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Inside Teaching : June 2010
www.atra.edu.au | firstname.lastname@example.org RESEARCH 41 their lessons both as a means of engaging students and a way of developing a critical awareness of the impact of mass media and consumer culture on their lives. Doing socially critical work Vocational education is sometimes presented as a panacea for improving student engagement. However, an overemphasis on vocational education and training can lead to a narrowing of the curriculum and a highly stratified education system that can work against the interests of the most marginalised students. How can schools integrate academic, vocational and experiential learning in a way that maintains student pathways and high levels of engagement? Our chapter on socially critical work explores the possibilities and tensions associated with studies that are about vocational education and training, and examines how schools might develop a more critical approach to workplace learning. Doing policy differently The crucial question for public policy is: how can schools engage in productive ways with external education policies, while sustaining their own knowledge of what really works for students in their own community? Our chapter on the public policy context of schooling looks at the global, national and local factors that impact on teachers' work and schooling. It explores some of the opportunities and constraints at the interface between policy and practice, and describes how teachers have been able to develop authentic school-based responses to issues of student engagement in disadvantaged communities. A profile of conditions supporting student engagement in contexts of disadvantage Tackling complex matters of the kind raised in our book requires significant levels of dialogue between teachers, students, parents, communities and government. Our final chapter attempts to bring together -- tentatively and heuristically -- a schema of emergent ideas, not as another 'how to do list,' but as catalyst for further critique, conversation and investigation. 'Hanging in with kids' reaches deeply into the matters outlined above though an empirical study and theoretical analysis in an Australian context, while presenting it in a way that is illustrative and exemplary of the wider international nature of the issues. Throughout, we make it clear as researchers and authors that we do not hold a 'disinterested' position on the question of educational disadvantage and school reform. We share the dismay expressed by many parents, educators and community leaders about the residualisation of public schooling in advanced western democracies, the under- funding of higher education and the enormous barriers to school success confronting students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds. We hold to the view that education is a public good and not merely an individual entitlement, and that schools should be guided by higher principles other than the preservation of the status quo. To this end, education should not simply act as a servant to the economy but should assist young people to make sense of their lives and identities, and contribute to the creation of fairer and more socially just societies. 'Hanging in with kids' in Tough Times: Engagement in contexts of educational disadvantage in the relational school by John Smyth, Barry Down and Peter McInerney is published by Peter Lang, New York. The research reported here was supported by the Australian Research Council and the Western Australian Department of Education. John Smyth is Research Professor of Education and Research Theme Leader Addressing Disadvantage and Inequality in Education and Health in the School of Education at the University of Ballarat. He won the 2010 American Educational Research Association Annual Awards Relating Research to Practice Award. Barry Down holds the City of Rockingham Chair of Education at Murdoch University. Peter McInerney is a Research Associate at the University of Ballarat. Image from the cover of 'Hanging in with kids' in Tough Times by Tiffany Clitheroe, Safety Bay Senior Secondary High School, Western Australia.