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Curriculum & Leadership Journal
An electronic journal for leaders in education
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r.u.MAD? - Social Justice through Community Connectedness

David Zyngier
David Zyngier recently completed the development of the r.u.MAD? Program for the Education Foundation of Victoria. He is an education consultant and former school principal, and is currently undertaking research towards a PhD in education at Monash University.



The problems of schools are so compelling and the urge to get in there and deal with what is happening to our children is so understandably powerful that we sometimes lose the capacity or do not have the time to step back and ask the critical questions about the organisation of the society in which we live.
(Michael Apple, Cultural Politics and Education).
The r.u.MAD? Program: Kids Making a Differance in the Community is a powerful new student-centred curriculum innovation closely linked to the Victorian Curriculum and Standards Framework. An initiative of the now closed Stegley Foundation, the program is supported by a number of philanthropic organisations and individuals to inspire a culture of giving back to the community amongst our youth. It is hosted by the Education Foundation.

It guides teachers and students in developing practical initiatives that will make a difference in local, Australian or overseas communities. Following the steps 'feeling, thinking, action and reflection' students connect to the community and respond to the student concern 'It is unfair that ...'

Over 60 schools throughout Victoria have already successfully implemented the r.u.MAD? Program. Projects large and small are already in action in primary and secondary schools and a number of student foundations have been established.

The r.u.MAD? Program shows students they can overcome barriers and achieve remarkable results for themselves, their community and for others. It encourages them to move beyond the feelgood stage of giving, and recognise the privilege of having something to give.

In this way it provides a powerful model for moving school and student activities from charity to change - from theory into action. Projects are designed to generate a ripple effect in the community and spread their impact to others. The r.u.MAD? Program assists students to challenge discriminatory social policy, achieve greater self-determination and tackle underlying structural problems that lead to discrimination and disadvantage. It improves community well-being and strengthens community networks and advocacy through a focus on local social conditions, local governance, local facilities and services.

The r.u.MAD? Program applies the concept of Connectedness - of teaching and learning based on community and intellectual projects. Connectedness to social and community development aims to solve social problems through 'action learning' and 'action research' approaches to schooling and education.

As such Connectedness is closely linked to the concept of Productive Pedagogies as described in the Queensland School Reform Longitudinal Study (QSRLS 2001), which is concerned with how student learning, both academic and social, could be enhanced. Productive pedagogies, used in a supportive classroom environment, incorporate intellectually challenging material that is relevant and connected to children's lives, recognising that children learn in different ways and have different needs. Classroom teachers must shift attention from the emphasis on so-called basic skills towards productive pedagogies.

What sort of Connected education?

Connectedness in the form of curriculum that focuses only on the problems of practical life (Driver Ed. HIV Ed. Business Ed. etc) does not develop the essential skills of critical reasoning, further disempowering our students.

Connectedness must enable students to have more control of their lives, learn about individual and collective rights and be connected to a more participatory social vision than that of providing human capital needs of industry and business, or being prepared for paid work that is often non-existent.

Conclusion

I do not aim to identify a single pedagogy to be universally applied, rather to stimulate discussion about education within the context of social justice. We cannot do it on our own - but without a change in the way we teach, improved student outcomes for those we recognise as needing the most assistance will never be achieved.

We await the day when every teacher will be able to write a student report that states 'George/Georgina became totally engaged through the planning and organising community connected curriculum that also encouraged teamwork and shared responsibility. George/Georgina worked effectively because he/she had been given a high level of ownership of the program'.

Then our students will no longer see themselves as victims, objectified and exploited as innocent and docile casualties of the system. Together with their teachers, students will have acquired control over not just the content but the delivery of their curriculum.

The fourfold questions of Connectedness:
1. How do teachers and their students get connected to the real world in an authentic manner that not only values the student's culture and needs but adds value to their learning experiences in terms of the mandated curriculum?
2. How will schools accommodate the result of such a radical and transformative change in the space and place that the school would/could occupy in the community?
3. How will the education system integrate such dramatically different curricula that challenges the curriculum imposed by university admission requirements?
4. Can society accommodate an engaged, empowered and perhaps enraged generation of learners demanding social justice for all not just the few?

Practical questions to classroom teachers about Connectedness:
1. To what extent is school knowledge integrated across subject boundaries?
2. To what extent are links with students' background knowledge made explicit?
3. To what extent do classroom activities or tasks make it clear that what is learned in lessons is, or will be, of some use-value outside of the school in 'the real world'?
4. To what extent are classroom activities and tasks based on the resolution of a specific and realistic problem?
5. Do we unintentionally doubly disadvantage the already disadvantaged students by serving them up more of the 'basics' and 'busy work' instead of actively engaging their intelligence?
6. Whose vision of 'real life' counts in education?

Questions to all interested in education:
1. Is it possible to change schools without a concomitant change in the social and economic conditions?
2. Is school reform more about raising the achievement level and scores on what the reformers have determined to be 'high status knowledge'?
3. 'Who is to really benefit' from any changes we make to education?


KLA

Subject Headings

Queensland
School and community
Social welfare
Socially disadvantaged
Victoria