From the Self to the Social

Engaging urban youth in strategies for change

Authored by: Amira Proweller , Karen Monkman

The Routledge Handbook of Poverty in the United States

Print publication date:  December  2014
Online publication date:  December  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415673440
eBook ISBN: 9781315755519
Adobe ISBN: 9781317627401


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The disproportionate number of children living in poverty in the United States is a constant reminder of the social inequities that loom large in this country. “Nationally, one-in-five children grow up poor, 9.2 million children currently lack health insurance, 3.9 million people are homeless (a number projected to increase 5% each year) and 1.3 million (or 39%) of them are children” (Leistyna, 2009, p. 52). Beyond the myriad of challenges that youth face in urban communities of poverty, many attend public schools caught in the cross hairs of a neoliberal assault, where escalating pressures for accountability, privatized reforms, and a growing emphasis on high-stakes testing predominate (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Kumashiro, 2012; Lipman, 2011). A heightened focus on techno-rational forms of instruction fail to provide youth with the knowledge and skills to understand and ultimately challenge profound social and economic inequalities that shape their daily lives (Giroux, 2009). These changes, along with others, are part of the neoliberal shift of the last several decades. “[N]eoliberal academic discourses and ideologies … substitute cultural explanations of poverty for structural causes, pathologize people of color, and promote individual responsibility and market solutions” (Lipman, 2011, p. 89). In this context, the narrowing of school curriculum creates a space for the proliferation of programs of the types discussed herein. These initiatives are reliant on short-term funding acquired through market competition, thereby creating precarious conditions for their work and giving more power to funding sources to shape agendas. Increasingly targeted for societal and educational disinvestment, youth on the class and race periphery are marginalized and cast as social problems (Books, 2007). Despite notions of public schooling existing for and in the interests of all students (Smyth, 2012, p. 76), youth from urban communities of poverty find themselves academically disconnected and slowly disappear into the ravages of growing poverty in the United States (Darling-Hammond, 2010; Fine et al., 2004; Lipman, 2004).

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