I am interested in the experiences of young people in secondary schools because their voices are often hidden in conversations about the goals, aims, and “business” of education. In particular, this book presents research informed by postmodern theories of education in order to locate these student voices within the wider problematic question of what schools are and should be. As a high school teacher I had great opportunity to witness and participate in various practices within schools that shape and produce the subjectivities (or the ways that individuals are shaped by powerful discourses) that students carry with them, in some form, for the rest of their lives. This professional experience has led me to question how aware educationalists are of what school is like for young people and to ask what happens when educational assumptions meet the highly complex worlds young people inhabit. I see that the territories colonised by education are often underpinned by values, theories, and “commonsense” assumptions that are rarely critically examined. The purpose of this book, therefore, is to question the idealisation of the “good student” as it is experienced by high school students in Western Australia because this ideal is one of the key terrains through which subjectification occurs. I argue that the discourses informing the idea of the good student are not unique to Western Australia, and I am sure that many of the students’ experiences recorded here will strike a chord across national and international boundaries.
This book is set against a backdrop of institutional and systemic flux in Western Australia, Australia, and the rest of the Western world. In the relatively short space of 10 years, Western Australia has seen mandated curriculum change followed by the polarisation of the education community about that curriculum change—polarisation that, in turn, resulted in changes to the mandate. Increasingly centralised national approaches to education have been implemented, accompanied by the rise of the business or corporate model of education, which prioritises efficiency and accountability. This shift has resulted in the growing prevalence of high-stakes testing and an increasingly performative culture in schools. Teachers’ worlds are variously framed as uncertain, fear ridden, or unrewarded. The notion of performance pay to reward excellent teachers is