Adolescents at School: Perspectives on Youth, Identity, and Education
reviewed by Hersh C. Waxman - 2004
Title: Adolescents at School: Perspectives on Youth, Identity, and Education
Author(s): Michael Sadowski (editor)
Publisher: Harvard Education Publishing Group, Cambridge
ISBN: 1891792113 , Pages: 200, Year: 2003
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Adolescents at School: Perspectives on Youth, Identity and Education is a very powerful book that should be read by every secondary school teacher, administrator, and school board member. In addition, every parent or guardian of an adolescent child should read this book. This edited book sends out a terrifying message about the difficulty of adolescents in schools today! Most of us know that adolescence is a difficult time for most young people, yet this book still helps us gain understanding of the complexities of adolescents who are "different." The book highlights the "differences" of adolescents, whether they are different because they are an ethnic minority, sexual minority, have a disability, or are from a lower-socioeconomic status.
The book is somewhat unique in that it is an edited volume that includes: (a) leading experts who provide descriptions of adolescents, and (b) profiles of students, commentaries, or interviews that follow each chapter. The profiles, interviews, and commentaries generally provide meaningful accounts or descriptions of students or educators. This component adds richness to the book because it illuminates most of the key points raised by the authors in their chapters. The chapters and following profiles, interviews, and commentaries are fairly brief, but for the most part they provide enough thought-provoking issues and descriptions that most readers may want to read the original research. Most of the chapter authors have written their own books on these topics, and I think that after reading this book, many individuals may want to pursue reading additional books, chapters, and articles by these authors.
The book highlights several of the current problems that adolescents face in school. Some of the serious problems discussed in the book include: (a) harassment, (b) ethnic, racial and sexual discrimination, (c) poverty, (d) stress, and (e) uncaring schools and teachers. These problems that are prevalent for many adolescents in school today are vividly described in the book and provide a realistic picture of the magnitude of these issues. These problems would typically induce despair for most individuals, yet there are a variety of strategies that are mentioned throughout the book that focus on change and improving conditions for adolescents. The interview with James Garbarino, for example, offers some strategies like promoting extracurricular activities and character education in school as well as teachers being role models for their students. There are two major themes raised throughout the book that provide some promise and hope.
One theme that is addressed in several chapters is the need to focus on "resilient students" or those students who have "beaten the odds" and become successful despite coming from educationally, socially, and economically disadvantaged circumstances (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1994; Waxman, Gray, & Padrón, 2002). Understanding the personal and/or social-psychological factors that impact the "resiliency" of these successful individuals may help us understand how to help those students who come from similar circumstances but have not been successful in school or life. In her profile of a Mexican immigrant student, for example, Angela Valenzuela describes some of the experiences of Nelda, a resilient, eleventh-grade student who excelled in school. Thomas Fowler-Finn similarly provides a profile of an African American resilient student, Roderick Sleet, who became an outstanding student in school. In their chapters, Michael Kimel and Michael Sadowski also discuss the importance of adolescents having a caring, trusting relationship with an adult in order for them to develop the resiliency to cope with the difficult problems they face. Thus, the concept of developing or fostering resiliency is important in order to help adolescents become successful in school and life.
A second theme that is prevalent throughout the book is the need to create more positive school climates and environments where teachers and students are respectful. In their chapter, John Raible and Sonia Nieto, for example, discuss the notion that secondary school teachers would rather focus on content than deal with social and emotional concerns of their students. This point clearly summarizes a great deal of the problem. Throughout the book, many authors mentioned that changing the curriculum was critical, especially in terms of making it more relevant both in terms of culture and in terms of more authentic, meaningful opportunities. There is emerging evidence that classroom instruction in school should emphasize the everyday concerns of students, such as critical family and community issues, and try to incorporate these concerns into the curriculum (Tharp, Estrada, Dalton, & Yamauchi, 2000; Waxman, Padrón, & Arnold, 2001). Culturally responsive instruction helps students prepare themselves for meaningful social roles in their community and larger society by emphasizing both social and academic responsibility. Furthermore, it addresses the promotion of racial, ethnic, and linguistic equality as well as the appreciation of diversity. Again, this is an important concept that can help adolescents become more engaged in school and help many of them overcome some of the prejudices and stereotypes they face.
In summary, there are many excellent facets of this book that allow me to recommend it highly. The book provides several meaningful ways to discuss the importance of focusing on the identity of adolescents in order to improve their educational and life circumstances. One of the key solutions as Raible and Nieto propose is for teachers to take notice of the intolerance that many students face daily. The descriptions of adolescents and the problems they face in school provided in this book may inspire some individuals to begin to acknowledge that these serious problems exist and perhaps even change or transform existing educational practices.
Tharp, R. G., Estrada, P.,
Wang, M. C., Haertel, G. D., & Walberg, H. J. (1994). Educational resilience in inner cities. In M. C. Wang & E. W. Gordon (Eds.), Educational resilience in inner-city America: Challenges and prospects (pp. 45-72). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.
Waxman, H. C., Gray, J., & Padrón, Y. N. (2002). Resiliency among students at risk of failure. In S. Stringfield & D. Land (Eds.), Educating at risk students (pp. 29-48). Chicago: National Society for the Study of Education.
Waxman, H. C., Padrón, Y. N., & Arnold, K. A. (2001). Effective instructional practices for students placed at risk of failure. In G. D. Borman, S. C. Stringfield, & R. E. Slavin (Eds.), Title I: Compensatory education at the crossroads (pp. 137-170). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.