Imagining success, experiencing social injustices and learner poor performance.
Cafun, Wade Cesaree.
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The attainment of academic success is something to which most learners aspire. Sadly, many, and in particular learners from disadvantaged backgrounds tend to fall short of achieving such aspirations. This is especially the case when their achievements are measured against the academic rigour of their wealthier and certainly more advantaged counterparts. To ask marginalised learners to reflect on the attainment of academic success may therefore be unreasonable and impractical. It is for this reason, amongst others, that the notion of simply imagining success was pertinent in my study. My study takes place against the backdrop of increasing instances of inequality both locally and globally. The site in which my study was based was in a historically “coloured” community in which the adverse effects of social injustice are an everyday reality for many who live and school within this community. The effects of inequality are clearly reflected in the everyday experiences of learners within schools. For instance, having to learn in environments that are neither welcoming nor conducive to the attainment of academic success are but some of the experiences that were commonplace in the lives of the twelve learners who participated in my study. Positioned firmly within the discipline of social justice and employing a critical methodological approach, my study aimed to give voice to these twelve learners who have too often been silenced so as to serve the benefits of social groups who are already in positions of power. I thus attempted to answer questions which illuminate what the unique experiences of these learners were concerning instances of social injustice as well as how these experiences may or may not have influenced their imaginings of success, and ultimately their academic performance. From an axiological perspective, the realities of the twelve learners in my study were brought to the fore as I chose to dedicate a large portion of my study to both their spoken and written words surrounding their experiences of social injustices, their academic performance, and indeed their imaginings of success. With an immense focus on the phenomenon of learners’ imaginings, I relied heavily on the work of Gilles Deleuze to frame my study. However, remaining true to the critical theory paradigm and the discipline of social justice, I also turned to the writings of Paulo Freire. This enabled me to not merely research, but to also bring about change in the lives of the learners who participated in my study, albeit change which existed only in their minds. The use of photo elicitations, the writing of imaginative narratives, individual interviews as well as a focus group interview served as the means by which data was collected. Learners were thus given a diverse array of methods through which to communicate their experiences and imaginings. Upon analysing the data, some of the findings which emerged suggested that learners are constantly exposed to low expectations and the doctoring of results; learners learn in environments of fear where their paths to success are often blocked; learners learn in spaces which represent unequal power relations; learners do have imaginings of success but they are influenced by exposure to social injustices in their school, and finally; learners have the potential to transcend their circumstances through their imaginings of success. Ultimately these findings as well as the theories of both Deleuze and Freire resulted in my developing what I called “the elliptic theory of imagination.” True to its name, this theory demonstrated that while learners are able to eventually transcend their circumstances with the help of imagination, learners’ imaginings nevertheless followed an elliptical orbit around their material realities. At times learners’ imaginings were too close to their realities and were therefore limited by them. While at others, learners’ imaginings were too far afield from their realities and were thus unrealistic. Essentially, an implication of my study was that in order for imagination to operate as a vehicle for liberation, learners’ imaginings must exist within an area of orbit which I called “the lavender zone.” This zone is neither too close to, nor too far from one’s material reality. Therefore, in this zone imagination was neither limited by experiences nor so far removed from reality that it became unrealistic.