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Inside Teaching : June 2010
www.atra.edu.au | firstname.lastname@example.org RESEARCH 37 Young people of school age in affluent western countries, particularly those from non- traditional, adverse and challenging backgrounds, are disengaging, tuning out, and switching off schooling at alarming and unprecedented rates. Official statistics show that between 30 and 40 per cent of young people are making the active choice not to complete high school or secondary education, with figures dramatically higher in some local settings. This is testimony to the fact that there is something seriously awry. The most common explanations tend to be individual and largely pathologising --the irrelevance of school, uninspiring pedagogy, difficulties with peers, problems around identity formation, and conflicts with school cultures and policies. We argue that these are diminished and partial explanations that in the end constitute a victim- blaming approach. The victim-blaming explanation is also frequently given traction by an unsympathetic media that delights in talking up at whatever opportunity a moral panic about young people. This issue is not only a problem for the young people themselves, in terms of diminished lives and futures foreclosed, but also in terms of the social and economic fabric of democratic societies that can ill-afford such loss and suffering. The policy response of governments, with the few exceptions of Scandinavian countries, have largely missed the point and have been inappropriate -- muscular, managerialist, punitive and largely non-inclusive of the people who are most affected, namely, marginalised young people from backgrounds that have in many instances been blighted due to the effects of de-industrialisation and globalisation. Against this kind of contextual background, our book 'Hanging in with kids' in Tough Times, is radically suited to the times. It starts from a very different place to most analyses and policy responses to this issue. It examines young people's disengagement from schooling from the viewpoint of the lives, experiences, interests, aspirations and communities from which young people come, and within which they are embedded. The way we do this in the book is through the use of narratives and portraits -- a representational approach we have used extensively in our research for more than two decades as a way of providing detailed insights into the lives and wider contexts of our research informants. In this book, we do not shy away from having a perspective, nor are we at all reluctant to get up close to young lives that have been deeply scarred as a consequence of the disjuncture between the middle class institution of schooling, the way in which it has been severely compromised by the politics of greed and the rapaciousness of advanced capitalism, and the increasingly tenuous lives of people forced to the margins. The overwhelming emphasis in this book is upon naming the impediments of poverty and class, bringing into central focus the essence of schools' relational power around issues of pedagogy, having an expansive boundary-crossing mindset around school-community engagement, and bringing all of these into concerted conversation with a meaningful and engaging curriculum that considers youth and popular culture within a socially critical view of vocational and work education that is up to the task of bringing about transformational change. 'Hanging in with kids' in Tough Times constructs an architecture from within which to formulate public policy and the practices that flow from it, in educational contexts of socioeconomic disadvantage. The book endorses a set of conditions for 'good policy' around: affirming local agency; developing socially just approaches to schooling; place- based and community-embedded forms of learning; literacies that are critical and culturally attentive; and, above all, authentic forms of assessment that are appreciative of educational performance and progress. We believe the issues associated with young people from the most adverse backgrounds 'hanging in' with school will remain on the international radar for quite some time. Given the