Eve Mayes

Youth voice, dissent, marginalisation: reflections for our AARE community

Like many AARE members, in late 2023 we were in Naarm attending the AARE conference ‘Voice, Truth, Place: critical junctures for educational research’. As researchers whose work centres on engaging with the voices of young people, the conference theme presented an important opportunity to think about the place of voice in education research – but also to dialogue about the processes and outcome of the national referendum on The Voice to parliament, in a professional community that has long foregrounded considerations of voice and power in education and research.

At this AARE 2023 conference, we (the authors) all experienced a particular moment that caused us to reflect on whose voices can be missing in conference spaces, whose voices are heard, and whose voices are romanticised, absent, marginalised, minimised and/or silenced.

There are barriers and blockages to ‘voice’, even before a conference begins. The costs and structures of conferences can be prohibitive for students and precariously employed academics, including youth co-researchers such as those that some of us collaborate with. This means many voices may be missing from conference discussions – voices that have the potential to trouble, stretch and enrich the assumptions and practices of educational researchers.

What we witnessed in one of the keynote lectures was a protest by a young person – not an official attendee of the conference – that was shut down, the young person pushed out, and their political views and actions vocally belittled. 

While the protest was unsettling for the audience, we consider that this is the purpose of protest: to unsettle, to raise awareness, to speak up. In this piece, we take this disruption as an opportunity for reflection and to raise provocations for our community to wrestle with collectively.  This piece is not intended to in any way be a criticism of any individual, but a prompt for collective reflection. We deliberately do not aim to prescribe solutions. We hope that our provocations (expressed as questions below) prompt further conversation about the place for young people’s voices in educational research spaces, particularly when they dissent from the status quo, and how we support and nurture a diverse community of education researchers.

How do we take young people’s voices seriously?

As members of an organisation dedicated to education, we believe that the voices and views of young people should be at the forefront of our work. While not all education research is focused on schools or youth issues, how young people think about and interact with the world should matter to all educational researchers. In recent years young people have led social movements on issues such as climate justice, Black Lives Matter and Indigenous education. Most recently school and university students have stood up against the Israeli occupation and bombardment of Palestine and Gaza. We believe young people engaging in these issues are informed by history, science and a social conscience that impels them to act for a better world.

What do these recent protests and campaigns, led by young people, have to do with educational conference gatherings? To return to the act of protest during one of the keynotes at AARE 2023, we wonder if there could have been further conversation about the differing individual, collective and organisational responses to this act of protest. How were these individual and collective responses differentially experienced by those in the lecture theatre? What do our individual and collective responses to this protest say about how we, individually and collectively, view young people and their political concerns?

Did some of these responses to a young person’s protest suggest a view of young people as ill-informed, obstructive, difficult and in need of schooling and controlling? What if the former approach were shifted to perceiving young people as informed, engaged, concerned and valuable? Could a shift in perceptions have changed the manner in which these young people and their (perhaps uncomfortable or unsettling) views at the conference were met?

These are issues for all of us as education researchers to reflect on. As noted in one pre-conference blog post, we can all ask ourselves the questions: Whose voices are important in your research? Who is silenced? How can we amplify their voices? We think these questions are important to ask of our conference gathering too.

How can space be made for dissenting voices?

AARE as a research organisation is not homogenous, just as society is not homogenous; thus many, sometimes clashing, views and positions may be present at one time in one space. The challenges of how to manage contestation and dissensus in debates has intensified in the current, often polarising, social media-fuelled world. However, we believe that facing the challenge of dissenting voices and robust debate within this scholarly community is something to be taken particularly seriously. Given the complexity and instability of our current world, this is something that we (the educational research community) must get better at doing well.

Issues of power need to be in the foreground when weighing the dissonances between differing views. When dissenting voices cause disruption, it frequently indicates that these voices or views may not have much space to be heard. It is also possible that the listener might have the individual experience of wanting to push away or silence views that one finds confronting, controversial, unpopular, unsettling or that they don’t understand.

Voices and views tend to be suppressed when they are challenging or unsettling to the status quo. We witnessed suppression of teacher and student voices expressing Palestine solidarity in Victoria at the same time that the conference was happening. This is very concerning, and as a scholarly community we should be demonstrating the possibilities of different approaches to dissensus. 

