Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Understanding Social Justice in Rural Education

Academic journal article Journal of Research in Rural Education (Online)

Understanding Social Justice in Rural Education

Article excerpt

Cuervo, H. (2016). Understanding Social Justice in Rural Education. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Citation: Corbett, M. (2017). Book review of "Understanding social justice in rural education." Journal of Research in Rural Education, 32(1), 1-4.

A number of books on the subject of rural education have appeared recently. Several are excellent and serve to move the field in a positive direction by taking up questions which have been present in the rural education literature for some time, but which have not had the kind of in-depth treatment afforded by a book-length study. Notable here are several titles. In Why Rural Schools Matter (2014), Mara Tieken deals principally with racial diversity in rural schooling, but simultaneously with the more traditional rural education preoccupation with understanding the importance of schools in rural locations. Jinting Wu's Fabricating an Educational Miracle (2016) is a broadly theorized study of the complex interface of education, mobility, development, and audit culture in rural China. Wendy Geller's (2015) Rural Young Women, Education, and Socio-Spatial Mobility is an analysis of the educational decision making of young women in rural areas in which she engages with contemporary literatures concerning mobilities, gender, and identity formation.

Some years ago now, Ted Coladarci (2007) issued a call for rural education scholarship that is distinctly rural in character and not just gesturally so. What I think he meant by this mandate was that much rural education scholarship was blending into mainstream educational analysis by treating the rural as a variable rather than as a central organizing focus. This call echoes a similar analysis by Craig Howley, Paul Theobald, and Aimee Howley (2005) that raised questions about research that pays little attention to place and rural lifeways, in favor of an "infatuation" with decontextualized quantitative analysis that effectively erases places.

The three books mentioned above have, I think, achieved the kind of analysis that Coladarci recommended, and each of them takes up established problems in rural education by situating rurality at the center of the analysis. It is my sense, though, that rural education scholarship also suffers from a contrasting problem: A considerable amount of scholarship is insufficiently engaged with the larger questions, theoretical currents, and methodological advances that have emerged in recent years in educational thought. I think that each of these books also situates rural education firmly in the mainstream of educational and social thought rather than portraying rural education as a kind of side-show occurring in places that are in some way set apart from modernity.

A recent book by Hernán Cuervo, who works in the Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne, adds to this more sophisticated rural education literature. His Understanding Social Justice in Rural Education (2016) asks the reader to think about education as a spatial problematic drawing on work from geography, political theory, sociology, and youth studies. Cuervo's basic argument, at least as I read it, is that neoliberal governance and policy practices put everyone and everything in schools under the microscope of audit culture. The three-legged stool of competition, choice, and equity wobbles along supporting the belief that all three of these elements can coherently coordinate educational work.

Drawing primarily, but by no means exclusively, on theories of justice, Cuervo offers a sophisticated, and I think convincing, argument that rural education is caught up in a particularly problematic way in an analysis of social justice that relies too heavily, and too exclusively, on notions of distributive justice. This idea was developed most extensively in political theory by John Rawls, whose analysis is predicated on an understanding of social justice that "assigns rights and duties, and distributes benefits and burdens through social cooperation" (Cuervo, 2016, p. …

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