Here’s an interview I did with Kris Welch of the Bay Area’s KPFA 94.1 station on June 13, 2018. An exciting conversation, we covered adultism, youth engagement, ephebiphobia and more.
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Over the years, I’ve worked with a variety of different young people to build youth voice. When I was younger, some people did that for me, too, despite our differences. I was an immigrant kid from the country, a rodeo rider who wore cowboy boots and corduroy pants.
Later, I was a homeless kid and then lived in a low-income neighborhood. Generational PTSD and addiction flowed easily in my family, and my social defense mechanisms were high – biting humor and cynical perspectives and many other signs.
I was not what you think. Instead, I was a dynamic, empowered and excited young person who bumped into some rough edges, was challenged to grow and change, and became who I am today. And I’m still growing and changing.
As I sit here in Seattle, I’ve just closed my second Parent Youth Connection Seminar. The young people here are generally seen and treated as disengaged, but as the brainstorm here shows, they are anything but. I would tell anyone who asked that its not what you think.
What are you engaged in?
In a recent interview about adultism, the interviewer asked me whether adultism affects education. Here’s my answer:
All parts of society meant to address youth are compromised through adultism, especially education. The very premise of compulsory schools – forcing youth to attend – was originally meant to intervene against child labor. However, its become a tool for enforcing compliance and coercion in society. This disallows youth from acting as full members of society by forcing them to learn a standardized curriculum, stay confined throughout the course of the workday, and generally incapacitating their power and disabling their passions. By doing this, schools cynically enforce the power of adults over youth, further entrenching the social hierarchy that relies on adultism.
While there are obvious reasons for this like securing adult power, incapacitating revolutionary sentiment among youth, and enforcing social hierarchy, I think its vital to understand the economic manipulations that allow, encourage, sustain, enforce and manipulate all this: In the worldwide economic machine today, youth are a transitional commodity. This means that they’re seen as adults-in-the-making whose sole purpose is to become better customers. As adults, people are generally empowered to become economic agents as producers, accumulators and customers. Since they aren’t recognized in those economic realms, youth are generally seen as under-actualized consumers. This disallows adults from successfully advocating for youths’ genuine best interests, and wholly takes away youths’ abilities to advocate for themselves. Basically, no money = no power. Any appearance otherwise is simply a momentary blip or allowed by the economic system as a release value for the stresses of social change. That’s why we have a momentarily powerful youth movement right now; its seen as a pressure release valve. When that pressure is gone though, what will happen to that movement? Only time will tell…
What do you think – does adultism affect education? What do you think about my response? Share your thoughts here!
When I was asked how to fix adultism recently, I got deep! I want to share with you what I wrote:
I approach anti-adultism by addressing individual attitudes; shared cultures, and; systemic structures, and I use the systems change mantra “Start anywhere and go everywhere.”
So if you begin with individual attitudes, start anywhere and go everywhere: Read books yourself; talk frankly with youth and adults about adultism; teach others to identify and address adultism; directly challenge indifference, intransigence and apathy toward youth yourself; and so on.
If you begin with cultural transformation, start anywhere and go everywhere: Facilitate learning experiences for youth and adults; create advertising campaigns that disturb adultism where it happens; directly intervene and challenge any public instance of adultism; raise consciousness by writing and talking and practicing anti-adultism.
If you begin with systemic structures, start anywhere and go everywhere: Challenge any adultism rules and guidelines wherever you are, including schools, nonprofits, businesses, and home; talk with candidates for elected office about adultism, and stand with anyone who supports changing laws, policies and guidelines that promote adultism; create policy change proposals and legislative campaigns to address adultist rules and behaviors; promote people who serve youth taking anti-adultism classes, including teachers, youth workers, parents and others in order to fight adultism where it happens through policy change; and so on.
Ultimately, start anywhere and go everywhere, no matter what you do: Start.
What do you think of my response? Share your thoughts in the comment section below!
Recently, I answered an interview request with some pretty deep questions about adultism. I answered them, and thought I’d share my responses with you. In this question, the interviewer essentially asked me whether the media treats youth fairly. Here’s how I responded:
I’m an adherent to the analysis of Mike Males, Henry Giroux, Michele Fine and bell hooks, along with others, each of whom argues that American media, politicians and others have manipulated society’s perceptions of youth in order to profiteer off young people more effectively. This analysis informs the economic analysis I laid out in question 12, which relies on negative public conceptions of youth to continue their grossly cynical economization of youth today.
Whether portrayed as incapable, innocent children; hyper-violent adult-esque criminals; or apathetic irrelevant leeches on their parents; as a whole, youth today are wholly maligned by media of all sorts, and treated as mere economic pawns. That allows politicians, corporations, and others to profiteer off youth in countless ways, further perpetuating the oppression of adultism and the weaponization of social institutions against youth.
Let me know what you think about the question or my response in the comments below? Thanks!
Recently, I answered an interview question that essentially asked if I think youth are as smart as adults. I took the liberty of answering with my clearest thinking, and I want to share it with you here:
Adults have created a society in which we are powerful and youth are not. We have done this with the tools of shared culture, individual attitudes and systemic structures, and we’ve infused rumors, conjecture and insinuation throughout all those things in order to maintain, sustain and enforce our power. One of those rumors, conjectures and insinuations is the myth that adults are inherently wiser, smarter and more intellectually capable than youth.
