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Queensland professor talks about his career findings


February 17, 2012

By Jennifer O'Reilly

Allan Luke LectureOn a recent trip to Canada, Dr. Allan Luke, professor of education at Queensland University of Technology in Brisbane, Australia, gave a retrospective lecture at OISE, discussing his many findings on educational research, social justice and school reform.

Drawing on his 35-year career as an academic in the fields of language and literacy education and educational sociology and policy across the U.S.A., Canada and Australia, Dr. Luke discussed the diverse approaches to theory he has undertaken in Australia and East Asia, and commented on schooling in Ontario and Finland.

Likening his early academic career at Graduate school to ‘a William Shatner expedition’ in that he and his colleagues were exploring a sociology of literacy, somewhere where people said they couldn’t go, Dr. Luke ‘got busy inventing a field.’ He began by bringing together various models of narrative with Marxist theories of ideology which culminated in his belief that literacy was not an automatic behavior or skill but a matter of culture, economy and society.

Along his academic journey, where his own experiences were largely of teaching ‘the cultural other’, there was a shift in his focus from looking for a single point of determination of student inequality, initially thought to be school reading books or the unequal construction and distribution of knowledge within educational systems, to multiple determining factors which included curriculum, instruction, assessment and policy.

His move to Australia and his work with Indigenous cultures have brought still more insights. “It’s not whether you can teach kids how to read the world, it’s whether you understand how you yourself came to read the world and if you can explicate that for people narratively through story. I’ve understood the power of story again. I’ve understood the significance of story and why conservative educational philosopher Michael Oakeshott defined education as an intergenerational conversation. Ultimately, the social field where the determination is made is the face-to-face one, the local one and is the last port of call. It’s the teachers and kids.”

He argues that it is possible to work with government on reform for social justice and equity, to improve the human capital prospects of indigenous communities and others that have been historically marginalized within educational systems and by the very societies and cultures that they live in. “That for me is still the fundamental question and the problem that we struggle to solve. We’re dealing with issues of inequality here.”

Today, the question for Luke both theoretically and practically remains the same - “how what Foucault worked on in policy, which is discourse, actually is translated into material social relations and material outcomes for these kids.”

He returns to Australia to continue work on his current project – a large-scale evaluation of federal government intervention in Indigenous education.