Beyond a Politics of Privilege: Listening to Teachers in Elite Private Schools

Year: 2017

Author: Varian, George

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In the imaginaries of some educational researchers, elite private schools in Australia exemplify the injustices of a schooling system, which residualises those who cannot afford such privilege or do not aspire to enter into such cloisters or some such facsimile of them (see for example Connell, 2012; Fahey & Prosser 2015). For the wider public, the media tropes of elite private schools construct elite private schools as both the 'gold standard' in schooling and at other times the nemesis of those pressing for a more egalitarian construction of the schooling order. Yet, one of the paradoxes of elite private schooling, is that within its cloister at least, morality, ethics, and even social justice, are not anathema, but vital to its promotional message. In this sense, the advocates of elite private schools actively endorse values that they at the same time stand accused of evading. My doctoral research has been a search for evidence that might provide insight into just how actors, and teachers in particular, within elite private schools make sense of these contradictions. For it stands to reason that binary-like conceptions that pit insiders against outsiders, the 'haves' against the 'have-nots', must meet some resolution in the practices and discourses of actors within these privileged spaces.

In this presentation, using data gathered from a two-year qualitative study of teachers in three Australian elite private schools, including interviews, observations and document analysis, I explore the discourses and practices of teachers to provide a window into the logics that binds them to the elite private school project. However, while elite private school teachers are a category of actors vital to the machinery that underpins the elite private school project, they at the same time are also understood as essential to any transformative imperative. Their capacity to resolve, ignore, mitigate or simply navigate the moral and ethical questions that elite private schooling generates, offers essential insight and nuance into spaces more easily reduced to the antagonisms that are immanent in the politics of privilege.