i'm doing some research on youth and civic engagement for howard, which reiterates the longtime vogue of peer education when it comes to reaching out to young people. at the youth nonprofit i work for, youth-led social action is key, and we train young people to devise their own projects for social justice.
certainly, youth should be engaged directly, especially when it comes to the issues that affect them most. and young people may respond better to their peers than to adults who often represent external authority. but i find myself wondering about the widescale impact of our educational system, in which students are grouped narrowly by age. there's plenty of good research pointing to the role of the modern education system in producing "youth culture," a cultural space inhabited specifically by young people. this concept is so familiar to us now that it seems commonsense and obvious to emphasize the value of peer education -- and to worry about peer pressure.
but maybe it's not an ideal setup to isolate young people and educate them in large communal institutions, especially if it creates a hierarchy in which all adults are in some position of authority -- teachers, administrators, staff. while considering the positive effects of peer-to-peer influence and education, it might be worth critiquing the assumption that youth culture occupies a perennial and permanent place in society, rather than a historically specific one.