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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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1. Setting the stage: exposing the ‘grand erasure’

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Our Australian colleague sociologist Raewyn Connell (2007) has very usefully sparked off a feisty debate in her Southern Theory: the Global Dynamics of Knowledge in Social Science. To cut to the chase, the essence of Connell’s argument is that the social sciences have become totally captured by models and forms of thinking of the ‘metropole’, which is to say, the ‘rich countries’ (predominantly located in the global north), to the detriment and exclusion of other perspectives that are located on the periphery (that is say in the global ‘south’ or poorer countries) and that have a much more ‘indigenous’ or ‘local’ inflection.

Connell (2007) uses the term ‘southern theory’ for three reasons. First, she says, ‘the phrase calls attention to periphery-centre relations in the realm of knowledge’ (p. viii) and the largely invisible construal of this relationship. The intent on Connell’s part is not to present ‘a sharply bounded category of states or societies, but to emphasize relations—authority and exclusion, hegemony, partnership, sponsorship, appropriation—between intellectuals and institutions in the metropole and those in the world periphery’ (pp. viii–ix). Second, Connell (2007) is seeking to draw attention to the historical situation whereby ‘the [southern] majority of the world does produce theory’ (p. ix), but in a context of denial such that while ‘data gathering and application happen in the colony…theorizing happens [only] in the metropole’ (p. ix)—in other words, the reinforcement of yet another invisibility. Third, for Connell (2007), ‘social thought happens...

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