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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 Three: Students’ Lives

Extract

   CHAPTER THREE

What’s Someone Like Me Doing in an Area Like this?

This might be a good oeuvre with which to open up this section of the book. We live in what are undeniably ‘marketized’ times. There is seemingly no domain of life that has not been reduced to market value in the neo-liberal turn. The irony is, that in respect of schooling, the primary beneficiaries—students (?)—have been systematically and willfully excluded from being allowed to express their preferences, feelings and aspirations in respect of their own education. The effects of this exclusion are demonstrably on display in all kinds of ways. In the absence of any official space in which to ‘have a say’, young people have made their feelings known through their alienation, disaffection and disengagement from what is on offer in schools.

Back to my opening question—how come someone like me with Masters and PhD degrees in educational administration and policy and an undergraduate degree in Commerce and Economics is doing research on students’ lives? The short answer is that when you have been up close to dishonest, fake and diminished ← 39 | 40 → thinking, it makes you want to find more refreshing and robust ways of confronting and approaching complex problems. After many years of falsely believing that fields like educational management, leadership, policy and administration were committed to understanding and improving the complexities of young lives, I became convinced that this was not their primary agenda at all...

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