Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Before Media Education Gets to School: Understanding Adolescence and Education

Academic journal article ETC.: A Review of General Semantics

Before Media Education Gets to School: Understanding Adolescence and Education

Article excerpt

Discussing stereotypes applied to young people, eleventh-grader Alex,1 a petite Latina who lives in the South Bronx, debates the labels attached to suburban kids--rambunctious, energetic--versus urban kids--criminals, gang members--and concludes that adults and the media are invested in the maintenance of stereotypes as a way of categorizing young people, explaining, "That's what they want and a lot of kids follow it." Despite the language of new school reform where education promotes and provides space for interventions to make change in their lives, schools are not separate from the environments in which they are found. Schools that are created to reach out to struggling young people rely on deep-rooted stereotypes and labels as a way to categorize their constituents. Using these labels as inspiration for change replicates the students' negative environments. When they are constantly reminded they need the structure and expertise of school to make them better people and able to move beyond their current situations, young people are left with little alternative other than the belief that, at the present moment, they and their families are damaged.

Alex is a student at Lincoln Square High School (LSHS), a public school in New York City, part of new school reform and designed, in part, to ensure that students such as she do not grow invisible within the largest public school system in the nation. A strategy of new school reform is to reach out to young people before they become lost in the system and provide a rigorous pedagogical environment that works to move them beyond their negative environments and help foster their commitment to school.

Young people are positioned in a conflicted space in both media and education. They are sophisticated audiences, readers, and--in an age of increasing user-generated content--producers and distributors of media, yet they are not formally invited to think critically about their media experiences. Furthermore, it is students who experience most directly the changes made in schools, but who are often the least informed or taught about the changes in their education.

New York City is the largest public school system in the United States, serving a diverse collection of young people, the majority of whom are of African and Latino heritage from lower working class and impoverished economic backgrounds. Despite the lofty rhetoric of radical pedagogy, the structures of the school system carry more weight than individual schools. LSHS is part of new school reform which includes a collection of newly formed, small schools designed to reach out to underprivileged youth, and whose curricula is focused around a primary theme. The goal of small, theme-based high schools is to ensure that no student is forgotten or allowed to be invisible and that all students will have a competitive chance at their college and career of choice. The overarching theme of small, theme-based education is to encourage students to work their way out of their socially and economically negative circumstances through education. This rhetoric, however, does not translate to the reality of these schools, or to LSHS in particular. The demographic makeup, geographic environment of the school, and the actual space in which the school is housed, are constant reminders that, despite changes in language and organization, LSHS students are primed to replicate, not break out of, social and political inequalities.

LSHS is located in a geographic area typical of New York City: as extreme wealth moves in, it pushes the extremely poor further to the edges. The school is located in a literal and figurative intersection between art, commerce, and urban blight. It is settled uncomfortably between Lincoln Center, a series of housing projects, the West Side Highway, and Columbus Circle. Students traveling by subway, bus, or on foot jostle for space with wealthy Upper West Side residents, gourmet markets, and boutique shops, and with performers, laborers, and students of Julliard, the Metropolitan Opera, the New York Philharmonic, and the New York City Ballet. …

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