Moslem adolescent girls, or the radical behavior of some groups are examples of a personal identity based on less outstanding (the former) or excluding elements (the latter).
3.The school and adolescent identity
In this process of building a personal and group identity, the school may play a substantive role, or simply play no role at all (or a very insignificant one). Part of the school’s capacity lies in its contribution to the definition of a “life project”. That is, in making sure that the adolescent identity does not develop into superficial forms related to the here and now, but rather that it includes future prospects.
Generally speaking, the identity that emerges as a result of belonging to a peer group is more geared towards the immediate present. The school identity is also founded on the present (the adoption of academic norms and requirements), but it is projected into the future (indeed, the school legitimates its requirements based on its future contribution). However, either directly or indirectly, the school also places adolescents (and partly forces them to adopt certain positions) before other forms of identity (cultural, based on social and/or ethnic group, gender, religious, etc.)
The theme of adolescent identity places educators before significant challenges, some of which are clearly related to the religious dimension (or to religious identity):
-The building of personal identity strongly relies on knowledge, attitudes and specific life experiences which the school is in the best position to provide. In this regard, as educators we can strengthen and guide the fundamental focus and specific hierarchy of elements upon which adolescents are to build their identity.
-The school may be experienced by adolescents as a tool to inculcate in them and impose the norms and contents of the dominating culture. As a result of this, some will oppose and reject its requirements. However, it may also provide the opportunity to open up to new challenges, according to their new impetus. Generally speaking, at least in my experience, students greatly appreciate having gone to middle school, because it provided them with great opportunities to learn and live with their peers and interesting adults (especially teachers).
-In and of itself, the contemporary school offers a multifaceted scenario, rich in terms of cultural and life choices, which encourages a more conscious awareness of one’s identity. This scenario becomes even richer and more diverse if one’s school is open to the surrounding milieu and incorporates it as a “text” of cultural references on which to build personal identity, and as an opportunity to reflect on the possible contradictions and problems related to the way of experiencing it.
-The new rational capacity experienced by adolescents is such that they require an explanation of the things which affect them. They ask adults to reflect on their personal choices, beliefs, ands life-styles. This leads them to renounce things (such as religion) which they do not always understand, or to make political choices consistent with the emotional perspective with which they cope with life, the problems of nature, social issues, etc. In this case too, schools and teachers have a lot to contribute.
-The adolescent identity (including religious identity) probably needs to be built as a form of opposition. In this case, as an opposition to the dominating culture, to the adoption of cultural principles imposed by adults, and to the way of being dictated by