25 SES 16, Students' Views on Their Voice and Participation in Education
‘Student voice’ does not simply indicate words spoken by students, but includes many ways in which young people express views and experience (Robinson and Taylor, 2007) – including silence. The right to participate under Article 12 of the UNCRC places great emphasis on ‘voice’, yet the right to freely express views is not a duty – there is an implicit right to silent participation or non-participation. Research on children’s rights in education has largely focused on participatory rights, however this must extend to the broader package of civil rights: freedom of speech, information, and political rights to influence the exercise of power and to redistribute this power (Quennerstedt and Quennerstedt, 2014; Lundy and Cook-Sather, 2016). As such, this study is framed in the participation rights laid out in the UNCRC but specifically focused on Article 13 freedom of expression – specifically the right to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds – as well as Article 12 right to express opinions.
Issues of voice are embedded in structures and relations of power (Cook-Sather, 2006); if teachers view young people in an oppositional model then ‘it is unlikely that they can unravel the power relationship and convince students that they genuinely want to enter into dialogue with them about learning, or to hear and take their views seriously’ (Ruddock et al, 1996). It is necessary to make redundant the conceptualisation of the student-teacher relationship as a dyadic construct (McGrath and Bergen, 2015) and explore power as a concept that is not possessed but which circulates as individuals simultaneously undergo and exercise it (Robinson and Taylor, 2012). Fielding (2004) argues that ‘there are no spaces, physical or metaphorical, where staff and students meet one another as equals, as genuine partners in the shared undertaking of making meaning of their work together’ which suggests a gap for exploring the nature of classroom relationships, and how ‘knowledge’ is created within the power transformations of the relationship – the ‘problematisation’ of accepted forms of knowledge called for by Taylor and Robinson (2009).
With this in mind, the theoretical framework deemed appropriate for this proposal is Epistemic Injustice (Fricker, 2007). Fricker proposes that ‘epistemic trust’ is central to educational relationships; when a subject is excluded from the co-operative practice of meaning, they are excluded from participation in co-construction of knowledge. Assumptions about childhood and agency influence the extent to which young people are regarded as authorities (Murris, 2013); conceptions of the child as ‘unknowing’ influence educational relationships through the credit ascribed to young people’s viewpoints and perspectives, and what counts as knowledge (Murris, 2013). The epistemic injustice that arises as a consequence of this is conceptualised as a ‘wrong done to someone specifically in their capacity as a knower’, an injustice that may be met with resistance in the form of non-participation and silence.
The research questions will examine both the theoretical framing for this study, and young people's experiences in school by asking the question: To what extent are students' educational experiences, views and relationships with their teachers characterised by epistemic injustice and resistance? Exploration of this research question will address a number of sub-questions:
- Do young people experience epistemic injustice in their educational experiences, and if so, how?
- Do young people express epistemic resistance in these experiences, and if so, what is their perception of how teachers interpreted and responded to this dissent?
- How do young people understand and experience silence in the classroom and in relationships with their teachers and peers?
- How do young people use silence in the classroom and in relationships with their teachers and peers?
The research questions are underlined by complex epistemological questions about the nature of ‘knowledge’, how it is created, and how this takes place within the epistemic relationship between student and teacher. Accordingly, the methods chosen to examine these questions endeavour to achieve ‘depth’ whilst attending to the fundamental need to ascribe co-researchers with epistemic agency and recognition. This examination of relationships of course relies heavily on the creation of relationships within the study itself and consequently, an ethnography-informed approach will be taken to the research design because this approach mirrors a researcher’s interaction with the field. The systematic inquiry of an ethnography-informed research design will balance the incorporation of different views, experiences and perceptions with the unpredictable nature of everyday life and classroom practice and in so doing capture the harmonies, discords and contradictions of participants and co-researchers. The methodology uses a collaborative research approach with young people as co-researchers using a Young Persons Advisory Group (YPAG); observations, shaped in consultation with the YPAG, of classroom behaviours and relationships which will form the basis of foci for further stages. A philosophical group enquiry will take place with young people in which they discuss the underpinning debates about knowledge and communication, followed by individual or group interviews with members of the group. This approach will incorporate the recognition of young people as epistemic agents, in line with articles 12 and 13 UNCRC. Concurrently, teachers will be interviewed to gain an insight into their views and experiences, and to illuminate how these compare to young people’s perspectives. This group inquiry and interviews will be repeated a number of times in order to fully explore the issues raised and themes articulated. Young people will be provided with the opportunity to participate in other ways, should they find that group discussion is an uncomfortable medium. These methods will include arts-based representations and auditory work but will be considered in line with advice from the YPAG on what young people would prefer.
