Doing school justice

Year: 2012

Author: Bills, Andrew

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


For six and a half years I worked as an insider teacher researcher with the edgy students; the students most prone in school speak to be the troublemakers. I knew that if I didn't innovate, then many of my students would be lost to the education system. In this auto ethnographic action research study I developed, managed and taught in three significant engagement programs with teacher and community youth stakeholders across three mainstream secondary school sites involving over 200 marginalised young people. All three programs succeeded in improving school retention and are still active today but only one program empowered students to be active participants in their community, offering them transition pathways into university, TAFE, apprenticeships and work.

In attending to this action research work, three engagement themes emerged; one about my personal learning from uncritical to more critical praxis (Lather 1986; Shacklock and Smyth 1998); another about the complexity and possibility of doing innovative engagement work with marginalised students in neoliberal times (Lingard and Mills 2007); and a third about teacher activism to influence systemic change (Sachs 2003). These three themes intertwined and interspersed throughout my research, intersecting in my action research endeavours at various critical junctures. Impacting upon all three of these engagement work areas was the insidious influence of neoliberal public policy. This paper argues that doing effective engagement work requires constant vigilance to all three of these themes and tactically addressing them within the various manifestations of neoliberal public policy.