Engagement, Equity, Well-being

Youth, Education and Marginality: Local and Global Expressions; Edited by Kate Tilleczek and Bruce Ferguson

I THINK MOST OF US would agree that today’s youth are experiencing a society that is very different from that of generations before – a society with much uncertainty and instability fueled by: burgeoning urbanization, rapid technological changes, rising economic inequities, growing concentration of economic capital (wealth) in the hands of a few; skepticism about the efficacy of our democratic and meritocratic systems; growing numbers of females and ethnoracial minorities graduating from postsecondary institutions who remain over-represented among the unemployed; heightened surveillance of those deemed to be problem citizens; and the growing discontent with globalization. What are the consequences of these concerns for today’s youth? What are their readings of the conditions with which they are confronted? And how are they navigating and negotiating the structures that produce and maintain these conditions?

In Youth, Education, and Marginality: Local and global expressions, editors Kate Tilleczek and Bruce Ferguson and their contributors provide useful insights into the experiences, perspectives, and aspirations of youth who have been marginalized by the systems of education and schooling to which they are exposed. As Tilleczek and Ferguson write: “The social complexity of [the youth’s] experiences and life stories, and the ways in which schools respond to them, is the focus of this book” (p. 2). The significance of exploring the role of schooling and education in the lives of the young people who are casualties of inequity is well articulated by Jean Mitchell in her essay, “Marginalization Spaces, Disparate Places: Educational and youth practices in a globalizing world.” She writes: “Education as an institution and as a long-standing instrument of modernity in both colonial and post-colonial contexts shapes the lives of youth in particular ways to fit the shifting contours of global economies and government agendas” (p. 79).

Furthermore, in the current neoliberal context the ethos of individualism, hard work, merit, “right” choices, personal responsibility, and delayed gratification are the values and norms by which youth are encouraged to live their lives, approach their learning, and construct their aspirations. There are youth for whom this ethos – structured by Eurocentic, middle class, heterosexual, adult norms – are proving to be inadequate or limited in enabling them to take advantage of the opportunities promised through education and schooling. If indeed we are to develop a healthy democracy in which all Canadians are able to fully participate, then they must gain equitable access to education that builds on their abilities and skills – giving consideration to the different and varied social and cultural capital they bring to the teaching/learning process. And to ensure that their needs are addressed, rather than simply “give voice,” we need to hear often from these Canadians, and read about them from scholars and other adults who will provide spaces for them to tell their own stories or counter-stories. This is what Tilleczek and Ferguson set out to do in their book.

The stories of the youth are illustrated through empirical research, theoretical considerations, and policy discussions by scholars, youth workers (or practitioners), and policymakers. As well, youth have contributed poetry, prose, drawings, paintings, and photographs. The multi-genre texts featured in the “Youth Art” sections of almost every chapter capture in their own voices, the lived experiences, cultural nuances, aesthetic expressions, and inspiring images of the youth. This rich and diverse pedagogical presentation is a compelling aspect of the book, for it communicates insights into the “Changing World” of the youth (see Selima Jacqueline Peters’ poem, p. 10), giving readers access to the lived experiences of youth both in their voices and through the re-constructed narratives represented in scholarly research.

The essays and research reports of contributors reveal the nuances, shifts and complexities of the marginalization of the youth in relation to their identities, relationships, negotiations and responsibilities, and noting the role of gender, class (poverty), ethnicity, race, sexuality, aboriginality, and health (mental) in the marginalization processes. But contributors did not all consistently reference the inter-relationship of these factors on the social and educational situation of the youth. Race was sometimes confused or conflated with ethnicity. For example, in taking up Jalisha’s reference to her “Black, dark” skin, Tilleczek refers to “her ethnicity” when in fact race is what is being identified. The conflation of race with ethnicity means neither the issues of racialization and racism, nor the problems that contribute to the marginalization of racialized youth, will be adequately identified and addressed.

The international comparisons by Jean Mitchell, Chapter 4, and Andy Furlong, Chapter 7, were valuable to our understandings of the experiences of today’s youth beyond Canadian borders. I wonder what a comparison with youth in the United States might have added. Not only did contributors highlight the social, economic, educational, cultural, and political conditions that these societal and world conditions have spawned for today’s youth, they offered ways in which educators, practitioners and policymakers might work to address their situation (see in particular Chapters 4, 6, 8, 11 and 12). Contributors – including the youth – reason that it is important for educators and all who work with youth to pay attention to their lived experiences within their diverse networks and communities to which they belong and/or from which they gain their sense of belonging and identity. Doing so will help to foster healthy social and emotional development and well-being among youth.

Rummens and Dei (Chapter 6) suggest that a “critical inclusive approach” to the education of youth would help to “facilitate and enhance” their learning (p. 126). Such an approach necessarily involves “close relationships, mutual understanding and social bonding” between school personnel, parents and communities. I concur, for as I argued elsewhere, in working with marginalized students or students from marginalized communities, educators need “to have a knowledge of the community and the culture if they are to effectively facilitate a teaching and learning process in which students are able to see the relevance of their learning to their lives.”[1] When youth witness the validation of their experiences, and “the validation of their culture within the educational process, they concatenate their identities as family members and students.”[2] Probably, Melissa (age 22) speaks for many of today’s students, and more generally the youth, when she says: “It’s not that I want the whole world to cater to me or anything, I just see it catering to everyone else… and don’t get me wrong, I don’t need charity or anything, all I want is an equal shot” (p. 22).

Photo: Dave Donald

First published in Education Canada, September 2014

[1] C. E. James, Life at the Intersection: Community, class and schooling (Halifax: Fernwood Publishing, 2012), 124.

[2] J. Cammarota, “Participatory Action Research in the Public School Curriculum: Toward a pedagogy of dialogical authoring,” in Revolutionizing Education: Youth participatory action research in motion, J. Cammarota & M. Fine (eds) (New York: Routledge, 2008), 135.

Meet the Expert(s)

carl james

Carl E. James

Carl James is the Director of the York Centre for Education and Community (YCEC) in the Faculty of Education, York University. His research interests include examination of issues of equity, particularly in relation to access and inclusivity in the schooling of marginalized youth, and the place of sports in their educational outcomes.

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