What would it look like to make space for dissensus and debate on the issue of Israel-Palestine in a spirit of ‘agonistic pluralism’ (as was argued for by Professor Deborah Youdell in her paper at the AARE conference ‘Revisiting agonism pluralism, dissensus and dialogue in education’ drawing on the work of Laclau and Mouffe)? What could it look like to make space for genuine, perhaps difficult, dialogue, where issues were wrestled with collectively and carefully? What could it look like to try to hold the tensions of different positions together, rather than stronger, more powerful positions cancelling out others? 

How can the AARE community not demonise those who might be already marginalised?

Caring for and within diverse communities means considering how we hold each other accountable, how we examine the ways that power operates in our community and how we commit to generosity and understanding in the presence of difference. AARE as a research organisation (like many of our universities) is characterised by white, settler, patriarchal hegemonies. Within these spaces, collective care requires us to be cognisant of how those who are made marginal by such hegemonies experience a rupture like the one that occurred at the AARE conference. As some of our colleagues write in this piece, a flippant comment like ‘I hate rap’, followed by applause, can send a message of denigration to an artform grounded in struggles for racial justice. 

A scenario such as this, unfortunately, often has the effect of keeping white dominance safe. Similar to the ejection of dissent and the belittling of youth voice and protest, the support of this statement from those of us in the audience shows a lack of knowledge, of understanding of history and of tolerance for difference in expression and opinion. How might we have instead paused in that moment and considered how colleagues from minoritised groups might have been feeling? How might we have resisted playing off one or other minoritised group against another and instead tried to understand what was being reckoned with, in and beyond one act of protest?

We offer these thoughts in the hope that we might all reflect on how we can continue to work on creating and maintaining scholarly and community spaces that are welcoming of marginalised voices, histories and perspectives.

From left to right: Melanie Baak (she/her) is a senior lecturer in UniSA Education Futures and co-convenor of the Migration and Refugee Research Network (MARRNet). Her research and teaching are underpinned by understandings of how systems and structures work to marginalise sections of the population, particularly culturally, racially and linguistically diverse groups. She has an Australian Research Council Discovery Early Career Researcher Award 2023-2025 investigating how schools can enhance belonging for African diaspora youth and was a chief investigator on an ARC Linkage project exploring how schools foster refugee student resilience. @Melanie_Baak. Sophie Rudolph (she/her) is a senior research fellow at the Faculty of Education, University of Melbourne. Her research and teaching involves sociological and historical analyses and is informed by critical theories. She is currently working on a DECRA project investigating the history and politics of racialised school discipline and exclusion in Victoria. Eve Mayes (she/her) is a senior research fellow at Research for Educational Impact (REDI) within the Faculty of Arts and Education at Deakin University, Australia. Her work is centrally concerned with young people’s differential experiences of attempting to affect political change in colonial institutions in and beyond schooling. She is currently working on the ARC DECRA project Striking Voices: Australian school-aged climate students’ justice activisms (2022-2025). Jenn Brown (she/they) is a doctoral candidate in UniSA Education Futures and a lived experience advocate in the areas of sexual violence, fat liberation and complex mental illness. Jenn’s work primarily aims to trouble settler-colonial logics and interrogate institutional structures that perpetuate dehumanising violence and harm about and upon marginalised communities. LinkedIn.

Possibly the last blog of the conference . . .

Still happy to take contributions inspired by the AARE Conference but we will be returning to regular programming next week so please follow these guidelines. Please write to jenna@aare.edu.au

Thank you very much to everyone who contributed posts and photos over the past week.

Meghan Stacey, senior lecturer in the UNSW School of Education, writes, Symposium: What’s the “new sociology of education”, then and now? Looking back to the 1970s and ahead to today

In 1971, Michael F.D. Young published the edited collection ‘Knowledge and control: new directions for the sociology of education’. This among other signature texts of the 1970s constituted work characterised as ‘the new sociology of education’, which saw the field shift from, as symposium convenor Julie McLeod put it, ‘taking problems’ to ‘making problems’. In this shift, aspects of schooling which had previously been taken for granted, such as what and whose ‘knowledge’ constitutes the curriculum, were opened up for scrutiny. 

