Vegan Children in English Secondary Schools: Challenging Norms and Personal Impacts

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As a teacher, teacher educator, and ethical vegan, I have reflected on how animals are used, viewed, taught, and discussed in the school system. Inspired by the work of McDonald, Cevero, and Courtenay (1999), this study aims to explore the experiences of vegans, specifically their ability to challenge normative ideologies. However, unlike previous research, this study focuses on children in UK secondary schools. Giroux's (2001) concept of the hidden curriculum in schools is vital in understanding the experiences shared in this thesis, including the physical environment, school ethos, facilities, and relationships between staff, support staff, and pupils. Schools and education more broadly are viewed as imposing a typical culture that reflects the social structure and power relations of wider society. Importantly, this study highlights how education perpetuates a normalization of consuming animals, replicating existing cultural norms. This thesis provides insight into the experiences of young vegans as they navigate their school life within the context of the broader societal norms and values. The study identifies a gap in the current literature, which fails to consider the experiences of children and young people. The research aims to answer the question of whether vegan children in English schools can challenge the omnivore norm and examines their personal impact. Qualitative research methods were utilized to narrate and understand their day-to-day encounters. The participants are positioned as engaging in parrhesia, or truth-telling, to convey their experiences. This interpretivist practitioner-inquiry draws from a variety of methods, akin to a bricolage, to explore personal experiences and encourage participants to engage in critically reflective conversations. Through the research question "Can young vegans challenge the omnivore norm in English schools, and what is the personal impact?" this study concludes that experiences were predominantly negative, particularly in challenging the pervasive norm of animal consumption within schools. Young vegans faced limited opportunities to challenge these norms and incurred a high personal cost in doing so, which shaped their decisions and identity. These encounters extended beyond the classroom, curriculum, and lessons to the wider school culture. The hidden curriculum serves as a framework for understanding the reproduction and widespread support of overriding norms, including those of omnivores.
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