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Working Cass Families and Modern Education Systems Redefined under Neo-Liberalism Policies Essay

Connell’s (2003) article focuses on the problematic relationship between working-class families, and modern education systems, which is being redefined under neo-liberalism policies. Connell explores this issue in relation to an Australian reform, which was created with an intention to make upper secondary education more inclusive, in particular ¬– through more extensive vocational education opportunities.

Connell explains that the level of which working-class youth’s needs have been met, or neglected throughout the past 150 years of mass schooling in advanced capitalist economies remains a core problem of social justice in education. (p. 235) Connell’s argument is that while social class is no longer officially recognised as an issue in Australian life, class inequality and exclusion have a marked influence on education in the present day. (p. 247) Connell states that the nature of which working class families respond to state schooling is a key issue of importance in research on class and education.

Connell’s central argument lies in her criticism of the neo-liberal market agenda, which she states is ultimately seeking to ‘reconstruct mass education on a ruling-class education organisational model’. Connell argues that due to the fact neo-liberalism fails to acknowledge that class structure exists, and assumes its market model is universally applicable (an assumption which Connell states is disproven by British research) –problems associated with class structure will continue to go unacknowledged. (p. 37)

Connell further argues that many working class families continue to grapple with the ‘bureaucratic machinery’ of state education in order to obtain a reasonable education for their children, however as Connell believes – ‘there’s still a long way to go’ before this relationship is cohesive and productive for all parties involved. (p. 247) In support of her argument of class still being a key factor of inequality in education, Connell cites authors such as Bettie (2002), Dent and Hatton (1996), Thompson (2002), Lynch & Lodge (2002) & Teese and Polesel (2003) (p. 235).

Connell cites Marginson (1997) to argue that the motives of neo-liberalism’s market agenda in the 1980’s was to ‘push to privatise education’, and where public education institutions remained –restructure them to become market competitive. (p. 236) Using largely a methodical approach, Connell draws on close-focus research carried out across four socially and geographically diverse government secondary schools, obtained from the Vocational Education and Equity in Senior Secondary Schooling project, and undertaken by staff of the University of Sydney’s Faculty of Education, the Department of Education and Training and the NSW Board of Studies.

Through a series of qualitative interviews with students, parents and teachers of Years 11 and 12 VET classes over a period of two years, Connell explores the relationship between working-class families and schools today, which operate under this neo-liberalist influence, but which are also attempting to implement social justice reforms, particularly in regards to expanding vocational education options. (p. 238) Connell’s central argument is plausible and relatable in the sense of the extensive field data carried out across schools depicting various class structures.

The article being ‘peer reviewed’ also adds more weight to her claims. The central theme of her argument is logically developed throughout the body of the paper, and further solidified in the conclusion, however at times she touches on international research, (for example; the British research she suggests disproves the neo-liberalist market model is ‘far from’ being universally applicable) (p. 237) without any further details as to why. Adding further detail of the international data Connell cited would have helped to solidify her key points.


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