Since the beginning of compulsory public education, Canadian schools have done well by some young people and much less well by others. New understandings about the nuances in young lives are showing us that we cannot draw a simple conclusion about who is marginalized, how, or what should be done. One student`s coming out as gay or lesbian may be celebrated in one school but lead to shunning in another. One Aboriginal community’s young people live with a host of positive inspirations while another continues to mourn the loss of its young. The daily hassles experienced by some youth living in poor families or by newcomers to Canada are met with concern by one teacher, but not by another.
This social complexity of the experiences and life stories of young people and the ways in which schools respond to them is the focus of this special issue. Educators and social scientists have long been concerned with the distribution and intersections of inequalities as they play out for youth: How are inequalities reproduced and/or resisted in schools? How are we to respond to them? Do we truly reflect the issues as youth experience them?
John Dewey’s clarifying work toward a theory and practice of education has long made us aware of the necessity of examining the intersections between the lives of young people and a school’s organization. The authors of this special issue work at these very intersections. In May of 2009 many of us had the fortune to assemble at one of Bruce Ferguson`s Collaborative Research Symposia at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto. I was thrilled to host Marginalized Youth in Contemporary Educational Contexts, the fifth in a series of seven of these events (www.chsrgevents.ca/default.aspx).
Many contributors to this issue took part in this dialogue, and others form an emerging network. As a group of researchers, young people, educators, and policymakers, they make fresh contributions. They speak about educational responses to young people struggling to negotiate the identity borders of race, social class, poverty, cultural status, mental health challenges, sexualities, linguistic or literacy challenges, familial chaos, and/or being a newcomer to Canada. These authors attempt to elucidate the abundant folds of experience of these young people and their meanings for educational practice and policy. They also take seriously the narratives, biographies, and life stories that illuminate intersections of identity, experience, and the social worlds of youth. It is our wish to share this knowledge and to provoke a widened conversation with Canadian citizens.