Preface by Paul Willis
This reader begins a conversation about the many aspects of critical youth studies. Chapters in this volume consider essential issues such as class, gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, cultural capital, and schooling in creating a dialogue about and a conversation with youth. In a society that continues to devalue, demonize, and pathologize young women and men, leading names in the academy and youth communities argue that traditional studies of youth do not consider young people themselves. Engaging with today’s young adults in formal and informal pedagogical settings as an act of respect, social justice, and transgression creates a critical pedagogical path in which to establish a meaningful twenty-first century critical youth studies.
37 Cultural Studies of Youth Culture Aesthetics as Critical Aesthetic Education
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Instead of choosing between instilling youth with an appreciation of artistic culture (art history) or training youth for professional life in art production (performance), youth art educators might choose conscientização through critical aesthetic education. Paulo Freire’s conscientização “can be literally translated as the process used to raise somebody’s awareness” (Cruz, 2013, p. 171) but is richer than this. It is
the process in which men [and women], not as recipients, but as knowing subjects, achieve a deepening awareness both of the sociocultural reality that shapes their lives and of their capacity to transform that reality. (Freire, 1970, p. 519)
From Plato, to Matthew Arnold, to Theador Adorno, it has been understood that youth are molded by cultural education. Plato encouraged art education that would influence the development of youth taste in ways that would support the state. Arnold worried about the loss of culture with the rise of cultural industries. Adorno, relatedly, worried about cultural industries transforming people into empty-headed consumers powerless to tell good art from bad. Thinkers in this school all champion aesthetic education by way of cultural appreciation. It is thought that youth taught to appreciate the masterworks of European culture will come into possession of culture. I am going to suggest a different approach: that youth are already fully engaged in culture, and that in a democracy, we do not need to instill culture from positions of power, but instead to provide teachers and youth opportunities and...
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