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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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7. Re-framing what it means to be educated

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Elsewhere in our writing we have explored extensively and intensively why it is that so many young people in affluent western countries are giving up on school (see: Smyth, et al., 2000; Smyth & Hattam, 2004; Smyth & McInerney, 2007; 2012), and with such damaging and devastating consequences on young lives. If we strip it back to its essentials, the short answer to the mythical student behind Novinger and O’Brien’s question is because what passes as schooling for many of these young people is a curriculum and forms of pedagogy that are ‘irrelevant, fragmented [and] meaningless’ (Novinger & O’Brien, 2003, p. 3). Despite seemingly monumental efforts to reform schooling around the world, for a disproportionately large number of young people what is on offer in school collapses down to being no more than ‘boring, meaningless shit’ (p. 3).

In some respects in this book we have stepped sideways a little from the theme of our earlier work—the standardized, regulated, controlled, surveilled and contrived nature of contemporary schooling—to examine some topics that have a different inflection. What we have done is bring our socially critical lens to bear on a number of other protracted social attributes that present as significant additional impediments and obstacles to young people ‘becoming somebody’ (Wexler, 1992) as they engage in identity formation within the contexts of their schooling.

One of the things we have strenuously attempted to do in this book is to engage in what amounts to...

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