Authenticity, aims and authority: Navigating youth participatory action research in the classroom

Beth C. Rubin, Jennifer Ayala, Mayida Zaal

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


Motivated by the addition of a curriculum standard for active citizenship into New Jersey's social studies standards a group of educators and researchers set out to integrate an action research curriculum, based on a youth participatory action research (YPAR) model, into social studies classrooms. Adapting YPAR, with its promising blend of critical thinking, civic engagement, and democratization, for use as in the classroom is appealing to those seeking to use education as a means of social change. But activism does not always translate neatly to the classroom; melding multiple purposes into one approach, particularly amidst the current push for standardization and accountability measures, is complex. This analysis considers three challenges to navigate when reshaping YPAR into a curriculum for classroom use - preserving authenticity, conflicting aims, and tensions around authority. Drawing upon qualitative data from the social studies classrooms of two public high schools, this article engages directly with the difficulties inherent in adapting a methodology premised on action, authenticity, and youth empowerment to the adult driven, extrinsically oriented, skills and content-focused world of the classroom. Understanding this shift, and the epistemological tensions underlying it, is essential for those wishing to integrate action research with youth into social studies classrooms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)175-194
Number of pages20
JournalCurriculum Inquiry
Issue number2
StatePublished - 15 Mar 2017


  • Youth participatory action research
  • civic engagement
  • design-based research
  • social justice education
  • social studies education


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