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.
40 Schools as Prisons: Normative Youth Pedagogies
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Writing in August of 2004, poet Adrienne Rich (2009) “wondered why now” about a commemorative James Baldwin postal stamp, leading her into a consideration of the value of Baldwin’s words during his life and career spanning the decades around the Civil-Rights era as well as the time contemporary to her piece: “His country has put his face on a first-class postage stamp. Has named a black president candidate. But has yet to face its own confusions in his art’s unsparing mirror” (pp. 49, 56). These words sit between the largest federal education legislation in the history of the US, No Child Left Behind (NCLB), and the election of the first African American president, Barack Obama, in 2008. Yet, as Rich declared, Baldwin’s words from 1972 remain powerful and provocative in the second decade of the twenty-first century:
The truth is that the country does not know what to do with its black population now that the blacks are no longer a source of wealth, are no longer to be bought and sold and bred, like cattle; and they especially do not know what to do with young black men, who pose as devastating a threat to the economy as they do to the morals of young white cheerleaders. (Baldwin, 1998, pp. 432)
Despite claims that Obama’s election was a harbinger for postracial America, and despite over thirty years of school reform characterizing public “education as the one true path out of poverty—the great equalizer that...
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