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ECOsystems or EGOsystems of Education?

To say that schools are changing right now is a gross understatement.

Between technological, social and cultural transformations happening right now across the U.S., there are new trends becoming apparent everywhere, schools included. This paper puts the massive changes happening throughout the education system into context to help readers understand what’s happening, and why its happening.

Lots have said it, many see it, but few have called it out: for a century, our education system has revolved around ego. As we become an evermore interdependent and transparent society, this is inherently at odds with the future. This article explores the former EGOsystem of education and identifies an emerging ECOsystem taking its place. It also shows what the future might look like.

 


An EGOsystem of Education

When I first started working in education 15 years ago, I discovered quickly that educators in schools are most often the ones who school worked well for. After barely graduating from high school and taking eight years to get my BA, it was glaringly obvious to me that I was surrounded by former star students and others whose learning styles, socio-economic statuses and cultural backgrounds were being perpetuated by the system. This formula generally holds true for politicians who make educational policies as well as social service staff who support student success outside of schools.

These students often go on to work in schools as teachers and administrators; in districts as administrators; and in state education agencies as program directors, assessment officials and curriculum experts. They are successful in their careers, embraced by their institutions, and generally, reveling in the ways things are. If they are aware of how things are going for students who are most often failed by schools, they see these learners from a position of noblesse oblige, looking down on them from on high.

The system that created these workers has engendered particular school cultures that ensured succeeding generations of familiarity. Despite technology and social changes of many sorts, in many schools, learners who time travel from a century ago can find similar patterns of teaching, classroom management and testing. This is because the education system revolves around the ego, which is a person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem.

 


Four Phases of Transition

Educators have relied on fulfilling their sense of self-importance and building their self-esteem through their work for more than 100 years. Through my studies, I have seen four phases in America’s education system.

The EGOsystem/ECOsystem dynamic as illustrated by Adam Fletcher

 

1) The Control Phase

Initially relying on a high control environments, schools were initially places where teachers controlled students. The Control Phase looked like this:

  • Teachers could literally physically abuse students for not complying with their every intention.
  • Students who innately complied with teachers were awarded with increased amounts of autonomy and access to learning opportunities.
  • Educators sought to wrangle authority from communities and parents by illegitimating self-education and learning from life.
  • Education policymakers make child labor illegal at the same time legal and cultural systems were created to ensure government authority over learning and teaching.
  • The Control phase radically dismantled community-based and home-based learning opportunities, secured the function of a controlled curriculum, and imposed the meaning of grades and scores on students.
  • Voters supported this model enough to enable schools to emerge as a dominant force in society.
  • The Control Phase relied on the EGO of educators, as it enabled teachers to control large groups of students with minimal enforcement.
  • Administrators were able to control massive groups of students with few teachers, and were capable of ensuring teachers success through compliance.
  • The Control Phase served to break down the EGO of students in order to ensure students would learn what educators wanted them to. Academic honor societies were available only to the highest achieving students and student governments were almost nonexistent.
  • This phase displaced young people from their positions in communities, positioning them as dependents of schools for their learning. It attempted to strip students of self-leadership in order to secure the role of adults as leaders in learning and teaching.
  • All of these factors weighed together to create an EGOsystem in schools dependent on control. This phase evolved towards the Competition Phase. People who benefited from the Control Phase of American education saw the transition towards the Competitive Phase as logical, predictable and favorable progress.

 

2) The Competition Phase

With time, schools became high command environments that relied less on forcefulness and abrasion and more on leveraging authority for outcomes. During the Command Phase, schools looked like this:

  • Students were compelled to participate in classes because of government orders and nothing further.
  • The Competition Phase sought to essentialize schools by making graduation diplomas requirements for workplaces.
  • Conversely, during this phase post-high school opportunities were minimalized for non-graduates.
  • Voters initially supported this approach because they saw that when more people succeeded at schooling, more people succeeded in their careers; more successful careers led to more successful communities, which led to better schools.
  • In the Competition Phase, pragmatic acceptance reigns as students, educators, administrators, policymakers, politicians, parents and voters become acclimated and accustomed to the EGOsystem that has formed within the education system.
  • As schools became judged for their success according to graduation rates, students EGOs were recognized as helping motivate academic vigilance. This phase saw the widespread prevalence of honor societies and student governments in order to satiate those EGOs.
  • With the decreased emphasis on teacher EGO in the classroom, this phase saw the emergence of powerful teacher unions that ensured the authority of educators.
  • Student connections outside classrooms were ignored or seen as irrelevant to teaching, learning and leadership in schools.
  • This phase positioned students as the subjects of teachers, securing the hierarchal relationship between adults and students in schools.
  • All of these factors weighed together to create an EGOsystem in schools reliant on competition. This phase evolved towards the Connection Phase. People who thrived in the Competition Phase were threatened by the transition towards the next phase and saw it as the devolution of schools.

