Tertiary education for social justice in an age of uncertainty
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Permanent link to Research Bank record:http://hdl.handle.net/10652/1481
This thesis is located in the context of contemporary tertiary education and investigates two key influences on teachers and teaching. The first arises from the uncertainty and ambiguity that is attributed to postmodernism while the second is concerned with performativity demands that focus on accountability, surveillance and judgment. Each of these creates challenging conditions for teachers. Within this milieu, the thesis is concerned with teachers who teach with a social justice orientation within a range of disciplines. It asks a question about the professional, pedagogical and ethical issues around the production of graduate identities confronting teachers committed to social justice in contemporary tertiary institutions. Two aspects of identity are of central importance – the socially just graduate and the resilient graduate who is able to thrive in conditions of uncertainty. The identities of the teacher are also implicated because the influences of uncertainty and performativity impact on their lives and work. Data were collected using a narrative method through in-depth interviews with eight New Zealand tertiary teachers from the disciplines of accounting, architecture, education, law and marketing. Further data were obtained through a second phase of data collection utilising an asynchronous online discussion amongst participants. They were asked to comment on issues of uncertainty, their understanding of ‘good teaching’, their approaches to social justice content and processes in their teaching, the development of desirable dispositions, and the notion of education for being – that is, an ontological approach to education. The research found that the contemporary conditions of tertiary education create challenging circumstances for all teachers. Identities of both teachers and students are subject to multiple disturbances, particularly with a potential shift of focus from epistemology to ontology in relation to learning, as outlined by Ronald Barnett. This calls for the development of graduate dispositions including resilience, criticality, courage and openness. But for the social justice teacher, there are particular issues to confront and resolve and they relate to both the content and process of their teaching in conditions of uncertainty and performativity. The teachers in this study are interested in incorporating social justice content into their teaching in balance with their disciplinary content. Some of them also attend to processes that enhance equity and opportunities for all students. They seek to find ways to deal with the relational issues of the classroom so that students engage with their learning, with both disciplinary and social justice content and with each other. The thesis also identified that some theories of social justice are more helpful in providing pedagogical guidance for teachers in complex contemporary circumstances. It is suggested that a ‘capabilities’ approach, as proposed by Amartya Sen and developed by Melanie Walker, can provide the basis for attending to professional, pedagogical and ethical issues for tertiary teachers. The thesis concludes that these teachers remain hopeful about the possibilities for enhancing social justice in tertiary education and society.