Rethinking Youth-Adult Partnerships

Last month I received a copy of a new report out from the National 4-H Council called 4-H YIG National Report: Youth-Adult Partnerships in Community Decision Making: What Does it Take to Engage Adults in the Practice? In this summary of stellar new research from Shep Zeldin and Julie Petrokubi from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with Carole MacNeil from the UC-Davis, studies continues to answer the research protocol Zeldin’s team boldly proposed back in 2000-2001. The report details, in depth, several important points that advocates and practitioners need in order to do this work:

  • Theory, research and practice behind youth-adult partnerships
  • 4-H’s model of youth development and the promotion of youth-adult partnerships
  • Research questions and methods
  • Findings focused on challenges of implementing youth-adult partnerships
  • Recommendations for creating the conditions for youth-adult partnerships

However, while the report hits on all the cylinders it needs to, I find it is sorely lacking several important components. Somewhere within the field of youth advocacy there is a blatant lack of critical thinking about one’s one work. While this report addresses challenges facing youth-adult partnerships (p 18), it does not mention the challenges of youth-adult partnerships. One of the main challenges is the crisis of social justice inherent within the frameworks of youth-adult partnerships:

The reason we need partnerships between young people and adults is because as it stands, society treats young people as less-than human.

If you are black or brown, the situation is worse still. In some communities, if you are a young woman that is worse; in others, for young men it is worse. In schools, it is almost the same straight across the board. Simply put, that treatment and the sentiment behind it must stop. The dilemma of the historical model of youth-adult partnerships examined within this report is that it relies on the continuation of that model, and worse still, it perpetuates it to some extent.

I want to go far as to propose that we adopt Malcolm X’s notion that sitting at the lunch counter isn’t enough – young people should own it, too. There must be complete investment and parity within the heart and mind of the individual young person in order to ensure the values that we purportedly strive for, which according to Zeldin, et al, is “authentic youth participation”, which ultimately is a “fundamental tenant of democracy” (p 3).

Let’s rethink youth-adult partnerships and go beyond this simplistic notion that having enough youth in enough activities in enough organizations is enough democracy. That is the problem of American democracy today: people think there is enough. This traditional model of youth-adult is not enough, simply because there is more! There are more young people, more adults, more opportunities and more outcomes we can and should expect from these relationships.

Tomorrow I’ll write about what I think that is. In the meantime I would suggest that you check out this report, along with related materials, on the National 4-H website. Also, check out this new article on Wikipedia for a preview of where I’m going with this.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

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