Review: The Roles of Youth in Society; A Reconceptualization

Originally published in Meaningful Student Involvement Research Guide by Adam Fletcher (2004) Olympia, WA: SoundOut.

Review of “The roles of youth in society: A reconceptualization” By R. Kurth-Schai. Published in 1988 in The Educational Forum 52(2) pp 113-133.

The Roles of Youth is a uniquely succinct, powerful and poignant offering to the student voice field.

Kurth-Schai offers an eloquent argument that proposes a major realignment of the purpose of schooling, and consequently, the roles of students in schools. She explores the current perceptions of young people according to educational practices; a variety of literature; and the ways that society’s perception of children and youth are changing today.

This document climaxes in an exciting exploration of potential roles for all young people in schools.

In 1988 very few education experts were considering the potential of student involvement as a lever in school change, let alone engaging students in meaningful activities and powerful relationships that would actually renegotiate the purpose and possibilities of the modern school. In an a literary environment that focused on dissecting national reports about school failure and student apathy, Kurth-Schai created a powerful proposal that continues to impact schools today.

This article summarizes her vision, and provides significant research to support it. The proposition that students can be powerful contributors to schools and society is relentlessly justified throughout this piece.

Every paragraph reconsiders the necessity, the rationale, or the possibilities of Meaningful Student Involvement. Kurth-Schai proposed that reconceptualizing the roles of young people in society has powerful implications on schools. She offered three parallel processes for that action:

  • Reconceptualizing the role of youth in the classroom. Where perceiving students as “receptacles of knowledge” was appropriate in a past workforce that relied on standardization and specialization, today it is not. To achieve the flexibility and innovation that today’s marketplace values, students should be engaged as creators, disseminators, and implementers of knowledge. Specific roles should reflect the need for the educator-child, a student who learns the responsibility of designing, selecting, and implementing curriculum, evaluation procedures, and motivational strategies for the purpose of learning about teaching, and for successfully teaching their peers.
  • Reconceptualizing areas of curricular emphasis. Subject matter and instructional methods should be selected to emphasize
    1. Student-directed learning experiences
    2. Cross-generational learning experiences
    3. Exploratory learning experiences
    4. Integrative learning experiences
    5. Cooperative learning experiences, and
    6. Action-oriented learning experiences.

Kurth-Schai also writes that students should also have the opportunity to A) determine the areas of freedom, responsibility, and service in which they would like to participate; B) assume primary control of administrative processes, and; C) receive recognition and/or compensation for the services they provide.

  • Reconceptualizing the role of the school in society. Similar to the vibrant George Counts’ challenge that dare the schools build a new social order, this article proposes schools must reassert their meaning for themselves. If schools are going to support young people as they exercise higher levels of personal freedom and social responsibility, schools cannot continue to move towards the academic “right.”

In just a few short pages, “Roles of Youth” can offer a comprehensive outline to people looking for more substantive theoretical information to support Meaningful Student Involvement in their classroom and throughout their schools.

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