The All-Adult Youth Council

Our quote for the day comes from a 2003 publication that quoted a student in New York City who was an activist with Youth Force. In front of a city council meeting he said:

“If you had a problem in the Black community, and you brought in a group of White people to discuss how to solve it, almost nobody would take that panel seriously. In fact, there’d probably be a public outcry. It would be the same the for women’s issues or gay issues. But every day, in local arenas all the way to the White House, adults sit around and decide what problems youth have and what youth need, without ever consulting us.”

There’s something to ponder. Oh, and for an example of the (unfortunately) popular all-adult youth council, check out the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

My Learning Community Grows

These last few weeks my blog posts have been on the road, as I’ve traveled almost 5000 miles to and from the Northeast on two different trips. During these two trips, both at the insistence of my friend and colleague Giselle Martin-Kniep. I met Giselle last year during a project we were both working on with the New York State Student Support Services Office.

Earlier this year she invited me to become a fellow with the Center for the Study of Expertise in Teaching and Learning, recently renamed Communities for Learning. A few weeks ago I joined the C4L crew, along with about 40 other fellows, in the woods of rural Connecticut to explore the power of working in a cross-field learning community among education-related folks. I learned a lot, mixing and mashing ideas with K-12 teachers, principals, school coaches, higher ed faculty and others who simply “get it” on a lot of levels. I also presented the meaningful student involvement frameworks to folks, and was able to learn from the experiences of a wide range of educators from across New York State. Very cool. (Note: I’m the first out-of-state fellow in C4L; everyone else is from New York.) I spent more uninterrupted time concentrating on my work than I had in a long time, and for the most part unconstrained by the stuff that shares my daily attention. It was awesome.

If that weren’t enough, the next week I was able to spend three days outside of Boston with Peter Senge, one of the “Top Strategists of the Century”. With Giselle’s prompting, I was invited by Jaimie Cloud of the Cloud Institute to attend the Society for Organizational Learning‘s Core Course, facilitated by Senge to launching a “National Learning Community of Schools and Communities that Learn for a Sustainable Future”. While that seems pretty high-minded, it actually was. Senge strikes me as someone who spends a lot of time thinking and creating high-minded solutions to issues that strike much of society. Check out his book called The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization to find out more about his theories and work.

I’m continually amazed by the range and possibilities of this work around meaningfulness in schools, and I’m concerned that it apparently hasn’t struck folks more powerfully before now. Giselle, Peter and Jaimie all show me that the doors are wider than I’ve imagined, and I am hopeful for a powerful future for this work.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Robbing Perspectives

One of the biggest problems with standardizing education is that by creating standards – concrete, non-variable, measurable learning outcomes – educators actively ignore the nature of childhood. Young people are inherently moving, increasing and decentralizing their conceptions of the world. Standing them still and making them look in one direction should be illegal, because it robs children and youth of their very nature: That of the constantly evolving and transformative creature.

My mom put together a program in North Omaha called “Young Time”. She believed that the low-income kids in our neighborhood were forced to grow up too young, too fast:

  • Commercialism promotes crass-consumerism, often driving low-income young people to want things beyond their means, leading to early (and poor) employment experiences and dissatisfaction with family and community norms.
  • Empty homes where moms and dads were working full-time, two jobs and more drew many young people indoors to babysit during times when outdoor play could be happening.
  • A hollow sense of community among neighbors that leads to distrust and alienation, driving children and youth to loose contact with neighbors, and forcing neighbors to constantly survey youth and children throughout the community.

Anytime that socio-economic backgrounds are homogeneous with a community the perspectives of young people are going to become and stay static. That robs young people, whose perspectives are inherently moving. Let’s aim to be dynamic in learning. Standardized education assumes that there is learning – any learning – that is stagnant and worthy of learning. That there are base skills and knowledge that every student should learn. While I value the ability to read, I don’t believe that every young person needs to know deep mathematical theorems and scientific hypothesis. Education that forces students to learn is bound to fail.

Similarly, there are a number of youth programs that do the same. However, perhaps more dubious than schools, these programs don’t have the federal mandates or the sense of disconnected democracies that educational systems have. Instead, these programs are operated by nonprofit organizations that are effectively little tyrant organizations: While they are being hogtied by foundations, these nonprofits have chosen to give into the demands of funders and simply be held accountable for standards that simply do not apply to them.

Let’s not rob the perspectives of young people – let them have their views from wherever they stand. Those perspectives are valid, valuable and powerful.

