a portrait of American teenagers’ out-of-school life

Earlier this week, we released CIRCLE Working Paper #80 by Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg: “Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville – Portraits of American Teenagers’ Extracurricular Involvement, and Implications for Educational Interventions.” Kei uses cluster analysis to divide all American high school seniors into six groups, depending on their extracurricular activities. Each group has strikingly different social class backgrounds and divergent prospects for academic success and civic engagement after high school.

Extracurricular activities provide crucial opportunities to learn skills, develop networks, and explore passions. We must invest in opportunities for the roughly 35% of American high school seniors who are largely left out of after-school activities. (And that is an underestimate, because Kei assesses only those students who have stayed in school until 12th grade.)

Following in the tradition of an excellent 2001 paper that associated groups of real American teenagers with characters from the movie “The Breakfast Club,”* Kei identifies each cluster of American teens with a different character from the Harry Potter series. This is partly a mnemonic, but it also makes the point that characters are complex and trajectories are changeable. If we called 16% of American youth “slackers” (because they do not report being involved in anything constructive out of school) that would present a unidimensional image and suggest that they are irretrievably lost to civic society. But by associating them with the Weasley Twins, Kei reminds us that they have complex and varied characters and are subject to change.

* Barber, B. L., Eccles, J. S., & Stone, M. R. (2001). Whatever happened to the jock, the brain, and the princess? Young adult pathways linked to adolescent activity involvement and social identity. Journal of Adolescent Research, 19(5), 429-455

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University's Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.
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