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Radical reform and reforming radicals in Australian schooling

Eve Mayes (Faculty of Arts and Education, Deakin University, Geelong, Australia)

History of Education Review

ISSN: 0819-8691

Article publication date: 29 March 2019

Issue publication date: 11 November 2019




The purpose of this paper is to consider historical shifts in the mobilisation of the concept of radical in relation to Australian schooling.


Two texts composed at two distinct points in a 40-year period in Australia relating to radicalism and education are strategically juxtaposed. These texts are: the first issue of the Radical Education Dossier (RED, 1976), and the Attorney General Department’s publication Preventing Violent Extremism and Radicalisation in Australia (PVERA, 2015). The analysis of the term radical in these texts is influenced by Raymond Williams’s examination of particular keywords in their historical and contemporary contexts.


Across these two texts, radical is deployed as adjective for a process of interrogating structured inequalities of the economy and employment, and as individualised noun attached to the “vulnerable” young person.

Social implications

Reading the first issue of RED alongside the PVERA text suggests the consequences of the reconstitution of the role of schools, teachers and the re-positioning of certain young people as “vulnerable”. The juxtaposition of these two texts surfaces contemporary patterns of the therapeutisation of political concerns.


A methodological contribution is offered to historical sociological analyses of shifts and continuities of the role of the school in relation to society.



The author gratefully acknowledges Remy Low and Nicole Mockler for earlier conversations and collaborative work critically analysing recent counter-extremism policies and their interpretation and enactment. Thanks to Helen Proctor, Remy Low and Emma Rowe for engagement with earlier versions of this manuscript, and to Kevin Harris for advice in following up the RED archive. The author also thanks the anonymous reviewers and Julie McLeod, whose constructive feedback helped to refine the author’s thinking.


Mayes, E. (2019), "Radical reform and reforming radicals in Australian schooling", History of Education Review, Vol. 48 No. 2, pp. 156-170.



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