Schooling and the production of social inequalities: what can and should we be doing?

Mills, Carmen and Gale, Trevor (2002) Schooling and the production of social inequalities: what can and should we be doing? Melbourne Studies in Education, 43 (1). pp. 107-128. ISSN 0076-6275

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To speak of an ideal is to lay claim to what ought or should be and to explain 'reality' as deviation. That is, ideals serve to provide direction towards some desired goal as well as judgment about how well a perceived reality approximates that desire. In more recent times, the postmodernist critique has provided its own 'reality check' on modernist ideals, challenging the notion that there is one best way to reach utopian ends. The emergence of postmodern theories has signalled a general shift in 'the structure of feeling' from acquiescence to censure of the universal. But it is not as if there are no postmodern ideals. In these accounts, utopianism is more cogently understood as 'heterotopianisms'. While we are convinced by such critique, that there are diverse goals of value and pathways to reach them, we admit to some uneasiness about a 'postmodern pluralism' in which ideals have the potential to wash away into relativism, where one ideal is as good as the next and ways of achieving them are also equally regarded.

In this article we take up these matters in the context of schooling, particularly as they relate to socially just ideals and practices. We begin by testing how effective schooling ‘really’ is in advancing the interests of all students; asking for whom schooling is effective and the ways in which it recognises and deals with diverse interests. We then consider how things might be better, first in relation to what happens in classrooms and, second, with respect to what happens in school communities. In our view, these two interests – in who benefits (and who does not) by current social arrangements and what can be done about them – are the central tenets of a socially critical orientation. Given our disposition for recognitive justice, we also think the issues are about self-identity and respect, self-expression and development, and self-determination. We regard these as necessary conditions for socially just schooling; they form the ‘tests’ we apply, particularly in relation to how students are connected to schools and how decisions are made within their communities. We recognise that these matters are primarily concerned with the means rather than the ends of schooling although we do not entirely agree with the separation. Neither do we want to signal that a focus on recognitive justice is at the expense of distributive justice. ‘Who gets what’ remains an important issue. Here we address this from the perspective of ‘how’.

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Item Type: Article (Commonwealth Reporting Category C)
Refereed: Yes
Item Status: Live Archive
Additional Information: This is the authors' final pre-publication version. Deposited in accordance with the copyright policy of the publisher of the time.
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Education (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Faculty/School / Institute/Centre: Historic - Faculty of Education (Up to 30 Jun 2013)
Date Deposited: 11 Oct 2007 01:00
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2013 02:48
Uncontrolled Keywords: cultural context of education
Fields of Research (2008): 16 Studies in Human Society > 1608 Sociology > 160809 Sociology of Education
17 Psychology and Cognitive Sciences > 1701 Psychology > 170103 Educational Psychology
13 Education > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130303 Education Assessment and Evaluation
Socio-Economic Objectives (2008): C Society > 93 Education and Training > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939903 Equity and Access to Education
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