Curriculum and policy documents in many states and countries around the world, but more specifically in Queensland, Australia, are underpinned by an emancipatory agenda, in particular the principles of social justice. Educators are called upon to achieve this through a pedagogy which is immersed in the language of critical theory. This article explores the notion that students may achieve the syllabus outcomes related to the critical agenda; however it questions whether contemporary youth are making choices that further the critical transformative cause. Key foci are the discourses of youth, the intentional discourses of schooling and the discourses of society that are legitimated through the accounts of young people for whom emancipation is not a key issue. These discourses have been interpreted within a critical poststructuralist framework, using critical discourse analysis to explore the macro and micro elements of the data. The article illuminates the complex negotiations of these youth as they traverse the contradictory terrain of their worlds, and argues for the continued importance of a critical agenda in schools.