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Social action and engagement may help marginalized teens in their careers later in life, particularly if teachers help them discuss and engage with social issues, new research suggests.
“We have strong evidence that directly addressing and challenging—instead of avoiding—inequality is good for historically marginalized youth…”
At a time when race and inequality are in the headlines daily, it seems, researchers find that addressing these issues can help disadvantaged students build a critical consciousness that can lead to success in adulthood.
The research shows that activism during adolescence, from civic engagement to protest, often positively impacts academic achievement and leads to securing a higher-status occupation in adulthood.
“We have strong evidence that directly addressing and challenging—instead of avoiding—inequality is good for historically marginalized youth,” says Matthew Diemer, an associate professor in the University of Michigan School of Education. “This implies that when educators provide a space for students to reflect, discuss, and challenge inequalities, those students engage and learn more.”
Diemer says such an approach allows schools to achieve their mission to prepare all students to succeed, and helps students attain jobs that are more prestigious and higher paying as adults.
He says teachers should take the opportunity to tackle issues related to social inequalities, whether large or small, and points to recent issues such as Charlottesville and the NFL kneeling controversy as perfect examples of big topics teachers should not avoid.
Other issues that crop up in individual schools such as segregation in the lunchroom or racial disparities in school discipline or dress code enforcement should be addressed as well, he says.
But creating critical consciousness goes beyond discussions. Luke Rapa, an assistant professor of adolescent development in Clemson University’s College of Education, says social action can take the form of a donation of time or money to political action groups, participation in women’s rights groups, or even protest.