 

3) The Connection Phase

When social change insisted, schools modified their approach to include connection between students, among educators, within the curriculum and throughout the education system. During the Connection Phase, schools looked like this:

  • Rigorous demands imposed on schools coupled with decreased school funding led to increased attempts to ensure community connections with schools.
  • Cross-curricular approaches to teaching and learning were recognized as essential in some areas.
  • Student connections outside classrooms were recognized and mass amounts of homework were assigned to utilize out-of-school time.
  • Students work and family responsibilities outside school time were dismissed.
  • The EGO of students becomes central with honor rolls, honor societies, extracurricular clubs and other student voice and student leadership clubs being perceived as elite or otherwise disconnected from mainstream student populations.
  • The EGO of educators is struggling due to having diminished authority throughout the education system.
  • In the Connection Phase, placing self above all others is the norm. opportunists have the most authority as they maximize connectivity in order to ensure their personal gain.
  • The EGO of education policymakers is peaked from their increased authority over educational outcomes and avenues.
  • The EGO of education textbook, assessment, preparation and advocacy organizations is peaked from their influence on education policymakers.
  • Voters become resentful from subsequent generations going through failed phases of American education and stop supporting schools with levies and pro-public school advocacy.
  • This phase fosters a sense of independence with an awareness of the larger whole.
  • All of these factors weighed together to create an ECOsystem in schools contingent on connection. This phase evolved towards the Collaboration Phase. People who benefited from this phase saw the emergence of the Collaboration Phase as a relief from the pressure of connection and competition.

4) The Collaboration Phase

Today, we’re in the midst of moving from EGOsystems towards ECOsystems of education. This movement is happening through collaboration fostered by technology, social change and other evolution that holds great possibilities.

  • Connectivity is recognized as key to successful learning, teaching and leadership with all partners recognized for their potential, purpose and power.
  • Students are recognized as full partners in learning, teaching and leadership throughout education.
  • While technology was initially frowned upon, connections among students outside of school time became an imposition on classrooms. Educators were essentially required to recognize student connections outside of schools and the effects they have within schools.
  • In the Collaboration Phase, placing self above others is becoming increasingly unacceptable as more people identify with the whole.
  • Students who work and have family responsibilities are recognized for the legitimacy and authority of their learning outside school time, and receive high amounts of support to ensure their successful academic growth.
  • Academic learning, liberal arts and community living skills are recognized with equitable authority throughout the lives of young people.
  • The EGO-driven era of education ends as learning is recognized and embraced as a community-wide, lifelong endeavor for all people everywhere all of the time. This leads to the ECOsystem of education.
  • Voters reinvest in education because of the re-asserted vitality of schools in the health and well-being of democratic society.
  • This phase nurtures a sense of increasing interdependence with strong awareness of the effect of individuals on others.
  • All of these factors weighed together to create an ECOsystem in schools revolving around collaboration. This phase is currently evolving and emerging. Everyone in society should benefit from the emergence of the Collaboration Phase and will embrace the ongoing evolution of learning, teaching and leadership.

The emerging ECOsystem of education is harder to see than previous phases. From my work in schools and throughout communities over the last 15 years, I have seen some aspects of it becoming apparent. Following is an exploration of some patterns that are becoming apparent.

 


An ECOsystem of Education

Right now, there’s a new picture of schools that is coming into focus. Across the horizon of testing, standardization and the school-to-prison pipeline are learning, teaching and leadership opportunities for all people everywhere in which love prevails and pessimism stops. With beautiful balance between critical thinking, cultural uplifting and participatory infrastructure, learning mirrors life in a balanced, holistic way that honors difference, embraces hopefulness and builds through equitable partnerships among everyone involved, regardless of their ages.

When considering the ECOsystem of education, its important to remember what constitutes an ecology. An ECOsystem consists of the interdependent and interacting components of a learner’s environment. There are living elements like teachers and other students throughout, and non-living elements like the building, computers and textbooks. Air and light cycles through an ECOsystem, as well as talking, music and paper ripping. Material elements also cycle through an ecosystem via cafeterias, heating plants, and other pathways.

