Critical consciousness – the ability to critically read social conditions, feel empowered to make change in one’s community, and actually participate in these change efforts – is an important part of youth’s civic development. It is also a source of strength for disadvantaged youth that contributes to their well-being.
Steinhardt’s Erin Godfrey, assistant professor of applied psychology, and doctoral student Justina Grayman conducted a study looking at whether the type of classroom discussions youth have in school matters for their critical consciousness. The researchers specifically looked at the extent to which an open climate for discussion – one in which controversial issues are openly discussed with respect for all opinions – related to youth’s critical consciousness.
Godfrey and Grayman studied a sample of more than 2,700 ninth grade students. They found that the type of discussions in their classrooms did matter. Students who reported that controversial issues were openly and respectfully discussed in their classroom felt more strongly that they could make changes in their schools and communities. They were also more likely to participate in voluntary activities to help their community. Minority youth benefited particularly from these kinds of classroom discussions.
“Our findings suggest that we should foster teachers’ abilities to discuss controversial issues in an open and respectful way,” says Godfrey. “These kinds of discussions not only build critical consciousness, but also support academic learning and other important skills laid out in the Common Core State Standards.”
The research was published in the Journal of Youth and Adolescence.
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