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Why Labels Create Misconceptions About Out-of-School Youth

Why Labels Create Misconceptions About Out-of-School Youth

A look into the evolving change in terminology referring to young people who are out of school and not working suggests that negative labels do more harm than good when attempting to keep kids in school and out of trouble.

The NPR report used Google's Ngram Viewer to find "mentions of some of the most popular phrases in published books" starting from 1940 and working to modern day to see how terminology has changed over the years and how each term defines a different perspective.

"'I think the name matters," says Andrew Mason, the executive director of Open Meadow, an alternative school in Portland, Ore. 'If we're using disparaging names, people are going to have a hard time thinking that you're there to help kids,'" according to the article. Mason has worked with alternative school programs for 23 years.

In the early 20th century, the term "juvenile delinquent" was the outstanding term used to describe the category of young people, and the negative connotation is obvious from the beginning. Indeed, it symbolized a time when troubled youth were institutionalized rather than helped.

"This was the beginning of the 'reform school,' aka 'industrial school' movement. The primary response to young people in these situations was to institutionalize them, sometimes for years, with varying levels of access to food, shelter, work and education," the article said.

Next, throughout the 60s and 70s, terms changed from "delinquent" to "drop-out" supposedly thanks to Timothy Leary and his slogan "Turn on. Tune in. Drop out," according to Nell Bernstein, an expert on juvenile justice. This, Berstein said, conjured images of youth in need of help as wayward children who chose a life of drugs and "freedom" over education.

Instead, Bernstein recommends using labels to better describe what is actually happening and to remove the negative stigma from the youth in question.

"Bernstein favors...using the term 'pushout,' which, she says, 'opens up the possibility that the onus isn't entirely on the dropout' and 'looks at root causes.' In our New Orleans reporting we often found people talking about students getting 'pushed out' of school," the article said.

Certainly, another positive word that has found a foothold in publications lately is "opportunity youth," a term that has resulted in the funding of initiatives that "seek to bring together schools, community groups, foster care programs, family court and juvenile justice system to help young people find their way back."

Read the full article here and comment below.

Article by Nicole Gorman, Education World Contributor


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