Lessons on Citizenship and Democratic Power Literacy from Undocumented Youth

Hillary Parkhouse


To create a society in which power is more equally accessible, we must teach our youth not only about civics and government, but also how to use political tools in order to effect social change. In this essay, I argue for teaching power literacy in place of traditional citizenship education on the grounds that the former has greater potential for increasing students’ political efficacy and their abilities to apply knowledge of civics to the real-world issues that affect them. To illustrate the concept of power literacy, I draw on a case study of a grassroots, undocumented youth activist organization fighting for in-state tuition legislation in North Carolina. Members of this group, which was entirely youth-founded and youth-led, taught themselves lobbying, civil disobedience, and other political strategies that far surpass the knowledge and skills typically presented in school-based citizenship education. Their work exemplifies the type of power literacy that we should teach all youth if we wish them to have the skills necessary to address the social inequalities that currently undercut American democracy.



Democracy; Citizenship; Youth Activism; Undocumented Immigrant Rights; Immigrants

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ISSN 1920-4175 Critical Education