Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Tensions in Creating Possibilities for Youth Voice in School Choice: An Ethnographer's Reflexive Story of Research

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

Tensions in Creating Possibilities for Youth Voice in School Choice: An Ethnographer's Reflexive Story of Research

Article excerpt

Above All, a Story of Research

As an ethnographer, I am the storyteller of this narrative account. In turn, as a reflexive ethnographer, the narrative accounts of my research are inextricably linked to my autobiographical narratives, where the two are not separate stories. They are in many ways one and the same. The following article relates an ongoing reflexive research project (1) that focuses on youth voice in the school choice process in Ontario, Canada. The purpose of this methodological article is to relate a first-hand story of research, which contributes to understanding the complexities of conducting youth-centred research within a children's rights framework on the ground. I have lived this story of research as a counternarrative, as it pushes against existing normative discourses in the field of school choice. This counternarrative includes two of my voices: my theoretical voice, which is grounded in academic literature and framed by my doctoral studies, and my reflexive voice, which attempts to relate the entirety of this research process as it is lived by me, a young researcher with experiences, knowledge, opinions, and insecurities that necessarily shape my research. In recounting my story of research, I also explore the tensions between theory and practice that I experienced during and after conducting fieldwork with youth participants.

The following article opens with a detailed account of the emergence of this research project's central theme: the marginalization of youth voice in the field of school choice. Next, I expose the theoretical framework regarding youth voice as well as the importance of conceptualizing youth as agents, which leads into an epistemological look at youth participation in research. A counternarrative relating the complexities of theory and practice during the participant observation, interviewing, and data collection stages of a critical ethnography with youth in an Ontario French-language secondary school then ensues. Each section adds a new layer for reading the present story of research, which blends theory, methodology, and reflexivity, in the hopes of creating a productive space to question and interact with the text as well as the tensions it speaks to and evokes.

Searching for Youth Voice: Who Speaks and Who Is Silenced in School Choice Literature?

What has prompted me to explore the school choice process lived by francophone youth in Ontario? This story begins in 2010 when I began my master's research project on school choice. At the time, I was focused on improving retention in French-language schools in Ontario. As a francophone who lived through the ongoing process of choosing a linguistic minority school first-hand, I felt strongly connected to French-language schools' initiatives to improve student retention and hoped my research could be of some assistance. I was motivated by this topic, as there are a significant number of adolescents who choose to leave the French-language system during the transition to secondary school. Indeed, the Ontario Ministry of Education (2008) reports that in 2004, French-language schools in Ontario were losing 9.6% of the student population, or 632 students, during students' transition to Grade 9. In undertaking this research project, I discovered that the majority of articles in the field of school choice focus exclusively, or in large part, on the integral role of parents in the school choice process and fail to consider the experience of youth (Bagley, Woods, & Glatter, 2001; Bosetti, 2004; Bulman, 2004; Davies & Aurini, 2008).

What is more, this same literature indicates that many researchers and organizations label francophone youth who opt to leave a French-language school for an English-language secondary school as "cultural dropouts" (Allaire, Michaud, Boissonneault, Cote, & Diallo, 2005; FESFO, 2006; Ontario Ministry of Education, 2008; Tremblay, 2007), a term that seems to imply that these youth "drop out" from the French language and culture. …

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