The symposium asked contributors to consider what this ‘new sociology of education’ did and did not notice; its legacies; and what might or should constitute a ‘new’ sociology of education for today.

The first response to this remit came from Bob Lingard, who pointed to large scale assessments, datafication and globalisation as examples of forces which have shifted studies in the sociology of education and which demand a move beyond methodological nationalism. Lingard’s talk resonated with points made by the third speaker in the session, Joel Windle, who argued for ‘rescaling’ in a ‘new’ sociology of education for today, in which thinking about knowledge and control is shifted to a global level. 

Lingard and Windle’s arguments were given a useful counterweight by the fourth speaker in the session, Eve Mayes, who brought discussion of the new sociology of education to the level of classroom-based research and practice through the example of the ‘Teachers for a Fair Go’ project, highlighting the ongoing need to question ‘what schools can be’.

Yet questions of the future, and in particular a future for the sociology of education, were seen by some speakers to be under threat. Lingard noted that while in the 1970s, sociology of education would be taught in the first, second, third and fourth years of initial teacher education, this presence has since dwindled significantly. A similar point was made by the second speaker in the session, Parlo Singh, who noted an (over?) emphasis on Bourdieuian theory in the sociology of education today, despite Pierre Bourdieu having only a relatively fleeting engagement with education (unlike, for example, his contemporary Basil Bernstein). Singh argued that the lack of sociological training in today’s initial teacher education may explain this trend.

According to Jessica Gerrard and Helen Proctor, who presented the final paper in this session, “declarations of the new” always bring with them “whispers” of the old. For Gerrard and Proctor, this raises questions about just what is sought to be ‘conserved’ in ‘conservative’ views and politics. 

Yet in the context of this symposium, where the future of the sociology of education itself appears to be in danger, perhaps an important question is what needs to be ‘conserved’ from the legacy of the developments of the 1970s. In particular, there may be a need to emphasise the central role of the sociology of education in supporting, as Mayes highlighted, the ‘fair go’ that classrooms can but often do not provide for students. As such, the sociology of education is not separate from but in fact central to initial teacher education. As the discussion that followed the papers highlighted, the sociology of education supports an understanding of teachers as navigators and negotiators of a curriculum which is not taken for granted, but instead, understood as culturally contingent and power-laden. This means we should be enhancing, rather than further marginalising and denigrating, the sociological education of the pre-service teachers we teach.

As convenor of a large, sociologically-informed undergraduate education course, I am sometimes questioned as to the ‘practicality’ of my course for students of teaching. It is too ‘theoretical’, some students (and sometimes colleagues) say. And while the theory is essential, it may be that the links between this theory and the actual work of teachers in classrooms needs to be made more explicit for the next generation of teachers. As such, and as session convenor Julie McLeod suggested as the symposium concluded, foregrounding the importance of the sociology of education in schools and initial teacher education classrooms may need to be a first priority of any ‘new’ sociology of education moving forward.

Photos below are just some of the images from the conference

Louisa Field, PhD candidate at the University of Sydney, writes on Teachers’ Work and Lives

Philip Poulton

The University of Sydney

Primary Teachers as Classroom Curriculum-Makers: Emerging Findings From a Longitudinal Study Exploring Teachers’ Experiences in Curriculum-Making With a Standardised Curriculum 

“I just have to make the thing with the outcomes, in the way that others want me to make, and then I have to teach the thing in the way it says” and “I think what guides the programming is really driven by our questioning of how we do we equip these students for a world that we can’t anticipate or envision yet?” These are two examples of the very different experiences of curriculum-making for teachers in Phillip Poulton’s doctoral study. In this longitudinal study, Phillip has followed preservice teachers from their final year of initial teacher education into their first year of classroom teaching, exploring the realities of early career teachers’ reported curriculum-making experiences. This study has found that whilst these teachers reported varied curriculum-making experiences, these were not always characteristic of more knowledge-led forms of curriculum-making. Rather, these were characterised more by instances of curriculum delivery.