 


New Realities

As the ECOsystem of education continues to emerge, we will need new guideposts to know where we’re at. In the 300+ schools I have consulted over the last decade, the following three trends represent the new realities in education. These can serve as guideposts to ensure students, educators, administrators and others are on the right track to ensure the healthy, whole, successful and sustainable transition underway.

New Learning

While more students opt to learn from home, more schools rely on BYOD and tablets-as-textbooks, and classrooms integrate more with communities, schools will have fewer and fewer options for retaining students in desk chairs. Instead, they will be forced to embrace disruptive learning technologies of all sorts, including experiential education, service learning and integrate CTE that positions elementary and middle school students in applicable, pragmatic problem-centered learning to address real world challenges.

With more adults actively infusing throughout the school day as both co-learners and co-leaders with students who are transforming communities, the role of student will be actively redefined. No longer the plaything of classroom tyrants, students will be recognized for their essential role in the American democracy as the foundation and implementation of lifelong civic identity and engagement. Students of all ages will freely co-learn, co-teach and co-lead communities in quintessential learning communities that are infused with vigor, vim and vitality.

New Teaching

By actively taking control of the things they want to learn, students are actively moving from being the passive recipients of teaching towards becoming active partners in learning and leadership. Each individual student will develop and implement their own course of learning from their youngest years in schools. Learning about their roles as active learning partners, they will also assume more responsibility throughout their communities for teaching their elders. In turn, today’s teachers will continue towards become learning coaches and facilitators to the willing. Students will gain full authority through true interdependence, and communities will become fully integrated throughout their local education systems.

New Leading

The effect of dispersed learning and teaching are already rippling throughout the education system. Technology is actively pushing students out of the forced irrelevance of age- and interest segregated classrooms and towards their broader communities, while schools have to reach deeper towards their local communities in order to cover budgets. This is drawing students towards meeting real community needs through authentic leadership and away from falsely important student governments. In turn, this is forcing schools to reconsider engaging those students in educational leadership. In the ECOsystem of schools, education uses all members of the community in order to drive, transform and sustain learning. Students become researchers, planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates throughout communities, which in turn recognize their legitimacy as contributing members of society.

This rekindles community investment in education, which further enriches the educational environment. Racial inequities are eagerly addressed by communities, and the school-to-prison pipeline is dismantled. Every student creates their own learning plan with strategic systems of learning supporting their implementation. Restorative justice engenders new cultures of respect, trust and ability throughout schools, while nutrition, school buildings, athletics and other activities become safe supports for learning and teaching. All of this happens through new leading.

 


Forward

As schools move forward through the phases, a natural ECOsystem of learning will emerge. There is a growing awareness of this transformation. Some people see a complete destruction of traditional, EGO-driven schools, while others see an ongoing evolution towards ECOsystems of learning, teaching and leadership. If we deliberately identify the systems supporting education, we can make this shift intentionally.

As the entirety of the system moves forward, there will be resistance and denial. People who’ve upheld the first and second phases will resist the inevitably of this transformation, while others who’ve embraced the third and fourth phases might actually deny the need for the system to move forward. Those who resist and deny are actually representing the EGOsystem of education that has become entrenched by the powers that benefit most from the EGOsystem. However, truncated by the inevitable transformation fostered by ongoing social change, its inevitable for the EGOsystem to die.

In order to move it forward, its important for educators, students and others to make an honest assessment of where their own personal expectations lay; where their schools’ realities are; and what the gap is between those two areas. Schools will never do more than we are willing to do in them. If a person is young, then its imperative to establish genuine expectations for their own experience. This comes through reflection and critical thinking. If a person is older, its vital to engage in critical self-analysis as well as self-engagement in a project for school improvement. For anyone, its important to get active. Research what exists right now. Work with others to plan for alternatives. Teach people about options, no matter what age you are or they are. Evaluate and critically examine what exists, what could exist and what the gap is between those two spaces. Get involved in decision-making wherever there’s an opportunity, including on committees, in forums and in other spaces. Finally, everyone must advocate for the future of schools and the emerging ECOsystem of education. This has to be brought forth on purpose, and the only way to do that is to encourage individuals, organizations and communities to move towards the ECOsystem on purpose. Advocate for that.

Learning is a beautiful, nature and evolutionary approach towards expanding our human potential. The ECOsystem of education moves us towards powerful possibilities for all students everywhere all the time. You should come with.

 


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Adam Fletcher Consulting Clients

Adam Fletcher Project Database

This is a database of some of the projects I’ve worked on from 1997 through present.

