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Becoming Educated

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


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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2. Going about our research craft: critical researchers as political authors


‘I am definitely staying here when I leave school. I am not interested in going somewhere else. It’s very close to my family and everything I need is here. I think there will be employment opportunities’ (Sally, year 11 student).

‘Leaving this community isn’t going to be a big issue for me. I really couldn’t give a rat’s arse about this place. It’s not a place I’d like to raise kids or do anything here’ (Brett, year 11 student).

‘I don’t like this city very much but at the moment I don’t have a choice. I can’t live anywhere else’ (Jasmine, year 11 student).

In this chapter we discuss the theoretical foundations, methodological directions and representational features of a critical ethnographic approach to the research which underpins this study. In particular, we outline the major elements of an extended case study incorporating young peoples’ narratives of disadvantage, class, place and identity in regional Australia. As illustrated above, young people’s conflicting narratives of place and identity make for fascinating reading, yet all too often what they have to say about their life circumstances, experiences and aspirations is relegated to the margins of policy texts. In foregrounding their perspectives, we affirm that ‘young people are experts in their own lives’ (Mason & Danby, 2011, p.185) and possess unique knowledge and insights that cannot be obtained from adult informants and second-hand accounts. Mason and Danby (2011) in their appropriately titled paper ‘Children as Experts in...

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