The youth equity agents project : engaging critical literacies through youth participatory action research
This year-long study explores the critical literacies of the Youth Equity Agents, who were youth of color in a youth participatory action research (YPAR) project and class at Community High School (CHS). The dual purposes of this study were to partner with youth investigating personally important social justice issues and to produce new knowledge about engaging critical literacies through YPAR in school. This study draws on theories of critical literacy (Comber, 2001; Freire & Macedo, 1987) and multiliteracies (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009; New London Group, 1996) to analyze the critical and other literacy practices of youth, as well as the pedagogies that engaged those practices in a school class. Through critical ethnography (Carspecken, 1996) of the project, this study shows that the Youth Equity Agents had both love for and concerns about CHS. To understand their experiences, they engaged in “reading school,” a practice similar to Freire and Macedo’s (1987) concept of critical literacy as reading the world. A critical pedagogical approach facilitated an inquiry community where youth concerns about racial equity and education could be addressed in school, as did the epistemological approach of YPAR, which values youth knowledge production (Cammarota & Fine, 2008; Irizarry & Brown, 2014; Mirra et al., 2015; Morrell, 2004). Through intra-active pedagogies (Lenz-Taguchi, 2011) youth’s critical literacies were extended in encounters with the material environments of schools. Drawing on this material learning, youth “wrote school” by authoring counterstories (Delgado, 1989) of CHS and other urban schools, as well their visions for justice in the design of a new CHS. Across their work in the project youth engaged a wide array of literacies including talk, movement, and photography. This study has implications for understanding critical literacies and YPAR, as well as instruction in those areas. It illuminates how material, embodied, and social aspects of critical literacies are woven into everyday life, but can also be engaged pedagogically. Finally, this study argues for the potential of engaging critical literacies through in-school YPAR, but also raises questions about the labor experienced by youth of color engaging in this critical work.