  1. Action For Healthy Kids, Chicago, Illinois (Project Management; Professional Development)
  2. Alberta Ministry of Education Student Engagement Office, Edmonton, Alberta (Education Consulting)
  3. Catalyst Miami/Human Services Coalition of Miami-Dade County, Miami, Florida (Education Consulting, Professional Development)
  4. Center for Studies and Research in Education, Culture and Community Action (CENPEC), São Paulo, Brazil (Education Consulting, Professional Development)
  5. City of Cheney Parks and Recreation Department, Cheney, Washington (Project Planning, Professional Development)
  6. Educational School District 123 21st Century Learning Centers, Pasco, Washington (Education Consulting, Professional Development)
  7. Educational Service District 113 The Youth Alliance of Southwest Washington, Tumwater, Washington (Project Management)
  8. HumanLinks Foundation, Bothell, Washington (Project Management)
  9. Imagine Miami, Miami, FloridaNew York State Student Support Services Center, LeRoy, New York (Professional Development)
  10. North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, Inc., Raleigh, North Carolina (Professional Development, Freelance Writing)
  11. Seattle Public Schools Office of Equity and Race Relations, Seattle, Washington (Project Management)
  12. Seattle Public Schools Service Learning Seattle, Seattle, Washington (Project Management, Education Consulting, Professional Development, Student Training)
  13. Seattle Public Schools Youth Engagement Zone, Seattle, Washington (Project Management, Professional Development, Student Training)
  14. Secondary Academy for Success, Bothell, Washington (Project Management, Student Training)
  15. Small Schools Project, Seattle, Washington
  16. University of Washington GEAR UP Program, Seattle, Washington (Professional Development, Student Training)
  17. Village Family Support Services Bureau, Caroline, Alberta, Canada (Project Management, Student Training)
  18. Washington State Action For Healthy Kids Coordination, Chicago, Illinois (Project Management, Student Training)
  19. Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction 21st Century Community Learning Centers, Olympia, Washington (Professional Development)
  20. Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Learn and Serve America Program, Olympia, Washington (Education Consulting, Professional Development, Student Training)
  21. Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction School Improvement Program, Olympia, Washington (Project Management)
  22. Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Title V and Innovative Programs, Olympia, Washington (Project Management, Student Training)
  23. Youth and Adults Transforming Schools Together (YATST), Hardwick, Vermont (Education Consulting, Professional Development, Student Training)
  24. Seattle Youth Media Camp, Seattle, Washington (Project Management)
  25. Seattle Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre 1, Seattle, Washington (Project Management, Professional Development)
  26. Seattle Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre 3, Seattle, Washington (Project Management)

 


About Adam Fletcher

 

Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher

Student Voice Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook by Adam Fletcher

New for 2017!

Student Voice ​Revolution: The Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook is the brand-new master​y​ book ​focused on student voice, student engagement, student/adult partnerships, and more. 

Containing tons of details, this book is focused on engaging all students in every school as partners in every facet of education for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to learning, community, and democracy. ​There are more than 75 examples from the author’s ​experience and research, as well as literature from throughout education. Never before published tools, new models and useful tips are included, along with more than 300 citations, dozens of recent and historic anecdotes, and ​more.  The book also highlights unique ​approaches, detailed assessments and critical examinations of everyday school activities make this publication ​un​like ​any other available today. This book should be read by teachers, college students, other educators and school leaders and others focused on education transformation. 

Student Voice Revolution is an optimistic, realistic and pragmatic clarion call for the future of public schools in democratic societies. Are YOU ready for this revolution?
 

About the Author

An internationally-recognized consultant and speaker focused on student voice​,​ author​ Adam Fletcher has worked with schools, education agencies, and other organizations across the United States and Canada. ​He is the author the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum, The Practice of Youth Engagement and The Guide to Student Voice. His writing has also been published in education journals and magazines around the world.
 

Title Information


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Adam Fletcher with the King County Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre in 2011.

Service Learning Seattle

Since 2006, I have contracted with Seattle Public Schools Service Learning program. My activities have included project planning, program design and delivery, evaluation, training, technical assistance, speaking, and professional development services. I’ve provided large and small group facilitation; communication and public relations; project management; and other consulting services, too.

 

Partner Schools

Some of the schools I’ve partnered with in Seattle have included:

  • Cleveland High
  • Garfield High
  • Roosevelt High
  • Franklin High
  • Nova High
  • Ballard High
  • West Seattle High
  • Rainier Beach High
  • Aki Kurose Middle
  • Mercer Middle
  • Denny Middle

 

Following are descriptions of some related activities.

