23 SES 03 A, Learning to Reform
Parallel Paper Session
In the 21st century, despite widespread lip service to the idea of lifelong learning, school systems continue to be caught within education’s dual roles: to develop young people’s understanding and competency across the curriculum and to prepare students for competitive entry to take up post school educational opportunities. In many countries in the developed world this dual function emerges most clearly in the senior years of schooling when students face final examinations which result in a ranking system that determines tertiary entry in terms of place and field (Bourdieu, 1984). While school results have long been recognised as operating in favour of students from wealthy backgrounds, typically better off in both cultural and economic capital than those from poorer homes, this paper argues that within the sector of relative privilege there are widespread curriculum processes that further accentuate the differences in which the students are already located (Ball et. al. 2002).
Drawing on a study of senior schooling choice making in the context of two non-government single sex schools the researchers examine the idea of curriculum choices which are initially understood by the middle school girls in terms of personal fulfilment. By the senior years this process has changed to become one wherein choices made by senior students are powerfully constructed in terms of strategic placements in order to maximise the potential grade for the explicit demands of tertiary ranking. In this way we argue that the notion of choice becomes a tool for interpellating the girls as neo-liberal subjects for whom the idea of competition within a highly individuated system becomes the new world order. Within the generally middle class context the study demonstrates the unequal positioning of the girls with regard to parental educational levels and locations as they struggle with the burden of choice. Schooling becomes complicit with the differential refraction of chosen pathways in terms of cultural background (Hodkinson & Sparkes, 2006).
Ultimately the argument is developed concerning the capacity of educational experience to counter the reproductive effects of senior school curriculum by devising different ways of balancing personal fulfilment with a stronger sense of the public good as a schooled product.
This study is located in the Australian context but the argument is applicable to all countries in which schooling is linked to a ranked system governing success in tertiary applications and placements.
Ball, SJ, Davies, J, David, M & Reay, D, 2002, ‘Classification’ and ‘Judgement’: Social class and the ‘cognitive structures’ of choice of Higher Education’, British Journal of Sociology of Education,vol. 23, Issue 1, pp. 51 – 72. Bourdieu, P 1984, Distinction, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London. Hodkinson, P & Sparkes, AC 2006, ‘Careership: a sociological theory of career decision making’, British Journal of Sociology of Education, vol. 18, Issue 1, pp2 9 – 44.
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