Rereading this post, I’m reminded of Maya Angelou’s quote:

“We are all creative, but by the time we are three of four years old, someone has knocked the creativity out of us. Some people shut up the kids who start to tell stories. Kids dance in their cribs, but someone will insist they sit still. By the time the creative people are ten or twelve, they want to be like everyone else.”

The essence of recognizing the evolving capacities of the child is seeing that everyone is a creative genius – and we must learn to embrace that. We have so much energy!

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

My Background in Translation

There was a period of time, about ten years ago, when any discussion of “youth rights” automatically got me fired up. In 1997 I was working as an “adult living skills” instructor in a program for foster and homeless youth in Lincoln, Nebraska. That year I re-read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the second time, and still didn’t understand most of it. I also read Jonathan Caldwell Holt’s Escape from Childhood – which I absorbed and felt deeply.

Throughout Escape… Holt extensively surveys the notion and reality of youth rights – although his analysis embraces children, as well. He pounds the nail on the head over and over, discussing the abuses of schools, families, government agencies, children’s rights advocates, even banks. Everything in it – the anecdotes, the powerful points – they all resonated with some part of my experience, and I was completely excited.

I sat on those thoughts and let them percolate over the next several years while I served two more AmeriCorps terms, coordinated a ropes challenge course, supervised a youth floor in a drug rehab center, worked at a nature center and coordinated a service learning program. Percolate. Then, in 2000, I was hired by Washington’s state education agency to promote youth involvement. It was that year in the national youth voice movement and service learning field that I saw Holt’s ideas come to fruition, with nominal but present efforts abounding designed to involve young people more thoroughly in the decisions that affect them most. I was, and am still, critical of these programs, because I believe they are mostly devoid of critical consciousness in general; however, I took hope.

So I started to use Holt’s language. Conferences, teacher workshops, state agency meetings, anywhere people were discussing youth engagement, youth voice or youth empowerment I mentioned youth liberation, youth oppression and youth rights. I built the original Freechild Project websites from this perspective as well. As you might guess, I quickly ran into brick walls. Matter of fact, I ran into them over and over.

These trials-by-fire led me, slowly but surely, to adapt my approaches to accommodate to my given surroundings. Later I will write more about how these experiences molded my work with SoundOut, and still inform what I do. But today I’m concern about translating for people so deeply indoctrinated by the ephibiphobics and adultcentrists that they simply do not see the realities young people faced today. Any insight is appreciated.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

My Review of “The Giroux Reader”

The Giroux Reader is by Henry Giroux. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

 

Henry Giroux is renowned for his analysis of society, particularly focusing on youth, commercialism, and hypocrisy. This collection of Giroux’s writing illustrates the breadth and depth of his analysis in all those areas, and more.

I learned about neoliberalism and the corporate grip on American youth; the societal abandonment of youth and the social divestment in the future, and; the wholesale disenfranchisement of the American public in the face of capitalistic greed and personal opportunism.

Giroux is like the town crier challenging us to get out of bed to go fight the fire on “that” side of town. If we don’t it’ll burn our house down – oh, wait – it already is.

 

Order The Giroux Reader.

My Review of “The University in Chains”

The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex was written by Henry Giroux. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

Henry Giroux has written a book for the ages by daftly examining the impacts and effects of history on America today. Framing his argument with the prophetic words of Dwight Eisenhower’s farewell speech to the American public, Giroux details the thorough and heinous complicities of current practices and policies throughout the American higher education system in conjunction with those of the military industry.

The dubiousness of the publicly-funded University of Illinois’s for-profit campus is given new light through Giroux’s famous analysis of the new neoliberalism griping colleges and universities, particularly in light of the ongoing terror of the Bush Administration’s Iraq War. Perhaps most powerful are the radical implications Giroux concludes: rather than simply influencing college research or widening the gap between the haves and have nots in America today, the military-industrial-academic complex is destroying the very foundations of American democracy.

We have no choice rather than respond; Giroux gives us more than ample reason and recommendations for what to do next.

 

Order The University in Chains: Confronting the Military-Industrial-Academic Complex.

My Review of “Childhood” by David Jenks

Childhood was written by David Jenks. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

 

In Childhood Jenks stabs at the heart of sociology’s obsession with mythology, this time in the form of childhood. By providing a concise, if inaccessible, analysis of why and how sociologists, psychologists, and educators conceive of children, Jenks encourages a critical examination of the assumptions behind many institutions.

This book provides necessary support for conversations about youth rights, civic engagement, and the roles of young people throughout society. It is a powerful tool for the determined popular reader, and an introductory primer for scholars.

