05 SES 11, Alternative Education and Preparing Young People at Risk for Employment
Every year approximately 3500 secondary school students in New Zealand become officially alienated from their mainstream secondary schools due to school exclusion, multiple suspensions or truancy. New Zealand’s experience reflects a global phenomenon across many Western nations whereby the introduction of market policies within education has resulted in the disenfranchisement of increasing numbers of vulnerable young people from schooling (Feilding and Moss, 2011). As McGregor and Mills (2011) highlight, “Credentialing and rank-ordering of students demand regimes of comparability and uniformity of assessment that takes little account of the life circumstances of marginalized youth” (p. 8). One response to help re-engage these students has been the rise of community providers of alternative education in New Zealand. A grassroots initiative of the 1990s, these community providers established boutique educational opportunities that largely focused on meeting the holistic needs of young people rather than a purely academic programme (O’Brien, Thesing & Herbet, 2001).
One innovation in many providers was the employment of tutors rather than teachers as the key workforce. Tutors did not draw from teaching qualifications, but rather a range of life experiences, cultural knowledges, sporting, arts and vocational skills and passion for working with young people to provide an holistic education. The Education Review Office (2011) evaluation on good practices in the alternative education sector found that “despite the complex educational and social issues that arise in connection with Alternative Education students, these passionate tutors often have greater successes than teachers in the mainstream who have previously been unable to support these students” (p. 62). One tutor describes his role with the following words (Schoone, 2016, p. 25):
you’re their educator
you’re their driver
you’re their shoulder to cry on
you’re their emotional punching bag
the list goes on
In this paper I describe the role of alternative education tutors and critically evaluate their ongoing role in creating more inclusive pedagogical practices both in mainstream and alternative learning contexts. Potentially alternative education provision can provide models to conventional schools that seek innovative change (Sliwka & Yee, 2015).
I undertook a phenomenological arts-based study utilising poetic inquiry (see Prendegast, Leggo & Sameshima, 2009) to explore and represent the lived experiences of eight alternative education tutors. In researching the topic of alternative education, I sought alternative approaches to research in order to bring authentic voice to experiences of tutors (Schoone, 2014). This poetic approach, informed by phenomenology, sought to gather and represent tutors’ lived experiences through examining their everyday words and phrases. As tutors were not qualified teachers, their language was often bereft of usual curriculum jargon, and thus, was often metaphorically evocative. This research brought to the fore tutors’ poetic dwelling, as Heidegger (1971) asserts: we find “proper abode in his [or her] existence of language” (p. 57). I created over 200 found poems from tutor research participants’ words and phrases ‘found’ in interview transcripts, observations and from a performative workshop with research participants. Found poetry is created through artful selection of words and phrases from existing texts and re-framed as poetry, often through the inclusion of line spaces or shape (Butler-Kisber, 2012). Found poetry has been a pivotal arts-based research method in bringing voice to marginalised groups (Lahmann and Richard, 2014). I distilled these poetic findings to create a series of thematic poems entitled 21 constellations of tutor essences. The poems represent 21 tutor pedagogical attributes, namely: call, love, joy, empathy, grace, mana (respect), watching-over, commitment, past experience, criticality, whanau (family), guidance, poiesis, talanoa (conversation), holism, thoughtful pedagogy, inspirational pedagogy, epiphany, movement, transformation, and mystery.
The constellations navigate us towards more holistic and humanistic notions of pedagogy that have shown to artfully re-engage young people in learning (Brooking, Gardiner & Calvert, 2009). In addition, the constellations reveal that the alternative education tutors of today echo historical tutor archetypes such as Rousseau’s (1762/1956) Emile, the ancient pedagogues of Greece and Rome (Bonner, 1977) and the Greek mythological tutor, Chiron. Therefore, this is a return to pedagogical practices predating the mass production of professional teachers through the industrial era, which saw the demise of holistic tutoring whereby tutors became specialists in certain curriculum areas. Rather, the alternative education tutors are responsible for helping students make sense of the world at-large: teaching life-skills, making learning relevant, and setting the students on future educational pathways. The value of the tutor role has come to the fore in the light of alternative education students’ felt sense of the overwhelming nature of 21st century life. As te Riele (2009) asserted, there has been “an increasing complexity in young people’s lives as they manage their education journey in the context of peer and family commitments, part-time work and other pressures” (p. 6). Could a broadening of the education workforce, to include tutors, be a socially pedagogic (Cameron and Moss, 2011) response to school and educational disenfranchisement in these fragmented times?
Bonner, S. (1977). Education in Ancient Rome. London, England: Methuen & Co Ltd. Brooking, K., Gardiner, B., & Calvert, S. (2009). Background of students in alternative education Interviews with a selected 2008 cohort. Retrieved from http://www.nzcer.org.nz/research/publications/background-students-alternative-education-interviews-selected-2008-cohort Butler-Kisber, L. (2012). Poetic inquiry. In S. Thomas, A. Cole & S. Stewart (Eds.), The art of poetic inquiry (pp. 142-177). Big Tancook Island, Nova Scotia, Canada: Backalong Books. Cameron, C., & Moss, P. (2011). Social pedagogy: Current understandings and opportunities. In C. Cameron, & P. Moss (Eds.), Social pedagogy and working with children and young people: Where care and education meet (pp. 7-32). London, England; Philadelphia, PA: Jessica Kingsley Publishers. Education Review Office. (2011). Alternative education: Schools and providers. Wellington, New Zealand: Education Review Office. Heidegger, M. (1971). Poetry, language and thought (A. Hofstadter Trans.). New York: Harper and Row. Fielding, M., & Moss, P. (2011). Radical education and the common school : A democratic alternative (Foundations and futures of education). London, England: Routledge. McGregor, G., & Mills, M. (2011). Alternative education sites and marginalised young people: 'I wish there were more schools like this one.' International Journal of Inclusive Education, (iFirst Article), 1-20. http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13603116.2010.529467 O'Brien, P., Thesing, A., & Herbert, P. (2001). Alternative education: Literature review and report on key informants' experiences. Wellington, New Zealand: Ministry of Education. Prendergast, M., Leggo, C., & Sameshima, P. (Eds.). (2009). Poetic inquiry: Vibrant voices in the social sciences. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Sense Publishers. Rousseau, J. (1956). Emile (W. Boyd Trans.). London, England: Heinemann. Schoone, A. (2014). Giving voice to alternative education tutors: Critical moments on the way towards phenomenological and poetic methodology. In C. Mutch, & J. Rath (Eds.), Emerging critical scholarships in education: navigating the doctoral journey (pp. 202-213). Cambridge, England: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Schoone, A. (2015). Constellations of alternative education tutor essences: A phenomenological poetic inquiry.(Doctoral dissertation, University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand). Retrieved from https://researchspace.auckland.ac.nz/handle/2292/27374 Schoone, A. (2016). The Tutor: Transformational educators for 21st Century learners. Wellington, New Zealand: Dunmore Press. Sliwka, A., & Yee, B. (2015). From alternative education to mainstream: approaches in Canada and Germany to preparing learning to live in a changing world. European Journal of Education, (iFirst Article), 1-9. http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/ejed.12122
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