses and practices. The way out of the miasma, it is argued, is to robustly confront and vigorously supplant dominant managerialist discourses with agenda and practices that are more democratic, educative, and socially just.
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‘Dropping Out’, Drifting Off, Being Excluded

Becoming Somebody Without School

John Smyth and Robert Hattam

This book deals with one of the most urgent, damaging, and complex issues affecting young lives and contemporary society in general – the escalating high school dropout rate. Though against the wishes of teachers and school administrators, young people’s decision to leave school is usually made under circumstances that provide little time or space for discussion. This book provides a disturbing account of how students’ voices are over-ridden – lost in the imposition of curriculum and the rush to impose testing, accountability, and management regimes on schools. ‘Dropping Out’, Drifting Off, Being Excluded reveals the complex stories that surround identity formation in young lives and the «interactive trouble» as young people struggle to be heard within inhospitable schools and an equally unhelpful education system.
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From Silent Witnesses to Active Agents

Student Voice in Re-engaging with Learning

John Smyth and Peter McInerney

Although they are typically viewed as silent witnesses in schools during the worldwide infatuation with school reform, this book, in fact, reveals young people to be active agents with something worthwhile to say about their schooling and what might be done to make learning more exciting and relevant to their lives and aspirations. The authors foreground the stories of some 100 young informants from low socioeconomic backgrounds who had been repelled by school, but found their way back in to learning through alternative education programs that offered them a sense of direction, hope, and purpose – although they also presented them with some tensions and dilemmas. At a time when educational policies are bearing down heavily on schools through national testing regimes, accountability standards, and other repressive measures, it is refreshing to hear from young people about ways that schools can be made more humane and educationally rewarding places.
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Teachers in the Middle

Reclaiming the Wasteland of the Adolescent Years of Schooling

John Smyth and Peter McInerney

There is a profound and deepening crisis afflicting secondary schools in most parts of the world – but at its essence it is a crisis of a very different kind from the one portrayed by the media, the business community, politicians, and policy makers. Just what constitutes the crisis is highly problematic. What is being constructed for us through a concerted «conservative assault» and a «new authoritarianism» is one of failure by young people, their schools, and their teachers. But as with any moral panic, there are undisclosed interests and agenda operating, and they are not those of the people most directly affected, in this case young people.
This book tackles those myths head-on. Through a multi-layered portrait analysis of young lives, adult lives, and school lives this book shows how schools, teachers, and young people are re-inventing themselves against the damaging prevailing educational policy discourses. Teachers are «in the middle» in all kinds of ways – they are a group who are continually being disparaged, pilloried, and denigrated by politicians and the media; they are caught in the shifting tectonic plates of capitalism as schools are increasingly required to do economic work; and they are continually mediating the emotional, social, and intellectual intersections between schools, society, classrooms, and young lives. Teachers in the Middle provides a critique as well as hope and possibility as schools engage pedagogically with the maelstrom in which they find themselves.
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Becoming Educated

Young People’s Narratives of Disadvantage, Class, Place and Identity

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John Smyth and Peter McInerney

Becoming Educated examines the education of young people, especially those from the most ‘disadvantaged’ contexts. The book argues that because the focus has been obdurately and willfully on the wrong things – blaming students; measuring, testing and comparing them; and treating families and communities in demeaning ways that convert them into mere ‘consumers’ – that the resulting misdiagnoses have produced a damaging ensemble of faulty ‘solutions.’ By shifting the emphasis to looking at what is going on ‘inside’ young lives and communities, this book shifts the focus to matters such as taking social class into consideration, puncturing notions of poverty and disadvantage, understanding neighborhoods as places of hope and creating spaces within which to listen to young peoples’ aspirations. These are a radically different set of constructs from the worn-out ones that continue to be trotted out, and, if understood and seriously attended to, they have the potential to make a real difference in young lives. This is a book that ought to be read by all who claim to know what is in the best interests of young people who are becoming educated.
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Living on the Edge

Rethinking Poverty, Class and Schooling, Second Edition

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John Smyth, Terry Wrigley and Peter McInerney

Living on the Edge: Rethinking Poverty, Class and Schooling, Second Edition confronts one of the most enduring and controversial issues in education—the nexus between poverty and underachievement. This topic stubbornly remains a key contemporary battleground in the struggle to raise standards. Living on the Edge maps and compares a number of competing explanations, critiques inadequate and deficit accounts and offers a more convincing and useful theory. The authors challenge the view that problems can be fixed by discrete initiatives, which in many instances are deeply rooted in deficit views of youth, families and communities. The book systematically interrogates a range of explanations based outside as well as inside schools. It draws upon positive examples of schools which are succeeding in engaging marginalized young people, providing worthwhile forms of learning and improving young lives. This second edition contains two expansive case studies that exemplify, explain and illustrate the themes coursing through the book. Living on the Edge's second edition remains a "must read" for anyone concerned about or implicated in the struggle for more socially just forms of education.

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‘Hanging in with Kids’ in Tough Times

Engagement in Contexts of Educational Disadvantage in the Relational School

John Smyth, Barry Down and Peter McInerney

This book brings a unique, innovative and refreshing perspective to one of the most protracted issues affecting young lives – disengagement from schooling. Rather than continuing to blame young people, as most educational policies do, this book examines disengagement from the vantage point of the lives, experiences, interests and aspirations of the communities from which young people come, and within which they are embedded. It uses a narrative and representational approach that gives detailed insights into the wider context of poverty, class, power, relationships and identity. A major and defining hallmark of the book is the emphasis it places upon a number of ‘doings’, – including community voice, identity formation, critical work education and education policy – all of which provide a very different set of scripts with which to reinvent the institution of high school.
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Critically Engaged Learning

Connecting to Young Lives

John Smyth, Lawrence Angus, Barry Down and Peter McInerney

This book – the finale in a trilogy by the authors – traces the way in which a number of disadvantaged schools and communities were able to move beyond deficit, victim-blaming and pathologizing approaches and access resources of trust, relationships, connectedness and hope. It describes how these Australian schools and communities were able to benefit from working with ‘street-level’ bureaucrats who had reinvented themselves around notions of socially just forms of capacity-building. The book provides a set of insights into what is possible from a critical engagement for school and community renewal perspective, by working with the resources that exist within disadvantaged contexts, even in damaging neoliberal policy times. Critically Engaged Learning breaks new and important ground across urgent and fractured boundaries.
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Doing Critical Educational Research

A Conversation with the Research of John Smyth

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John Smyth, Barry Down, Peter McInerney and Robert Hattam

John Smyth’s remarkable body of writing, research and scholarship has spanned four decades, and the urgency of our times makes it imperative to look in some depth at the breadth of his research and its trajectory, in order to see how we can connect, extend, build and enrich our understandings from it. Possibly the single most unique aspect to Smyth’s version of critical research is his passion for living and ‘doing’ what it means to be a critical pedagogue. For him, ‘doing’ is a verb that gives expression to what he believes it means to be a critical scholar. This necessitates actively listening to lives; taking on an advocacy position with informant groups; displaying a commitment to praxis; and being activist in celebrating ‘local responses’ to global issues. Smyth’s research is pursued with vigour through the lives he researches, as he interrupts and punctures ‘bad’ theory, supplanting it with more democratic alternatives, which, by his own admission, makes his research (and all research), political.