 


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Elsewhere Online

Purpose, Empowerment and the Experience of Volunteerism in Community

“Volunteerism isn’t right! Matter of fact, it is not good at all.”

With that, the preacher ended his speech, complete with “Amen!” and “Hallelujah!” coming from the crowd gathered. I was a 19-year-old at a neighborhood meeting in the mid-sized Midwestern city where I grew up, and my ears were burning. Throughout the meeting I heard several perspectives from my friends and neighbors on the volunteers and missionaries who had come to rehabilitate houses, tutor kids and work at the food bank in my neighborhood.

This preacher was alluding to a belief that I hear repeated in many of the discussions I’ve been in where community volunteerism was addressed: that similar to other “isms” in our society, volunteerism has become an addiction that serves to reinforce the social, attitudinal and structural barriers facing “others” in American society – children and youth, homeless, LGBTQ, differently-abled, people of color. These barriers limit the recipients of said volunteerism in their ability to experience authentic self-driven change in the situations they occupy.

However, my experience has also shown me that there is hope for volunteerism. For the last three years The Freechild Project has operated under the motto of “By, not to; With, not for.” This motto is strengthened by our mission to build active democracy by engaging young people in social change, particularly those who have been historically denied participation.

When the purpose of service and volunteerism is to strengthen democratic participation and community empowerment, volunteerism can be wholly beneficial. As Ivan Illich once observed about international volunteerism, “[Volunteers] frequently wind up alleviating the damage done by money and weapons…” When conducted as part of a deliberately revelatory cycle, volunteerism can become a process for empowerment, as long as it is not at the expense of others’ self-determination.

 


Experience

After growing up occasionally homeless, then in a low-income community where my family and friends were the subject of much volunteerism, I served three terms in the AmeriCorps national service program. I developed a tutoring and mentoring program for Kurdish and Iraqi kids in the Midwest, ran a ropes challenge course for low-income youth in the Northwest, and assisted in the leadership of a service learning program in the Southwest. I know service work, and I promoted volunteerism to all kinds of people. However, my most riveting experience came when I worked for a larger national foundation where I was responsible for teaching young people about volunteering. I discovered that the language of “service” covered an attitude that was pious at best; at worst, it perpetuated a sense of noblesse oblige, the royalty taking pity on the peasants and giving them alms.

My own concern was coupled with others who I met in this volunteering. After several years, I worked with a group of people from across the United States to develop a teaching practice called Activist Learning. After exploring the benefits and faults of service learning, we defined Activist Learning as community learning characterized by people taking action to realize a society based on just relationships by seeking to change unequal power structures throughout our communities. However, after promoting Activist Learning for several years I discovered that there is another need that extends beyond schools and into communities. I see that need as a re-visioning of experience of volunteers.

 


Examination

Below is a model through which volunteerism can start to become emancipatory for ALL of its participants, including the volunteer and the community, the “giver” and the “receiver.” The Freechild Project believes that this model represents the most radical and powerful possibilities for people’s participation throughout our society. One of the goals of The Freechild Project is to realize the full participation of all people throughout society as equal members in decision-making and action. We have developed this model in order to represent our vision of democratic, community-oriented participation for ALL people. Individuals and organizations can use this model to start thinking about how volunteers of all ages can be integrated as empowered, purposeful participants throughout society.

I have re-envisioned sociologist Roger Hart’s Ladder of Children’s Participation for this model. According to Hart, he developed the Ladder to introduce community workers to the practice of children’s participation, and its importance for developing democracy and sustainable communities. The model presented here is done in the same context, except for the purpose of sharing the goal with a broader audience. I believe that the importance of developing democracy and sustainable communities must be spread to all people, including the homeless, the impoverished, and all those regarded as “others” in American society.

 


Ladder of Volunteer Participation

Following is the Ladder of Volunteer Participation, including a brief explanation and examination. In this Ladder, Community Members are “insiders” from any community of people who have been historically been “others” in the United States. Volunteers are “outsiders” who have traditionally come into communities to provide “service.” They may include non-profit staff, AmeriCorps Members, teachers and others.

 

2017 Ladder of Volunteerism
This is the Ladder of Volunteerism, © 2005-2017 by Adam Fletcher.

 

8) Equitable Partnerships with volunteers happen when projects or programs are initiated by community members and decision-making is shared among community members and volunteers. These projects empower community members while at the same time enabling them to access and learn from the experience volunteers.

