The social justice possibilities of educating one student at a time in a neoliberal age

Year: 2012

Author: Choules, Kathryn, Down, Barry

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Big Picture Education is of particular interest to educators and policy makers questioning the narrowing of educational purposes that is occurring as Western governments continue to follow a neoliberal agenda. The current emphasis on the role of education as an instrument of economic policy is implicitly challenged by a model of education with clear social justice objectives. Looking at student experience of Big Picture Education through the lens of social justice helps remind us of a core purpose of education: providing each young person with a broad education that will equip them to have a flourishing life as individuals and as citizens, able and disposed to shape community, economic and political life. Social justice has as one of its ends, that student outcomes are not able to be predicted based on characteristics such as race, class and sex. Social justice at a community and national level is promoted through greater social cohesion. How might the Big Picture Education approach contribute to social justice at both an individual and communal level?

The paper examines Big Picture Education through the experiences of students. It uses a portrait approach to present those experiences. The process of portrait construction is explored; both its creative and enabling potential in meaning making as well as the inevitable questions that arise concerning (re)presention of student voice. The four young people whose portraits are used in this research share many commonalities and yet have unique educational and life journeys. The portraits include reflections by the young people comparing their previous experiences in mainstream schooling with the more personalised approach in a Big Picture school. These reflections suggest that they appreciate and respond positively to this approach which attempts to transform the relationship between them and their peers, and teachers. Rather than having education 'done to them,' these students describe being involved in the selection and development of their personalised curriculum.

Finally, the paper imagines the futures for these students given their current trajectory. It also predicts what might have been the likely trajectory for these students had they remained in mainstream schools.