Post-compulsory schooling policy and the lives of young people in Australia
(Un)democratic school culture: against the equity imperative of policy .

Year: 2000

Author: SMYTH, J

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Anecdotally we know that the cultural politics of the school has a powerful effect on how young people make sense of schooling, the spaces that exist for them to be listened to, and how they work to shape schools as places. As an "orienting theory", school culture has been an unattended-to category in the literature and debates about the non-completion of schooling.

This paper searches for those interferences to school completion that are located in the ways schools think about themselves and how they position themselves when they sort and sift students. Since some students are clearly provided with a more appropriate pathway than others, schools are not innocent in this process. Some schools operate in ways that include students; others have postures that are inhospitable and exclusionary; each of these represent school practices, policies and actions that are qualitatively different, and some of those differences are addressed here.

The paper explores the way in which the shifting, fragmented, multiple and contradictory identities that constitute youth, are positioned, shaped, embraced or repulsed by the democratic or undemocratic nature of school culture. Drawing upon interviews from 209 young Australians in the Students Completing Schooling Project, the paper shows how youth "pushes against the grain" in shaping and being shaped by school culture variously identified within a cultural geography of the school that is "aggressive", "passive" or "active" towards youth.