Symbolic Non-Violence In The Work Of Teachers In Alternative Education Settings

Year: 2015

Author: water, Richard Waters

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Teachers in alternative education settings, either by philosophy or necessity, find they structure their relationships with young people to be inclusive and supportive rather than disciplinary and authoritarian. Teachers in these settings are often trying to rebuild a young person’s confidence in themselves, and in those who would teach them, after struggling with, or being excluded from, a mainstream setting where circumstances seem to be stacked against them due to structures which Pierre Bourdieu has referred to as ‘symbolic violence’. This can take the form of school rules, structures and relationships which, often unintentionally, have the effect of marginalising some young people from full participation in education. In more extreme cases, due to the disciplinary structures and policies of the schools, these young people find themselves at odds with school authorities consequently resulting in suspension or exclusion. Such students often become participants in alternative education settings as a second chance or last chance option. In alternative settings, the school ethos which is reflected in school structures, policies and relationships, is predicated on non-violence and also non-competition so that young people can be (and become) themselves without the strictures of oppressive structures based on competition and coercion.
This paper will report on a qualitative research study of alternative education practices in three contrasting school settings in two regional areas in Queensland representing a spectrum of school types: an alternative independent school with a holistic philosophy; an alternative pathways program in a state high school, and; an alternative school for young people who have been excluded from or opted to leave mainstream schools. The research utilised document analysis, quasi-ethnographic observation and semi-structured interviews with leaders, teachers, students, parents and other community members to gain insight into the nature and effects of alternative education practices. The inquiry also utilised the concepts of competition, non-competition and cooperation in relation to the mainstream and alternative education practices identified. The early analysis of data identifies education practices which could support the engagement or re-engagement of marginalised young people in education, as well as interesting and innovative ways to build/re-build school ethos, structures and relationships which represent what could be termed ‘symbolic non-violence’ in education. The analysis raises questions about these approaches might be adopted by mainstream education settings and what structural changes, staff training and support would be needed in order to achieve this.

Presenter Biography
Richard Waters is a full time PhD candidate at The University of Queensland attached to an ARC linkage project, Pursuing Equity Through Rich Accountabilities. Richard’s research topic is ‘Alternative education practices in regional areas and their effects on student learning, community engagement and equity’. Richard taught at state high schools in Victoria in his early career but spent the bulk of his working life as a teaching principal at the innovative School of Total Education in southern Queensland. Richard’s research interests include alternative schools, competition and non-competition, student disengagement, parent involvement and Eastern and Western perspectives on education.