ERG SES G 11, Social Justice and Education
Early school leaving has been shown to have a negative affect on an individuals’ identity formation and social inclusion. In 2009, countries within the European Union committed to reducing the number of early school leavers to less than 10% by 2020 (Gillies & Mifsud, 2016). At the same time, the compulsory school age in Australia was increased to the age of 17 and young people were required to participate in full time education, training or employment; or a combination of these activities (State Government of Victoria, 2013). Despite these strategies, the rate of early school leaving in Australia has not changed significantly. As many as one in five young people in OECD countries are not completing school (OECD, 2012). This may be because such strategies tend to position young people as units of economic production rather than active citizens with personal, social, and economic aspirations.
The principles of social justice underpin the notion that education is a public good that all individuals have a right to (McGregor et al., 2014; United Nations General Assembly, 1948). Increasing marketisation of schools across the globe, including Europe (Hill, 2010) and Australia (Te Riele, Wilson, Wallace, McGinty, & Lewthwaite, 2017), challenge our notions of principles of education for all and social justice. A neoliberalist approach to education has led to an increasing inclination for schools to ‘exit’ underperforming students to maintain a competitive advantage (Myconos et al., 2016). Underperforming students, in this market context, are viewed as a problem rather than being supported. A deficit discourse places the blame for early school leaving on young people; viewing them as deviant, unwilling, or unable to conform to mainstream expectations (Smyth & McInerney, 2013).
This deficit view generates negative stereotypes as it assumes that inequality exists as a result of individual deficiencies (Everidge, 2015). This stereotyping means that young people excluded from school are often forced to deal with the impact of labelling and stigma which Goffman (1963) argues contributes to a ‘spoiled identity’. Stereotypes of school ‘dropouts’, and troublemakers are highly problematic, and lay blame on the individual with little consideration for the complex and multi-faceted factors that may have caused them to leave school. Students perceived as ‘problems’ face boundaries to presenting themselves as respectable young people and forming an identity as a valued individual at school and as a member of society (Berg, 2010). The consequences of this can include, young people blaming themselves for failure, low self-esteem, disengagement from school and society, increased contact with the criminal justice system, limited future opportunities, and poorer health outcomes (Cassidy & Bates, 2005; OECD, 2012).
The Kardinia School (pseudonym) in Melbourne, Australia provides an example of how the impact of stigma associated with early school leaving can be overturned for young people who have been excluded from conventional schools. This paper draws on Nancy Fraser’s (1998) notion of recognitive justice and Goffman’s scholarship on stigma as theoretical frameworks to explore the question; “How can embedding recognitive justice practices within schools empower young people to overcome the stigma and stereotyping that has contributed to a ‘spoiled identity’, and to view themselves and their future with confidence and hope?”. Findings from this research demonstrate that the injustices faced by many young people can be addressed by schools that commit to recognising and valuing difference; ensuring all students feel wanted and welcome at school. The paper will demonstrate how schools adopting recognitive justice in their everyday practice have the power to reduce rates of early school leaving and to enhance students’ social inclusion now; and into the future.
This study explored the experiences of young people who had left conventional schools, and re-engaged with education at The Kardinia School, a school that has adopted a socially inclusive approach for young people disengaged or disenfranchised with education in Melbourne, Australia. The study was framed within a social justice inquiry, using constructivist grounded theory as the primary methodological approach because it provided the flexibility and guidelines needed to generate theory from data (Charmaz, 2011). A social constructivist methodology was a logical choice for this exploratory research project because of its ability to provide relevant information for understanding how social contexts can influence experiences including identity formation (Koen, Van Vianen, Klehe, & Zikic, 2016). The systematic approach of grounded theory in qualitative research enabled an analysis of findings that incorporated inductive, comparative, interactive and iterative strategies for conducting inquiry. The complex social and cultural experiences of students at Kardinia required a range of data collection methods that would enable the development of a deep understanding of their unique life histories and experiences. Data were collected through 200 hours of participant observation over 18 months, an online questionnaire with 62 students, interviews with 15 students and two parents, and a focus group with six staff. Because the focus of this study was the experiences of young people, emphasis was placed on data collected through student interviews, enriched by the perspectives of parents and staff, and contextualised using observation data. The online questionnaire, which was conducted early in the research process, provided an overview of the student body, and their perceptions of schools they had attended, in addition to demographic data. The findings from the analysis of questionnaire data informed the development of interviews and provided a focus for this aspect of this study. Throughout the design, collection, analysis, and dissemination of findings from the study the voices and experiences of students were privileged enabling an interpretation of the young people’s experiences and to connect this aspect of the study with the emerging theory. Consistent with constructivist grounded theory guidelines, data analysis occurred throughout the study, involving line-by-line coding, writing analytic memos, generating categories, constant comparison, and theoretical sampling (Charmaz, 2014). This involved adjusting interview questions throughout the process in order to incorporate emerging lines of inquiry. Coding of the data was completed using MaxQDA software, using open codes developed through line-by-line coding.