During this presentation, Phillip drew on two individual teachers, both alike in terms of their valuing of education and conceptions of curriculum-making. However, in their first year of teaching, these two teachers found themselves in classroom fields with very different agendas and orientations towards curriculum. One teacher reported greater agency in working with curriculum in a flexible and collaborative environment, guided rather than restricted by the syllabus. The other teacher reporting a contrasting experience, finding herself in a non-collaborative environment and ticking off ‘outcomes’ prioritised above all else. Phillip’s study provides fascinating insight into the lived experiences of early career teachers who, while all aspiring to be knowledge-led curriculum-makers, were either enabled or constrained by the conditions of their individual classroom fields. Understanding more about these experiences is particularly pertinent today, especially with current discussions centred on ‘ending the lesson lottery’ and centralising lesson planning for teachers. Phillip’s doctoral study offer impetus for us to challenge such delivery agendas placed on classrooms which often narrow teachers’ curriculum-making practices. Rather, teachers’ curriculum-making needs to be reinforced as a key tenet of teacher professionalism – practices that are dependent on teachers’ professional knowledge of their students, pedagogy, and content.

Dr Claire Golledge The University of Sydney

No Capacity, No Equity: Schools, Universities, and New Challenges for Teacher Professional Learning  

Dr Claire Golledge’s paper focussed on how teacher professional learning (PL) mandates can exacerbate inequity across schools and systems. All Australian teachers are required to meet mandatory professional learning expectations in line with the Australian Professional Standards for Teachers. Dr Golledge’s presentation drew on her own experience as a former leader of professional learning, and from her doctoral case study research to illustrate that not all teachers are positioned equally to meet these mandatory PL requirements. To highlight this point, Dr Golledge presented two case studies of teachers in vastly different learning contexts, one in an inner city, elite, independent school and another in a regional, government school where the bulk of students come from low socio-economic backgrounds. Despite vastly different PL needs and differing capacities of these teachers to access professional learning opportunities, both of these teachers are subject to the same PL standards and requirements.  While the teacher in the independent school was supported with their PL with a healthy budget, covered classes, and access to a range of accredited PL, the teacher in the regional school faced additional challenges of funding, finding casuals to cover classes, and access to accredited professional learning within her school. Dr Golledge’s study raises a key point that we often talk about educational inequity amongst students, but what about the impact on teachers? This is something which is all too often overlooked. This presentation sparked lively conversations about the ethics and equity of for-profit professional learning providers as well as asking what role universities should play in helping to support teacher professional learning and access to research in schools.

The perplexing political life of education online

One of our intermittent blogs during the #AARE2022 conferenceIf you want to cover a session at the conference, please email jenna@aare.edu.au to check in. Thanks!

Online spaces have arguably given voice to more diverse actors and advocacy activities related to education policy. While policymakers have a responsibility to address areas of concern to Australian education, a highly digitised public sphere presents challenges to implementing appropriate reform. Online political machinations can open education policy decision making to moral panic, misinformation, and culture wars, but also offer new opportunities and hope. 

This symposium aimed to spark questions about the confluence of political shifts and online information sharing, commentary, and activism on the formation of Australian education policy. The series of papers presented in this symposium were a short overview of politics related to education online. Each raised questions about the influence of the Internet, and education-related information ecosystems, on education policy. The point of this symposium was to provide a national platform for discussing the challenges and possibilities of education projects that employ digital sociological approaches. The papers used a variety of online platforms and employed diverse methodological approaches to investigating education online. All projects are led by early career researchers and higher degree research candidates exploring cutting edge and traditional approaches to theory, qualitative and quantitative methods.

First, Barrie Shannon from the University of Newcastle spoke about how young people, especially young queer people, are looking online for relevant, affirming information about health, sex, gender and identity. Shannon explained that there is a wide body of knowledge that suggests young people in Australia are dissatisfied with the quality of the sexuality education they receive from school, that tends to take a heteronormative focus on puberty and reproduction, and the information that is presented is often piecemeal, irrelevant, or cautionary, framed as a minefield of potential risks and dangers. Further to this, contemporary political discourse in Australia positions trans youth in the fray of ongoing ‘culture wars’, with schools serving as central battlegrounds. This presentation drew on narrative data from trans, nonbinary and gender diverse Australians aged 18-26 who reported using social networking sites to find information, make friends and establish communities of care. Using the microblogging platform Tumblr as a case study, Shannon illustrated how the affordances of certain social networking sites facilitate alternative ways of communicating, peer-learning, and teaching that are not delivered by a formal authority figure and are not mediated by government policies or curriculum documents. 

