What does it mean to teach in socially just ways? A reading from an ethnographic account of Wattle Plains School

Year: 2000


Type of paper: Abstract refereed

A belief that public schooling can contribute to the development of a more just society has long underpinned school reform in Australia-indeed the very foundations of the Disadvantaged Schools Program rested on the view that schooling could make a difference for students. But what are the major discourses informing school-based responses to social justice today? What kinds of school structures and practices support a culture of school reform around socially just curriculum? In the context of a devolving school system it appears that teachers, working in cooperation with parents and students, are the ones who have to make sense of the complexity of social justice issues in schools and the broader community

This paper reports on a recent critical ethnographic study of a school community which in many respects is working against a prevailing discourse of marketisation in its attempts to sustain a commitment to social justice. School reform at Wattle Plains is situated within social justice discourses linked to globalisation, the ascendancy of neo liberal governments, the emergence of new social movements and the persistence of material inequalities in Australian society. The account focuses on whole school reform and the attempt to sustain socially just curriculum through the development of critical literacies in the arts and multicultural education. Finally, the paper explores the problematic aspects of school reform in the current political and economic climate.