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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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5. Celebrating space, place and neighborhoods

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In this chapter our starting point is one that is markedly at variance with the ways in which neighborhoods are usually portrayed or thought about in poor or disadvantaged areas. They are invariably regarded as ‘problem’ places that are dysfunctional and that need to be fixed. This is not to say that neighborhoods officially designated as being ‘disadvantaged’ do not have very considerable material and social issues in need of urgent attention. Our approach, however, departs significantly from official approaches that write off neighborhoods experiencing difficulties as ‘basket cases’ and that ‘red-line’ them so as to target them with ‘solutions’ to supposedly ‘fix’ the problem. We think this is a demeaning and wrong approach.

The chapter is organized into two parts. First we dissect and contest the negative construals of poor neighborhoods presented as unmitigated ‘bundles of pathologies’ (Warren, Thompson & Saegert, 2001) requiring resuscitation and in desperate need of being ‘fixed up’. Second, we proceed in the direction of developing what Wacquant (2008) refers to as some new ‘tools for rethinking…marginality’ (p. 8) based on the view that neighborhoods possess ‘rich cultural traditions and social resources that have much to offer the work of schools’ (Warren, 2005, p. 135).

Our starting point here is theoretically anchored in Lefebvre’s (1991) argument that spaces are not neutral in the sense that they are ‘thing like’ and able to be manipulated and fetishized. As Lefebvre (1991) cogently put it ← 81 | 82 → ‘space…serves as a...

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