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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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3. From deficits and deficiencies to strengths and capabilities: puncturing notions of disadvantage

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Hopefully I’m going to [university] next year. If I get a high enough score I would like to do physiotherapy and there will be more options…Mum and dad left school early. They expected me to drop out in the first couple of years of secondary school and get an apprenticeship. When I said I just wanted to finish school their jaws just dropped. I will be the first one in my extended family to finish school (Derek, aged 17 years, New Vision Community College, 2011).

Australia Day is commemorated as a national holiday on the 26th of January—a date which marks the anniversary of the arrival of the first fleet of convict ships from Great Britain and the raising of the Union Jack at Sydney Cove in 1788. According to patriotic sentiment, the official purpose of the day is for all Australians to come together to celebrate what is great about their nation and being an Australian citizen. It’s an occasion to fly the flag, participate in civic and community events or simply have a barbecue with family and friends. Not all Australians share this sense of pride and rejoicing. For many Aboriginal people, January 26th is a day of mourning marking as it does the beginnings of a colonial era which resulted in the dispossession of their lands and the destruction of families and cultural traditions. One of the most disturbing aspects of the day is the uncritical celebration of Australia’s culture, values...

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