Talking with their feet : student absenteeism and compulsory schooling
Edwards, Julie, Gale, Trevor and Murphy, Elizabeth 2003, Talking with their feet : student absenteeism and compulsory schooling, in Teachers as leaders : teacher education for a global profession: International yearbook on teacher education, 2003 World Assembly Proceedings, International Council on Education for Teaching, Wheeling, Ill., pp. 152-163.
Universal access to elementary schooling is a goal that was largely achieved in western democracies by the mid twentieth century. Yet, at the beginning of the twenty-first century, students’ access to schooling appears to be back on the agenda; this time, students themselves rather than our social systems are regulating their access to school. Increasingly, schools throughout Australia and in several other OECD countries are recording a worrying decline in student attendance in the compulsory years, prompting a certain amount of societal ‘fear’, ‘anxiety’ and ‘moral panic’. This paper reviews the literature on student attendance and absenteeism as a feature of contemporary schooling. It begins with an account of how this literature variously defines absenteeism – its discursive categories – and where it locates the ‘problem’. The ‘solutions’ that flow from these accounts are also explicated, specifically in relation to their regulatory effects on students and on the education they are offered. The paper’s critical reading of these problems of and solutions for student absenteeism seeks to highlight the institutional authoring of such student behaviour and of students as ‘other’. It also uncovers the silences in the literature, particularly in relation to cultural difference, student subjectivity and teacher pedagogy – what teachers are doing (and not doing) to/with students. The paper concludes that issues of low socio-economic status do not feature very loudly in the literature (and, we suspect, in practice), despite being strongly associated with students who respond to the demands and relevance of schooling by ‘talking with their feet’.
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