‘It’s never okay to say no to teachers’: children’s research consent and dissent in conforming schools contexts

‘It’s never okay to say no to teachers’: children’s research consent and dissent in conforming schools contexts
Perpetua Kirby
British Educational Research Journal, 5 May 2020
Abstract
This paper examines the limits to children giving research consent in everyday school contexts that emphasises their conformity to comply with adult expectations, and highlights children’s competence and agency in navigating this conformity through different practices of dissent. It draws on research into children’s agency, using a multimodal ethnography of Year One classrooms in two English primary schools. The paper includes a reflexive methodological focus, exploring the extent to which I counter the schools’ emphasis on conformity. This includes creating visuals for children to practice consent; positioning myself as the researcher in a non-teacher role, as ‘least adult’, and the one who ‘least knows’; and designing interview spaces markedly different from classrooms. The paper examines how children navigate conforming discourses by finding different ways to dissent in the research. Firstly, children demonstrate a sophisticated awareness of the cultural norms of indicating refusals beyond saying the word ‘No’. Secondly, children achieve unnoticeablity, by which they absent themselves from the ‘on-task’ classroom culture, and by extension, the research process. Thirdly, they engage in playful dissent demonstrating their political knowingness of the classroom social order. The paper discusses the implications for educational research when the values of consent are in conflict with a schooling focused on conformity. This includes emphasising the limits of consent procedures, paying closer attention to how researchers recognise and respond ethically to children’s multiple practices of dissent, and using research to disrupt problematic power structures in education settings that limit possibilities for children’s consent.

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