Success: A measure of what we value?: An exploration of the discursive construction of educational success in the public domain
In a time of rapid technological and social change, questions are being asked about whether current notions of education can adequately prepare students for a future that is often described as uncertain and complex. Public debates arising from these questions suggest that while education is generally highly valued, the ideals and purposes, or indeed, what is considered successful education, is neither clearly defined nor commonly understood. This is reflected in a public discourse that consists of fragmented issues, short-term solutions and apportioning blame. Based on the premise that language both reflects and constructs aspects of society, this thesis analyses a range of contemporary public discourses to examine the concept of success in education, at the school level. The data includes foundational educational documents from the Ministry of Education, press releases, and reported newspaper articles. Using Critical Discourse Analysis, in the style of Fairclough, Wodak and van Dijk, I examine linguistic constructions associated with success in detail, and consider these in a wider social and historical context. My research reveals seemingly innocuous language features that undermine deeply held democratic views of education and reconstructs them to fit within managerial mechanisms of neoliberal ideology. I argue that the resulting conflicts between the social and economic values underlying educational discourses are reflected in the lack of coherence across the wide range of complex issues in the public discourse. Furthermore, this conflict contributes to diminishing engagement with these issues, a sense of confusion about what is desired for education, and increasing indifference to inequities in New Zealand education today. The conclusion I draw from this is that such conflict makes it impossible for key participants in educational debates to make progress towards a coherent and effective educational framework for the future.