Teacher Activism in Equity and Anti-discrimination in Scotland: An interpretive study
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Scots have long acknowledged that education has a central role in shaping a nation’s identity, culture and economic prosperity. Education is a key area within which values and attitudes are formed and perpetuated. Scotland has also held sacrosanct the concept of ‘education for all’, viewing education as a democratic enterprise which can assist the reduction of privilege and contribute to the development of the collective democratic intellect. Teachers are key within that process as they arbitrate on what is taught and how it is taught. Research has shown that teacher expectations can be pivotal in influencing pupil motivation and achievement. Scotland’s teaching workforce, just like that of all other countries in the Western world, is largely homogenous (white and middle class, female in the early years and primary sectors) and this profile is becoming increasingly mismatched to an increasingly diverse pupil population. In Scotland, confidence and competence in engaging with issues of diversity and discrimination are unlikely to be achieved through immersion in diverse communities or through peer-education. Other ways need to be identified to generate teachers of tomorrow who are ‘fit for purpose’ for a diverse population as well as being able to teach on issues which are necessary for a global citizen to negotiate the complexities and tensions of values, belief and ideological differences. This thesis adopts a life history approach to identify why some teachers in Scotland engage explicitly with equity and anti-discrimination issues as part of their approach to learning and teaching. Using interviews and narratives, the study explores particular factors that have prompted these teachers to develop an interest and activism in this area of work. Are the teachers influenced by particular theoretical frameworks? How has their commitment translated into practice? As a teacher education lecturer, I am interested to identify learning points that could assist those of us who select and prepare course content for such programmes. In particular, I am interested in models that can assist teachers to become more competent and confident in engaging explicitly with diversity and discrimination. The study discusses these issues within the specificity of the Scottish context. The impact of the belief of Scots in the efficacy of their education system, coupled with their intrinsic belief in the Scottish commitment to egalitarianism (equality of opportunity) is explored in relation to whether such beliefs are enabling or disabling of the equity and anti-discrimination agenda with respect to teacher beliefs and attitudes. The concepts of ‘teacher professionalism’ and ‘the activist teacher’ within a Scottish context are also analysed in the context of promoting equity and antidiscriminatory practice in schools. The narratives of the nine teachers (mixed in terms of age, gender, faith and belief, ethnicity, nationality and geography) in this study found that overall teacher beliefs and values are shaped prior to entering initial teacher education programmes. Key influences include parents and extended families, the church, peer groups in school, college or university and specific friendships. Teachers’ personal experiences of discrimination contributed to developing a ‘vested interest’ in the area of antidiscrimination work. Engagement with organisations external to the school, such as voluntary work with non-governmental organisations, activism within trade unions or political parties helped inform teachers of wider societal and global issues and added to teacher interest and confidence in working for a more socially just world. Teachers’ practices were in the main based more on an intuitive sense of fairness rather than being underpinned by any theories relating to equity, social justice, power or anti-discrimination. As a result, while all were swift to address aspects of personal and cultural inequalities, many were less able to articulate ideas that address institutional or structural discrimination. The study concludes by exploring possible ways that teacher education programmes and continuous professional development courses could assist teachers to ‘border cross’ and to develop more empirical reasoning and practical purpose for investing in pro-action on equity and anti-discrimination issues. Such crossings are particularly important to assist Scotland’s homogenous teaching workforce restructure pedagogical practice so that equity and anti-discrimination issues are embedded as part of professionalism and professional practice rather than being viewed as ‘bolton’ issues.