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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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6. Identity and capacity to aspire


Today we took a group of primary kids [from a disadvantaged school in a suburb in a capital city in a Southern Australian state] to the beach, and some kids expressed surprise that the water tasted salty! (Fieldnote from discussion with an Australian grade 1 teacher, sometime in 1994).

We have fourteen year old students who have never been to our state capital (in Australia)…one hour away by train (Principal, City Campus, Federation City High School, Australia, nd).

We start this chapter with two fairly shocking anecdotes to make the point about where we are writing from—all writing is positioned in some way, and in our case our positioning is one that seeks to challenge and undermine dominant or conventional positions.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that educational policy makers in western countries have gone into hyperdrive in recent times around the issue of ‘aspirations’—especially the alleged absence among students from disadvantaged backgrounds. We want to trouble this viewpoint and supplant it with a more complex and nuanced view of what is involved in ‘capacity to aspire’ from the vantage point of the lives of young people, their families, schools, and the contexts in which they are located.

Some of the tendencies that have focused on the superficial and the misleading thinking around a topic like ‘aspiration’, have been most evident in the UK, but so too have been some of the most forceful...

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