Down with the kids

4th March 2011 at 00:00

Young People, Popular Culture and Education

By Chris Richards

Continuum (pound;22.99)

4 out of 5

Look back on your teacher training days, and the chances are that the dominant subjects covered in the theory side were the sacred quartet of psychology, sociology, history and philosophy. More liberal courses might have strayed into economics and comparative education. But there will almost certainly have been, in Chris Richards' words, "significant neglect of the cultures of children and young people".

The reason for this, he suggests, is that for the course designers, "education studies is not necessarily about the education of young people". Instead, he argues, it is "lifelong and far exceeds the framework of assumptions associated with schooling from five to 19 years".

This seems an extraordinary statement, not because it is untrue but because the vast majority of people on education studies courses are likely to be prospective teachers, there because they want to be involved in young people's education. One might, therefore, have thought their needs would have taken precedence over the niceties of academic distinctions. But it was not, and largely still is not, so.

Chris Richards' aim in this book is to put that right, or at least to stake a claim that cultural studies has a vital and legitimate part to play. The case he makes is that education studies needs "to acknowledge and make space for the exploration of the cultural experience of children and young people, and particularly those children and young people that students taking education studies once were".

Young People, Popular Culture and Education urges a move away from the dominance of history, psychology, sociology and philosophy and makes a very plausible case for the inclusion of influences from women's studies, psychoanalysis, autobiographical writing and cultural studies. "Too much is neglected if only the relatively traditional disciplines are acknowledged," as Richards so nicely puts it.

The chapters on Race and Representation, Children and Television, Young Adult Fiction and Popular Music pick up the pace, as well as offering some bizarre insights into the world of academia. My favourite featured the work of Hodge and Tripp (1986) who made the case that children should watch more television to increase their awareness of modality or the "reality-status" of a text and "thus learn to recognise and understand the implications of differing degrees of modality". Quite.

So who is this book aimed at? It has a student textbook feel that is hardly designed to attract the casual reader and, despite its promising title, little of the text casts much light on the influence of contemporary popular culture on the children we teach. But when it does, most effectively through the autobiographical writings of a rather unconventional Muslim student, it is highly engaging.

Although I am sure it will end up as a student text, it is difficult to escape the feeling that it has been written primarily for academics. It will hopefully make an impact and persuade course designers that there are richer sources of influence than the traditional academic areas. And for that, Richards deserves to be thanked by future generations of teacher trainees.


Chris Richards is a research officer at the Centre for the Study of Children, Youth and Media at London University's Institute of Education. He was formerly reader in education at London Metropolitan University and has taught in London since the 1970s.

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