The participants faced exclusion at, and from mainstream schools. There was evidence of a ‘spoiled identity’ (Goffman, 1963) associated with these experiences. Their identification as an early school leaver negatively affected their sense of self, limited their opportunities for completing their educational aspirations, and diminished their hope for attaining a future they desired. The young people faced rejection when trying to re-engage with schools, felt they had no voice, and that the complexity of their lives and educational histories was ignored. Rather, a stereotyped, simplistic version of their educational histories defined their future learning opportunities. Discovering The Kardinia School represented a significant turning point for these young people. The socially just approach to learning embedded in the school, enabled students to reconnect with education in a meaningful way. Nancy Fraser’s (1998) recognitive justice theory provided a platform for explaining the unconditional acceptance offered to students where they felt wanted and valued at school. Instead of feeling a need to convince the school to accept them, young people were welcomed without conditions. For these young people this represented a polar opposite experience to their previous endeavours and efforts to participate in and re-engage with schooling. Re-engaging in a school where recognitive justice was a central element of the school philosophy enabled these students to envision themselves participating in social, family and working life (in both their present and future). They developed a sense of their future self as a valued member of society. Throughout this process, students confronted their own feelings about the stereotypes and stigma associated with their educational exclusion. This research makes a valuable contribution to understanding the role of recognitive justice in educational inclusion and exclusion and provides a useful platform for enhancing both inclusion at school and social inclusion for marginalised young people globally.
Berg, K. (2010). Negotiating Identity: conflicts between the agency of the student and the official diagnosis of social workers and teachers. European Educational Research Journal, 9(2), 164-176. Cassidy, W., & Bates, A. (2005). “Drop-outs” and “push-outs”: Finding hope at a school that actualizes the ethic of care. American Journal of Education, 112(1), 66-102. doi:10.1086/444524 Charmaz, K. (2011). Grounded theory methods in social justice research. In N. Denzin & Y. Lincoln (Eds.), The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research (4th ed., pp. 359-380). Los Angeles: SAGE. Charmaz, K. (2014). Constructing grounded theory (2nd ed.). London: Sage. Everidge, B. (2015). Early school leavers in Belize: Perspectives on school experiences, the purpose of school and why they left. (Doctor of Education in Curriculum and Instruction), Boise State University, Idaho, USA. Fraser, N. (1998). Social justice in the age of identity politics: Redistribution, recognition, and participation Discussion paper. Gillies, D., & Mifsud, D. (2016). Policy in transition: the emergence of tackling early school leaving (ESL) as EU policy priority. Journal of Education Policy, 31(6), 819-832. Goffman, E. (1963). Stigma: notes on the management of spoiled identity. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall Hill, D. (2010). Class, capital, and education in this neoliberal and neoconservative period. In Revolutionizing Pedagogy (pp. 119-143). Palgrave Macmillan, New York. Koen, J., Van Vianen, A., Klehe, U. C., & Zikic, J. (2016). “A whole new future”–identity construction among disadvantaged young adults. Career Development International, 21(7), 658-681. McGregor, G., Mills, M., Te Riele, K., & Hayes, D. (2014). Excluded from school: Getting a second chance at a 'meaningful' education. International Journal of Inclusive Education, 19(6), 608-625. Myconos, G., Thomas, J., Wilson, K., Te Riele, K., & Swain, L. (2016). Educational re-engagement as social inclusion: The role of flexible learning options in alternative provision in Australia. Forum, 58(3), 345-354. OECD. (2012). Equity and quality in education: Supporting disadvantaged students and schools. Retrieved from OECD http://www.oecd.org/edu/school/equityandqualityineducation-supportingdisadvantagedstudentsandschools.htm Smyth, J., & McInerney, P. (2013). Making ‘space’: Young people put at a disadvantage re-engaging with learning. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 34(1), 39-55. State Government of Victoria. (2013). New participation age requirements - Frequently asked questions. Retrieved from http://www.education.vic.gov.au/about/department/legislation/Pages/act2006age.aspx Te Riele, K., Wilson, K., Wallace, V., McGinty, S., & Lewthwaite, B. (2017). Outcomes from Flexible Learning Options for disenfranchised youth: What counts? International Journal of Inclusive Education, 21(2), 117-130. United Nations General Assembly. (1948). Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Retrieved from: http://www.un.org/en/universal-declaration-human-rights/
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