 

Order Childhood

My Review of “Walking on Water”

Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution was written by Derrick Jensen. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

 

One of the most important components of both education and activism is contextualization. As Paulo Freire argued, learning must be rooted in the context in which education takes place. For a sixth-grader in the US, that would be their local community; for a elderly person, that might be their family. For Derrick Jensen, that place was in classrooms at a university and a maximum security prison, where he was taught creative writing to Washington state college students and prisoners convicted of robbery, rape, and murder. In this book Jensen shares stories from those places as a guise and guide for the larger lessons, both hinted at and carefully detailed throughout this book.

The lessons here are truly revolutionary. “As is true for most people I know, I’ve always loved learning. As is also true for most people I know, I always hated school. Why is that?” With this opening line, Jensen begins a more-than-casual assault on traditional schooling, railing on everything from classroom seating arrangements to grading; from teaching methods to attendance. The lessons here a resonant of the teachings of both John Holt and John Taylor Gatto, the latter of whom Jensen credits greatly, and they give anecdotal meaning to some of the wisdom of by Grace Llewellyn and William Upski Wimsatt.

Through his lessons, Jensen gives substance and validity to many peoples’ feelings of alienation and disconnectedness in school, and offers a brilliant guide to creative writing along the way. Jensen writes, “Throughout our adult lives, most of us are expected to get to work on time, to do our boss’s bidding…and not to leave till the final bell has rung. It is expected that we will watch the clock, counting seconds till five o’clock, till Friday, till payday, till retirement, when at last our time will again be our own, as it was before we began kindergarten, or preschool, or daycare. Where do we learn to do all of this waiting?” The answer, of course, is school. School is the “day-prison” where we learn to be “a nation of slaves.”

He then follows this daring declaration with another story from his prison experience, where he created “an atmosphere in which students wish to learn…”, which included asking both prisoners and college students to be uncomfortable in their search for meaning through writing. Throughout this book Jensen includes several useful writing tips that offer a unique twist to this book: while a significant diatribe against historical approaches to education, it provides useful methods for self-education and learning through life.

Ultimately Jensen achieves Freire’s challenge of sharing with students the goal of “reading the word through the world,” and in that is Jensen’s greatest success. This book is vitally important to any person seeking inspiration for learning outside the lines, both for its practical advice, and for the fact that it is coming from a seasoned educator. I believe that it can also be important to young people particularly, because through his intelligent, accessible thinking, Jensen acknowledges what many youth believe: school isn’t relevant to young people today because teachers can’t be relevant to learning today. They just don’t know how. However, more importantly, Jensen himself disproves that, and may actually inspire young readers to look into places of higher education for the vital allyship and mentorship that adult educators can potentially offer.

As Jensen ponders the weight of the world throughout the book, including wrestling with conservatism, hopelessness and apathy, war, and many other feelings, he leaves readers with a challenging thought that easily summarizes the motivation of this book, and lends this book its essentialness in the activist library: “There is much work to be done. What are you waiting for? It’s time to begin.”

It is time to begin. Thank you, Derrick Jensen, for giving us a roadway to get started.

Youth On Board

From 2006-10, Adam supported the national nonprofit Youth On Board as they continued and expanded their efforts to promote systemic youth engagement in Boston Public Schools. He also rewrote two of their publications, 15 Points to Successfully Involving Youth in Decision-Making and Youth On Boards.

Adam partnered with Youth On Board (YOB) to provide resources and develop case studies focused on the Boston Student Voice Project. Working through the district Office of High School Reform, YOB facilitated the Boston Student Advisory Council for three years to that point. They also coordinated the district-wide Student Engagement Advisory Council (SEAC).

YOB assisted with the development of small learning communities in the former Hyde Park High School by facilitating a strategic student voice plan in the school. SoundOut supported these efforts in an ongoing basis with technical assistance and critical evaluations.

Adam also supported Youth On Board activities in several schools and district programs. They included:

  • Monument High School
  • Social Justice Academy
  • The Engineering School
  • Community Academy of Science and Health
  • Boston Student Advisory Council
  • Student Engagement Advisory Council

 


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Elsewhere Online

Washington OSPI Changing SPACES

Adam contracted with the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Title V and Innovative Programs to facilitate the Changing SPACES (Students Partnering to Advocate for Change in Environments in Schools) in 2006. He partnered with staff from the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction Title V and Innovative Programs to coordinate and facilitate a statewide project for 10 high schools focused on involving students in creating environments in schools that engage students. Activities included professional development for educators and administrators, training for students, and evaluations of school projects. Partner schools were recognized by the state superintendent for their participation in the project.

Partner Schools

  • Colfax High School
  • Harbor High School (Aberdeen)
  • Wishkah Valley High School


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