“Confining life to an eternal present is an insidious form of soul murder.” – Cornel West
Let’s not kill the future of youth.
We’re at a transformative moment in history where Robert Kennedy’s 1966 incantation has never been more true: “This world demands the qualities of youth: not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.” This was a spectacular statement for the Senator to make, and not the least among his radically idealistic perspectives. It also opens an appropriate doorway towards any discussion about the future of youth, as any conversation about tomorrow is always ushered in by yesterday.
Yesterday… the 1960s were a powerful gateway experience for today’s leadership to see, experience and understand the power of young people, and while their frustrated notions of democratic engagement ultimately and unfortunately led to the hyper-neoliberalism, it also laid stepping stones towards today’s youth movement, as these days are building towards tomorrow’s radically different perspectives. Right now young people are actively engaged in a radical re-envisioning of the role of youth throughout society, and I thoroughly believe our society is at a “push-through” moment that is going to lead to a spectacular future. Let’s examine that a little.
When looked at in their individual parts, there are some fascinating activities being undertaken by young people today. Media making, school improvement, participatory action research, community planning, grantmaking and service learning all present massively creative and important responses to some of the most urgent challenges facing our world today. Through deliberative youth/adult partnerships, powerful outlets for youth voice and meaningful student involvement young people are gaining access and leverage to create change in ways that previous generations of youth only dreampt of. Let me reiterate that these activities are rooted in the movements of earlier generations of youth, but luckily they aren’t limited to those roots: they also draw from many other movements and traditions. And this all (luckily) defeats Alvin Toffler’s assertion that,
“The secret message communicated to most young people today by the society around them is that they are not needed, that the society will run itself quite nicely until they – at some distant point in the future – will take over the reigns…”
Taken with all that in mind, the whole body of youth involvement activities seems to portray a youth movement in transition. Rather than relying on the grandious posturing of well-meaning intellectuals, idealistic protest events, or even elitist summits of the early 20th century, young people today are actually engaged in the proactive and effective development of a society in the making. Rather than being observers in a museum, youth today are co-scientists in the laboratory of society; I would suggest that with all of these activities underway we’re doing nothing less than Alfie Kohn insisted when he wrote, “Children, after all, are not just adults-in-the-making. They are people whose current needs and rights and experiences must be taken seriously.” These activities take young people seriously. But we’re not done yet.
The future of youth is one of hope and will be played out in successive generations of possibility and power. However, and fortunately, the history of the future isn’t mine to write today. Let youth predict their own future. My conscience talks to me often, and this blog is sometimes the exercise of me letting me out. This morning it started to scream louder at me as I considered what I was going to write. So I’ll stop here, and let my reading of the past and your own imagination take us to the future.
Reading Dr. West’s Democracy Matters reminds me that I want to express the future that I see in store, a future that is so vibrant and dynamic that I can’t help but put it down. I have tried before, and I will again today. Remember that when he wrote, “Confining life to an eternal present is an insidious form of soul murder,” West was talking to us: We have to make the experience, function and outcomes of “youth” different than we are right now – and when they’re different they must be reinvented again. Anything less than that is killing the future of youth.