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A new spirit rising among us: Urban youth environmental activists

Deborah Leta Habib, University of Massachusetts Amherst


The multicultural and environmental education movements have constituted significant political and educational forces over the last several decades. However, there has been little merger of these in terms of constituencies, ideologies and agendas. In schools, environmental and multicultural education are most often considered occasional additives rather than core curriculum, and rarely are they introduced as interconnected. Educational curricula and programs that support young people, particularly in but not limited to urban areas, in exploring connections between social and environmental issues and becoming knowledgable and conscientious decision makers, leaders and activists are urgently needed. Urban youth involved in environmental issues represent a venue for bridging multiculturalism and environmentalism as change agents who bring multiple cultural perspectives, wisdom, and leadership potential to the discourse. This research study explores conditions that promoted environmental activism and leadership among urban youth. An interview-based methodology was used to gain insights into the experiences and perceptions of twelve young people, male and female, who live in urban areas and are of diverse cultural and ethnic backgrounds. The analysis explores influences such as family, culture, neighborhood and school in shaping the study participants' perceptions and involvement in environmentalism. Their perspectives challenge limited and sterotypical definitions of environmental issues and support the notion that 'environment' is a socially constructed concept. The youth illustrate this in the examples of urban environmental concerns they identify and discuss as important to their lives and communities. Their experiences as youth activists and the nature of their activism is explored, including the importance of adult support and membership in community to sustaining their involvement. Their perceptions of leadership as a collaborative process, informed visions for rethinking schooling, and clarity in terms of educational and career aspirations reinforce their importance as contributors to the discourse on environmentalism. The lessons learned from this research are translated into recommendations for rethinking curriculum development and teacher education from a multicultural environmental perspective, and building alliances between schools and community and national organizations.

Subject Area

Bilingual education|Multicultural education|Environmental science|Science education|Social structure

Recommended Citation

Habib, Deborah Leta, "A new spirit rising among us: Urban youth environmental activists" (1996). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI9619392.