7) Self-Led Partnerships with volunteers happen awhen community members initiate and direct a project or program, and volunteers are involved in supportive roles only.

6) Equal Partnerships with community members happens when projects or programs are initiated by volunteers but the decision-making is shared 50/50 with community members

5) Community Consultation happens when community members give advice on projects or programs designed and run by volunteers. The community members are informed about how their input will be used and the outcomes of the decisions made by volunteers.

4) Community Assignments happen when someone else creates projects and community members are assigned specific roles and told about how and why they are being involved.

3) Tokenism happens when community members appear to be given a voice, but in fact have little or no choice about what they do or how they participate.

2) Decoration happens community members are used to help or “bolster” a cause in a relatively indirect way, although volunteer do not pretend that the cause is inspired by community members.

1) Manipulation happens when volunteers use community members to support causes and pretend that the causes are inspired by community members.

 

This Ladder isn’t a static tool meant to describe whole programs or the entire experience of individuals. Instead, it is meant to help individuals identify where they are at any given point of their volunteering, and where they can aspire to. People can occupy many spots on the Ladder at the same time; organizations can engage different volunteers differently in order to meet their needs. The Ladder isn’t static.

 


Exploration

While many community organizations seek to “fix” or “heal” the wounds in our society, it has been often noted that rarely are these works more than band-aids. The after school basketball program I ran for young people in my neighborhood when I was 21 did help keep kids off the streets. However, it didn’t help their parents get better jobs so they didn’t have to work two shifts; it didn’t help their grandparents strengthen their parenting skills so they didn’t feel so frustrated; ultimately, it didn’t help the young people learn more skills or become more involved in their community so they felt a sense of hope and purpose.

Volunteerism oftentimes serves to perpetuate the worst of these characterizations, often with negative effects on both the volunteers and the community members themselves. Instead of engaging community members on the top rungs of the Ladder, at most some organizations relegate them to the bottom rungs. How many homeless shelters do you know of that are operated by homeless people? How many afterschool programs for young people do you know of that are operated by young people? In some programs, when the recipients of rehabilitated homes help carry out the framing, plumbing and painting of their homes, are they actually learning about places the water lines and helping to choose the colors, or are they just finishing the nailing?

The challenge of reaching higher rungs on the Ladder of Community Participation is one that faces all individuals and organizations committed to validating and uplifting the skills and abilities of the people who are served, whether they are young people, people of color, or others. However, the reality is that all organizations cannot all be at the top rungs. Sadly enough, when reliant on dysfunctional trends to justify their existence, some groups actually work to keep communities from being on the Ladder at all. That is reality.

 


Conclusion

When considering community members’ empowerment in Brazil, Paulo Freire once wrote “those invaded became convinced of their intrinsic inferiority.” The implication that volunteerism is an engine for a degrading, delineating social design is not new, but the challenge that faces us is: to make volunteerism a relevant, purposeful engine for democracy and sustainable communities today, and by doing so, to create a vibrant, purposeful society tomorrow.
In his book, “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” published a year before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about what he called the world house. “This is the great new problem of mankind,” he wrote. “We have inherited a large house, a great ‘world house’ in which we have to live together — black and white, Easterner and Westerner, Gentile and Jew, Catholic and Protestant, Moslem and Hindu — a family unduly separated in ideas, culture and interest, who, because we can never again live apart, must learn somehow to live with each other in peace.”

“All inhabitants of the globe are now neighbors,” King continued, predicting a time in which not only African Americans would be fully free, but peoples suffering discrimination everywhere. “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever,” he wrote. “The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”

The challenge we face as responsible community workers, educators and other social providers is to build Dr. King’s world house, where he proposed a revolution of values. That is why we must aspire to lift volunteerism towards the poignancy which it could have. That is one where the community and the volunteer work with intention in unity for the common good. That is where I want to live.

