How Tapping Into a Youth’s Identity Can Excite an Interest in Learning

Excerpted from the book “Participatory Culture in a Networked Era: A Conversation on Youth, Learning, Commerce and Politics” by  Henry Jenkins, Mizuko (Mimi) Ito and danah boyd, published by Polity. The following is in Chapter 4, “Learning and Literacy.”
What Interests Are Valued?
Mimi: Only a limited number of interests and identities are validated within schools and peer culture, and either you happen to be one of those kids whose interests are already connected or you’re one of those kids who isn’t embraced by the school culture, socially, academically, or culturally. There’s a strong cultural and institutional bias in many schools that validates interests like football or basketball, specific academic subjects, and extracurriculars such as chess or debate. Even putting aside something as challenging as pro-ana, it’s hard for a sci-fi fan or a skater to find a validated place in the school culture.
Katie Salen has written about changing the culture of the school to validate these gamer and geek identities in the Quest to Learn (Q2L) middle school (Salen et al. 2011). Q2L is a public middle school in Manhattan, founded in 2009, which now incorporates grades 6 to 12. Much of the school curriculum includes the input of game designers, and it centers on a game-based pedagogy and problem-solving. What you see in Q2L is a proliferation not just of the empowered geek identity but also kids starting a lot of after-school clubs that are interesting sites of overlap between school, peer, and interest culture. …