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Doing Critical Educational Research

A Conversation with the Research of John Smyth

Series:

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.

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Chapter Two: Teachers’ Work

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c h a p t e r t w o Teachers’ Work Towards an Imagined Future—Some Reflections from John Smyth Prolegomenon Norman Denzin (2013), commenting on the effect C. W. Mills had on him as a young scholar entering graduate school, provides a nice entry point for my own reflexive piece on teachers’ work. According to Denzin (2013): Mills exhorted sociologists to write from their biographies into the spaces of history and culture. He urged writers with the sociological imagination to connect biography and history, to join the personal with the public (p. 1). What I want to do here is reinsert myself in my historical past, in order to create the conditions to write myself into the present and bring the readers of this book along as well. I formed the view very early on in my academic career, after leaving high school teaching to work in higher education in the early 1970s, that disparaging, deforming and distorting the work of teaching was seen as ‘fair game’ by govern- ments around the world, and the situation has worsened immeasurably since then. 12 | doing critical educational research At the same time, it is a self-evident truth that hardly needs extensive re- hearsing, that the work of teachers is crucial to sustaining civilized, democratic and productive societies. Over the past four decades in most western countries we have witnessed a vicious, relentless and damaging assault on the work of teachers. Throughout that period I have been tracking, analyzing and discussing...

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