 


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Elsewhere Online

  • To Hell With Good Intentions – A 1968 speech by Ivan Illich focusing on the injustice perpetuated by American volunteers working in Mexico, and when contextualized in the light of modern “service” work, offers a startling analysis of the volunteer movement in America.
  • Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? – In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King laid out a clear analysis of the painful divide facing activists and community organizers. The problem is that we’ve fulfilled his worst fears. 1960s Connections he drew between Black Power, affirmative action and American segregation provide a clear glimpse into modern American apartheid; his prescriptions for community building, nonviolence and unity offer a roadmap for a different America.
  • Mentoring the Mentor – This book is a written conversation between Paulo Freire and a number of promoters, practitioners and detractors who have beef with his analysis. “The fundamental task of the mentor is a liberatory task. It is not to encourage the mentor’s goals and aspirations and dreams to be reproduced in the mentees, the students, but to give rise to the possibility that the students become the owners of their own history. This is how I understand the need that teachers have to transcend their merely instructive task and to assume the ethical posture of a mentor who truly believes in the total autonomy, freedom, and development of those he or she mentors.” (from Chapter Sixteen: “A Response” by Paulo Freire).
  • In the Service of What? The Politics of Service Learning – In 1994 a pair of university faculty wrote an academic analysis of service learning. They provided a basis for a lot of the modern criticism underway today, and allowed the service learning movement to breathe enough to allow critical thinking within its ranks. While that movement seems to have exhaled lately, Kahn and Westhiemer’s analysis is just as applicable today, and provides a great construct to learn from.
  • Learning Through Activism – The Freechild Project’s action plan for powerful, purposeful learning through social change.  Includes guiding principles and resources for young people, educators and activists.
Hearts and minds quote Adam Fletcher

From My Point of View…

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein

 

Lately, I find myself thinking more about what actually changes in our lives, and why that change happens. At the beginning of my fourth decade, I’ve seen minor and major changes so far throughout my lifetime.

There have been many major life changes, including finishing college; owning a home and selling it; having and raising a child; and walking with family and friends as their lives have changed, too. There have been countless minor changes in my life. Thinking about this world we all share, there’ve been a lot of big changes since 1975, including the toppling of political regimes and the beginnings of new ones; the deaths of world leaders and the emergence of others; new technologies and the evolutions or end of olds ones; and endless small changes.

As I reflect on these, I see others’ stories interwoven with my own. The mentors who guided me as a young man; the women I’ve loved and relationships I’ve grown through; so many times shared with friends, and the growth of my born and adopted family; as well as the people who I’ve barely known or never knew who have touched my life in ways seen and unseen.

Today, I understand that with strengthening and weakening through experience, its been my heart that’s changed the most. I was born and raised as a good kid, albeit one who made mistakes and was far from perfect, but with an open heart, strong imagination and good humor. As an adult, all of that has been messed with, poked and prodded and challenged and hated; however, I am who I am, still.

I understand know that life is oftentimes an appearance. Because appearances depend on my viewpoint, my experience, my lenses and my interpretation, appearances are always subjective. That means all of these things I thought I experienced are simply a matter of appearance: Seeing the horror of a friend dying from disease can be the honor of walking a friend towards their next journey; or the joy of a family member winning the lottery may be the challenge of watching shallowness replace depth of journeying; or the suffering when a love left me is the welcoming of solitude and sanctity; or the sadness of a pet passing away from old age can become the cherishing of time shared and love gained.

 

How to See Your Viewpoint

Here are five simple steps to seeing your own perspective more clearly:

  1. Say “I see things according to my own viewpoint, biases, attitudes, knowledge and experience.
  2. Write down your perspectives on a specific situation. For instance, how do you feel about your house? What do you think about dogs? Who are your favorite friends?
  3. Once you’ve written those perspectives, ask yourself why you think those things. Are you justifying your thoughts? Criticizing your thinking? Do you feel righteous? Ignorant?
  4. Identify whether you are willing to rethink your own attitudes and behaviors. If so, you’ve identified your viewpoint about something. If not, you have also identified your viewpoint about something.
  5. Consider whether you think some people cannot understand your viewpoint? Do you think you should change others’ minds to understand your viewpoint?

Today, I understand that my point of view is always skewed by my perceptions; I am always subjective. Whenever I pass judgment, I’m weighing evidence against my perspective. That doesn’t mean that nothing has value and nobody is ever right; its totally the opposite. Everything has value and there is right and wrong in the world. However, it does mean that appealing to the hearts and minds of people is as important as changing the society, structures, policies and processes that things happen through.

I’m going to keep Einstein’s quote in mind for myself: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

What do YOU think about that?

 

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External Links

 

What You Need to Change the World by Adam Fletcher for adamfletcher.net

Change Management

There are many skills that you should build within you in order to change the world. In more than two decades of training adults who work in nonprofits, government agencies, schools and communities, I have identified more than 30 different skills that are important for anyone who works with youth, including mentors, tutors, coaches, teachers, counselors and others to possess. I’m going to post a series of articles over the next few weeks exploring these.