Next, Blake Cutler from Monash University spoke about his work with Lucas Walsh, Libby Tudball, and Thuc Huynh surrounding  the rapid growth of the School Strikes 4 Climate movement over the past few years. Cutler argued that this movement has been an important way for young people to negotiate and enact their participatory citizenship and democratic rights, given the barriers they face to engage in formal means of civic participation. The presentation explored the role of Twitter in how young people identify with and express their political and civic identities in relation to the climate strikes. The team collected a total of 92,360 tweets from between 1 October 2018 and 5 October 2021 that contained the #auspol hashtag with at least one of the following: #climatestrikeonline, #fridaysforfuture, #climatestrike, #schoolstrike4climate. Using a novel deep learning algorithm they predicted the demographics of users to explore the role of young people (i.e., those under 29 y.o.) in this online space. 

Next, Keith Heggart from the University of Technology Sydney spoke about how Edutwitter is a fraught environment, with competing discourses about teaching approaches, how to teach reading, and the role of teachers in society. He explained how this space has become filled with a variety of third party actors, such as educational gurus, think tanks and institutes that work between politicians and the populace in the formulation of education policy. Heggart’s presentation examined the role of various non-governmental agencies in determining Australian education policy. Two sites were considered: Critical Race Theory in Australia, and the anti-vax movement amongst the Teachers Professional Association of Australia. These two sites provided evidence of policy borrowing (where policy is uncritically taken from other jurisdictions on the basis of its outrage appeal), policy washing (where extreme positions are cleaned through various interactions in order to appear more acceptable) and ideological absence (where organisations and other actors are quick to abandon principled positions in the pursuit of influence). 

Next, Naomi Barnes from QUT spoke about Wikipedia as a place where knowledge is contested and often vandalised. Unknown to many, Wikipedia communities have taken a major role in advocating for informed understandings of concepts like Critical Race Theory (CRT). As politicians increasingly do their policymaking in the media, Wikipedia stands as an important site of knowledge production. While ideas like CRT morph into policy objects, editors protect the page from misinformation and bad actors through a variety of editorial processes. Barnes explained this politics of knowledge protection and production within the context of the recent Australian Curriculum Review that saw both the Commonwealth and NSW Senates, courtesy of Pauline Hanson’s One Nation Party and Tasmanian Liberal senators, ban CRT for Australian schools. This replicates a pattern in the political spheres of both the USA and the UK and is a danger to evidence informed policy making. 

Finally, Jessica Prouten, an Educational Doctorate candidate at QUT, spoke about the link between the presentation of teacher identity on social media, looking at how practitioners manage the interplay between personal, professional, monetised, relational and activist spheres. The paper used Foucault’s ideas of governmentality as a lens to understand social media policy as related to teachers and how people manage behaviour and have their behaviour managed by a network of gazes. 

These papers, collectively, highlighted the simultaneous affordances and perplexities of online spaces, and prompted questions about the politics of education online, including:

  • What do these various online communities and spaces enable and constrain for those engaged with them?
  • What kinds of literacies do young people, educators, education leaders and policy makers and researchers need in navigating the politics of education online? and
  • What are the ethical considerations, for researchers, when working in these online spaces?

These papers, collectively, prompted a robust discussion of the politics of education online.

Dr Naomi Barnes is a network analyst and theorist interested in how ideas influence education policy. She is a senior lecturer in literacy teaching and has worked for Education Queensland as a senior writer and has worked as a secondary English, hstory and geography teacher in government, Catholic and independent schools.

Eve Mayes is a Senior Research Fellow and Senior Lecturer in Pedagogy and Curriculum. She currently lives and works on unceded Wadawurrung Country. Her publications and research interests are in the areas of student voice and activism, climate justice education, affective methodologies and participatory research. Eve is currently working on the ARC DECRA project: Striking Voices: Australian school-aged climate justice activism (2022-2025).