Thinking with/through the Contradictions of Social Justice in Teacher Education: Self-Reflection on NETDS Experience

April 2017

Source: Australian Journal of Teacher Education, Vol 42, No. 4, April 2017
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This article describes the National Exceptional Teaching for Disadvantaged Schools (NETDS). The purpose of the NETDS is to channel high performing teacher education students to disadvantaged schools.

This paper is based on the authors' collective, critical self-reflection on designing and implementing NETDS at University of New England over the last three years.
The authors use the taxonomy of three different ideological approaches—conservative, liberal and critical—to school reform as a heuristic device for their self-reflection.


Three Ideological Approaches
The orientation of conservative reform approaches addresses schools which take an authoritarian approach and inculcate students with the dominant values, beliefs and practices of the time. Methods include lectures, streaming of classes, or enforcing of behavioural rules and pledges. A main goal is maintaining social stability through protecting the existing interests of dominant groups.

The orientation of the liberal reform approaches is schools and teachers, who act as facilitators for students’ development of knowledge and skills; particularly relating to academic inquiry and personal decision-making. Pedagogic methods include class discussion, writing personal reflections, expression of feelings and opinions, debates and practicing skills.

The critical reform approaches address teachers, who aim to engage students more actively in social critique and action. Furthermore, students are ideally empowered to promote alternative principles, question deep-seated social values and unjust practices, and undertake actions to lead to a more equitable society. Pedagogic methods include critical analysis, real-world student activism and specific classroom equity reforms.

NETDS contains elements of conservative and liberal processes, including key methods of streaming students, and working within the usual processes of systems. However, it also contains socially critical methods and goals, including its application of critical pedagogy work as part of the modified curriculum and its explicit focus on redressing inequitable distribution of teaching workforce.

It was found that one of the most salient ideological issues for the authors was the NETDS’s use of a conservative approach to student recruitment, the use of GPAs as the non-negotiable selection criteria. Much of their struggles centred on ways to mitigate the possible consequences of removing top-tier students from the rest of the student population.
The authors argue that they know that the kind of quality learning opportunity enabled by NETDS should be provided to all of their education students regardless of their initial commitment to social justice and their academic standings. This belief has surely been tested many times in the course of our NETDS work, and yet the collective self-reflective exercise has helped the authors realize their continued commitment to this belief.

The authors also believe that NETDS has a potential to evolve into such a robust program, and this was our initial ambition when getting involved in the program. Time will tell whether or not NETDS and their work at University of New England will be recognized as a worthwhile social justice initiative in teacher education. 

Updated: Feb. 13, 2018