 


When the Stuff Hits the Fan

The first skill I want to call out is called Change Management. Its first on the list because it may be the most important skill for change agents of all kinds. Usually applies to nonprofit leaders, public officials and other figureheads, change management is important to individuals, too, because it applies to all aspects of their work:

  • Youth—Given their ages, the lives of young people are inherently transitional and almost never stagnant. While this can be exhilarating and challenge adults to feel alive, it can also be frustrating and feel defeating
  • Program—Whether you are on the frontlines all the time or in the back office making the policies, practices and positivity work, program change management affects your daily realities.
  • Social—Communities, cultures, societies and our planet are all changing all the time, whether or not we see it. Social change challenges us to stay alert, attentive and aware of the possibilities to change the world.
  • Personal—Within yourself, there are countless things changing right now. Making sense of these changes, staying on top of the challenges and opportunities in your life, and being real with yourself are essential.

Being aware of these different types of changes in social change can be the key to successful change management. The next section shows exactly how to manage change, no matter which type you’re facing in your efforts to change the world.

 


Steps to Manage Change

When you’re working to change the world, there are several steps to manage change. Whether you work in a small community-based charity, large state agency or any other scale, your program, activities or entire organization can benefit from looking at these steps specifically.

  1. Source: Identify what the source of the change is by looking at whether its youth changing, organizational change, social change, or personal change. After you’ve named that, find the catalyst who is making change happen. Is it a parent, a program director, an executive or is it self-driven? If you can, connect with that catalyst to see if you can support the change, how and whether its your responsibility.
  2. Buy-in: If it’s your job to implement change, get buy-in for the changes from youth and your co-workers. You can do this directly or indirectly, ensuring success and opportunities for everyone as change happens.
  3. Meaningful Involvement: Involving the right people in specific ways can make sure the right changes are made in good ways that benefit everyone.
  4. Readiness: Getting young people ready to implement and adapt to change; working with adults to ensure everyone has the best information; and providing training and assistance along the way is essential.
  5. Two-Way Communication: Tell everyone about the changes, answer questions and prepare your youth program or organization as effectively as possible.
  6. Evidence: Look for practical, purposeful evidence of what is happening, and assess how the changes will affect young people and adults.
  7. Reflection: Change can’t happen in a vacuum, whether its among youth, in our organization, throughout our society or within ourselves. Adults and youth should take responsibility for change management by engaging in conscious critical reflection.

When a program, individual, organization or community has completed these steps, they will have successfully managed change.

Most people working to change the world know that change can’t happen without people—whether young or old! Unfortunately, a lot people get stuck in plans and processes without actually talking with youth, or even other adults. Facing up to changing the world means accepting the emotions, ideas, challenges and criticisms that inevitably come with change intentionally and with grace.

Its not a mystery, and may represent the greatest possibility of changing the world: If we can help young people manage change by conscientiously practicing change management, we can change the world!

 


Related Articles

Definition of youth voice engagement by Adam Fletcher

The Language of Youth Engagement

Its important to remember that words have power. Whether we’re talking with children, youth or adults, we should carefully consider the meanings, definitions and outcomes of the language we’re using. This is especially true of youth engagement.

While teaching schools and nonprofits about youth engagement over the years, I’ve found its especially important to make sure people understand the definitions of three terms in particular: Youth engagement, Youth voice, and Youth/adult partnerships.

  • Youth Voice—Any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, ever.
  • Youth Engagement—The sustain connections in the lives of young people.
  • Youth/Adult Partnerships—Intentional relationships that embody mutual respect, trust, communication and meaningful involvement.

I wrote these definitions after years of research and practice in communities across the US, Canada and beyond. They matter because they can set a baseline expectation for the experiences of young people and adults who are involved in activities meant to reflect them, and to the community beyond.

You might notice that each definition is vague or ambiguous. That’s intentional. In so much of this work, adults carve out the space, activities and outcomes that are meant to reflect these terms. I find that ironic, if only because each term relates to personal agency; how can we promote personal agency when we’re doing things for youth, like telling them how to express their voices, what to connect with and whether they are in partnerships? I believe its essential for there to be a lot of room on the bottom for the activities, issues and outcomes youth find important. As responsible and responsive adults, there is a time and place to step aside, and defining the implementation of youth voice, the parameters of youth engagement and the look of youth/adult partnerships may be that essential time and place.

I hope you’ll leave me a note in the comments section below and let me know what YOU think!

 

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Order The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher today!
Order The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher today!