Teaching and Learning Participation:
Latino Youth Civic Engagement in a High School
Civically and politically engaged Latino youth are the future for bolstering American democracy because Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in this nation, and they constitute more than half of the youth population in California. To support Latino youth civic participation, this study aims to understand high school organizational programs, practices, and policies that influence Latino youth civic engagement.
This investigation is a comparative case study of the institutional factors that foster or impede high school Latino youth civic engagement. In this study I adopted Ogawa, Crain, Loomis, and Ball (2008) conceptualization of cultural-historical activity theory and institutional theory as an integrated framework and as a lens to describe and analyze four participation learning spaces, defined as spaces where youth have voice, influence and shared decision making.
My observations and interviews were informed by an interpretivist and constructivist epistemology (Lincoln & Guba, 2000) and utilized ethnographic approaches . Data sources were comprised of 320 hours of participant observation field notes from October 2012 until November 2013, artifacts and interviews. I collected artifacts from the school and the school district. I conducted focused participant observation in two elective classes and two student clubs, and conducted formal interviews with 12 Latino youth from low-income families, 10 teachers, and two school administrators. I analyzed participant structures, goal mediated activity, and social interactions among teachers and youth, as well as youth peer processes that supported civic engagement.
The findings of this study indicate that institutional pressures such as increased graduation rates and a focus on discipline, contributed to an absence of administrator leadership for civic engagement. Teachers who supported participation learning spaces had autonomy for the instruction and content of these spaces, and they exhibited organizational citizenship by giving the limited free time they had to support students’ civic engagement. Teachers’ style and choices, which were shaped by their training and personal experiences, influenced classroom or club climate, peer interaction, and pedagogy. This analysis is relevant to educators and administrators who wish to support Latino and diverse youth civic engagement in high schools, and for researchers interested in elective participatory learning environments.