Today we are releasing CIRCLE Working Paper #80: “Harry, Hermione, Ron, and Neville – Portraits of American Teenagers’ Extracurricular Involvement, and Implications for Educational Interventions.”
The ways American teenagers use their leisure time have evolved dramatically in the past few decades. These changes are not all good or bad for civic education, but they fundamentally shift the environments in which young people learn to be citizens. It is therefore important to understand these changing patterns. This new paper by CIRCLE Deputy Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg takes a look at adolescent time-use trends in the past decades, with a particular focus on students’ choice of extracurricular activities. Kawashima-Ginsberg’s work is innovative, in that she was able to identify six separate “clusters” that describe not just a teenager’s extracurricular involvement, but other important traits like educational attainment, self-regard, and socioeconomic status.
To provide additional context and a familiar frame of reference, each cluster is represented by a character from the Harry Potter series:
- Harry Potter, himself, is like the Leaders, a small number of students who join student government and engage in volunteering or community organizations. Leaders tend to say that they enjoy school, and are among the most academically competent and ambitious.
- Hermione Granger represents the Brains, students who focus on academically-oriented activities such as academic clubs and school newspapers. This group is most likely to volunteer in the community and least likely to spend time on “unstructured” activities like visiting friends.
- Fred and George Weasley are the Slackers. Students in this group spend little time on organized activities; instead, many of them spend their time on paid work and on social activities with friends. Most of them do not volunteer in the community, and they tend to report negative academic behaviors.
- Ron Weasley is one of the Athletes, the largest and most male-dominated group. They spend time playing sports or doing other physical activities, through school clubs and outside of school. They also tend to be social, are generally happy, and enjoy life.
- Luna Lovegood represents the Artists. Teens in this group focus on a variety of artistic endeavors and are unlikely to spend time on other types of activities. They tend to value independence and adventure; artists have independent minds and do not seem to worry about what others think.
- Neville Longbottom is like many Invisibles, the least engaged of all students. They do not participate in school-sponsored clubs or social activities outside of school. They show significant signs of low self-esteem and possibly general dissatisfaction with life, as well as low GPA and low academic ambitions.
The paper discusses several factors that may affect how teenagers are spending their out-of-school time, with particular attention to socioeconomic level. The least engaged students, like the Slackers and Invisibles, tend to come from the poorest families. This may affect not only the financial resources available for extracurricular activities, but also the ways in which parents view and organize their children’s time use.
Kawashima-Ginsberg also focuses on the ways that targeted outreach can potentially help students like the Invisibles. Much like Neville, who eventually finds his footing in life and becomes a confident young man, providing appropriate opportunities for these teens may aid in their development as students and citizens.
Download the full working paper.