Problematising accepted forms of knowledge called for by Taylor and Robinson (2009) is necessary in order to reveal what is omitted in existing investigations of student-teacher relationships. These omissions merit further investigation to explore what happens not only when a range of pupil voices are elicited, but when voices remain silent, and when ‘knowledge’ is withheld. Speakers often use language to silence by exploiting its use to deny others space to perform their intended speech acts (Spewak, 2016). For silent voices, however, this conceptualisation denies the power of silence as resistance – a political act of withholding participation (Cook-Sather, 2006). Medina (2013) continues Fricker’s analysis of epistemic justice to consider not only the injustice, but the resistance that we find in these interactions. Resistance takes forms that are not necessarily oppositional such as feeling perplexed, or disagreement – forms which may be located in silence. It is anticipated that young people will suggest that they are denied epistemic agency, to which they may respond with their silence: if their perspectives are not sought, they will not instigate their communication. When considering that what is not voiced ordinarily exceeds what is voiced and that every inscription is simultaneously an omission (Malhotra and Rowe, 2013), it is anticipated that the study will add to the student voice literature in identifying silence, not a limit or a boundary of discourse, but an element of discourse that functions alongside and with relationships between students and their teachers, and which reflects the recognition and misrecognition in these relationships.
Cook-Sather, A. (2006) Sound, Presence and Power: “Student Voice” in Educational Research and Reform, Curriculum Inquiry, 36(4) 359-390 Fielding, M. (2004) Transformative approaches to student voice: Theoretical underpinnings, recalcitrant realities, British Educational Research Journal, 30(2) 295-311 Fricker, M (2007) Epistemic Injustice: Power and the ethics of knowing, Oxford University Press Lundy, L., and Cook-Sather, A. (2016) ‘Children’s Rights and Student Voice: Their Intersections and the Implications for Curriculum and Pedagogy’ in The SAGE Handbook of Curriculum, Pedagogy and Assessment, 263-277 Rower, A. and Malhotra, S, ‘Still the Silence: Feminist Reflections at the Edges of Sound’ in Malhotra, S. and Rowe, A. (eds) Silence, Feminism, Power: Reflections at the Edge of Sound, Palgrave Macmillan McGrath, K., and Bergen, P. (2015) Who, when, why and to what end? Students at risk of negative student-teacher relationships and their outcomes, Educational Research Review, 14(1) 1-18 Medina, J. (2013) The epistemology of resistance: Gender and racial oppression, epistemic injustice, and the social imagination, Oxford University Press Murris, K. (2013) The Epistemic Challenge of Hearing Child’s Voice, Studies in Philosophy and Education, 32, 245-259 Quennerstedt, A., and Quennerstedt, M. (2014) Researching Children’s Rights in Education: sociology of childhood encountering educational theory, British Journal of Sociology of Education, 35(1) 115-132 Robinson, C. and Taylor, C. (2007) Theorizing student voice: Values and perspectives, Improving Schools, 10(1), pp5-17 Robinson, C. and Taylor, C. (2012) Student voice as a contested practice: power and participation in two student voice projects, Improving Schools, 16(1) 32-46 Rudduck, J., Chaplain, R., and Wallace, G. (1996) School improvement: What can pupils tell us? London: David Fulton Spyrou, S. (2016) ‘Troubling children’s voices in research’ in F. Esser, M. Baader, T. Betz, and B. Hungerland (eds) Reconceptualising Agency and Childhood: New Perspectives in Childhood Studies, London: Routledge Spewak, D. (2016) Understanding assertion to understand silencing: finding an account of assertion that explains silencing arising from testimonial injustice, Episteme, 1-18 Taylor, C., and Robinson, C. (2009) Student Voice: theorising power and participation, Pedagogy, Culture and Society, 17(2) 161-175 United Nations (1989) United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, Geneva: United Nations.
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