23 SES 04 A, Public Debate and Education Policy
Parallel Paper Session
The print media, instruments of the public sphere and performative cultural texts, enables public engagement in the politics of teachers’ work. The quality of media representations can affect the quality of the democratic public sphere. This presupposes that the media are a forum for debate of the socio-political issues of a community and secondly, the populace is engaging in informed debate. However, this is not always the case. Newspapers are globalised, competitive businesses whose ownership is driven by profit (and power). This can lead to an ‘interested representation’ (Webb, 2009) of teachers or ‘packaged’ (Franklin, 2004) public discourses regarding the politics of teachers’ work. Newspapers are politically and institutionally positioned and therefore their stories are not neutral (Thomson et al., 2003). Reportage often privileges certain discourses about teachers, while marginalizing others. These privileged discourses provide a public account of teachers, which both constitutes the readers’ understanding and naturalises this socially constructed reality regarding teachers and their work. The constructed reality often derides teachers. The research reported in this paper problematises the construction of teachers in newspapers.
The aim of the paper is to understand and explain the interplay of power and power relations within a context of the mediatisation (Lingard & Rawolle, 2004; Rawolle, 2010) of education policy. Foucault’s theorizing of discourse (1972, 1981) and power (1980, 1995) underpins this analysis, with emphasis being placed on a ‘regime of truth’ (Foucault, 1980) and the practices that produce and circulate discourses about teachers’ work in the public sphere. I draw on newspaper texts and the perceptions and practices of the teachers and journalists who were interviewed for the research.
While this study is located in Australia, media ownership and journalistic practices are transnational and therefore have relevance in the European context. Across the globe, newspapers report on the ‘dramatic narrative’ (Paletz & Entman, 1981) that incorporates controversy, conflict or dilemma in order to engage the reader and support circulation numbers. The demand for the dramatic narrative in newspapers accounts for the types of discourses about teachers that count as ‘news’. Teacher accountability is a dominant discourse in newspaper texts, as are the discourses of transparency, crisis, failure, blame, incompetence, misconduct and derision. While there is a necessity for teacher professional accountability in teachers’ work, news texts have a distorted view of such accountability; often isolating teachers as the sole cause of poor student performance or failure in school curriculum, without acknowledging the effects of family background and the bureaucratic and market accountabilities operating in education institutions. Newspapers call for greater teacher accountability and advocate attainment of this through disciplinary power (Foucault, 1995) or the surveillance, monitoring and control of teachers and teachers’ work, satisfying the ‘dramatic narrative’. The journalists’ narratives provide an understanding of the politics of news production in a democratic society while teachers’ experiences establish the effects of the newspaper construction of their work and their perceptions of this representation. Both narratives will be contextualised through newspaper texts and other circulating texts such as policy documents and media releases.
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