There is absolutely no strong science that shows – wholesale – that all adults everywhere are naturally more able than youth. I think the reverse is actually true, and that’s why adults have created so many systems (economics, education, religion, families, neighborhoods, etc) to enforce adultism, and the myths that enable it. Sucky.
Let me know what you think – are youth as wise as adults? What do you think about what I wrote? Share your response in the comments section below.
In this video, I’m keynoting at the 2018 Teens Care, Too! Youth Summit in Vancouver, Washington. The topic of my talk, “Ownership Is Just What We Do,” reflected the summit’s theme. Centering on my personal story, I touched base on owning our stories, owning our communities and owning the future, together.
The Parent-Youth Connections Seminar, or PYCS, was a project of the King County Superior Court with primary focus on early intervention for low-risk youth involved in the court system. Focused on providing fun, interactive seminars to low-risk youth offenders and a parent or other connected adult, Adam Fletcher facilitated the program throughout 2018 as a principal consultant with The Athena Group.
Together, youth and adults explore youth engagement, community empowerment and social change. They explore the skills, knowledge and actions needed to change their lives and the world around them.
In this project, Adam designed and facilitated a 12-hour research-driven program designed to engage and empower families to change their lives. The Parent Youth Connections Seminar used intensive hands-on, interactive and focused activities, to engage parents and youth as they worked together to learn new knowledge, explore previous practices and grow new possibilities for their families. Over two-days, each session featured four workshops for learners of all ages including adult-only and youth-only groups.
The purpose of the Parent Youth Connections Seminar was to engage youth and caring adults in critical topics that would empower young people to make better decisions, be leaders in the future and change their lives in positive ways.
Workshop topics include:
During each seminar, Adam ensured that participants were actively involved, heard engaging stories, completed challenging activities, participated in powerful reflection, discovered useful resources for the future and more.
In the last few weeks, the United States has seen a resurgence of interest in youth engagement. Young people from Parkland, Florida, have led the charge and created a stir among the media by calling out politicians and pundits in public forums, including social media and press events. They’re advocating sophisticated responses to the violence that tore apart their school, and demanding people pay attention. Its working.
However, this isn’t an “ah-ha” moment. Despite how the media is treating it, this isn’t a glorious revelation about the power of youth or the need for systems change. Instead, it’s the continuance of decades of youth-led social change across the United States. This article highlights how that’s true, and what we can do to KEEP youth changing the world!
Youth having been changing and challenging the United States to change for more than a century. From the newsboys’ strike of 1899 to the anti-gun activism enlightening the nation right now, young people have led the way for a long time. Here are a few issues they have covered:
Child Labor—In 1903, a few hundred children marched from the coal mines and textile mills of eastern Pennsylvania to Washington DC to demand politicians take action for labor laws. Led by Mother Jones, an infamous suffragette, the group shook Congress to the bones, leading to the passage of the first national child labor and compulsory school laws in the country.
Youth Rights—In the 1930s, a group of high school and college age students formed the American Youth Congress to lobby for recreation, education, food and work rights for their generation. They presented the The Declaration of the Rights of American Youth [pdf] to the US Congress in 1935. Working with Eleanor Roosevelt, in 1936 their work led to the formation of the National Youth Administration. Although it was dismantled shortly after, the American Youth Congress launched campaigns for racial justice, increased federal spending on education, and an end to mandatory participation in the college-level Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC).
Cultural Diversity—During World War II, racial hatred and white supremacy led to the Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles. During these terroristic battles, Hispanic and Latino young people led cultural battles to express themselves, while white supremacists beat them down and stripped children and youth of their clothes to suppress youth voice. This kind of cultural activism serves as a strong call for the rest of us.
Civil Rights—Nine months before Rosa Parks, 15-year-old Claudette Colvin became a pioneer in the civil rights movement when she refused to give up her seat for a white woman on a segregated bus in Montgomery, Alabama. Not prepared to capitalize on the moment or recognize her leadership, movement makers didn’t promote Claudette’s actions. However, Colvin testified at the US Supreme Court trial that ended with a ruling against segregated busing and the end of the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott.
Self-Expression—The stories continue after that, too, with Students for a Democratic Society, or SDS, leading a generation towards activism in the early 1960s; the teen-led organization Youth Liberation Press in Ann Arbor, Michigan printing radical tracts about youth rights, freedom and justice in the 1970s; and the emergence of hip hop youth activism in the 1980s.
Global Youth Action—Youth engagement in social change has increasingly gone global, too. In the 1980s, the student-led movement against South Africa apartheid was openly credited by Nelson Mandela for contributing to the end of the regime of terror that segregated that country. After the turn of the century, the United Nations recognized the essential nature of engaging youth in international development plans. Youth in Australia gained a massive footing in their state educational decision-making around 2003 with the implementation of the Victoria Student Representative Council. Their actions created a foundation that’s still being built on internationally.
Today, we’re seeing a shift in the battle over guns that has gripped the American soul with the murders of thousands of children and youth in the last 25 years. Whether shot by gangs, parents, stray bullets, police, or mass murderers, young people today are faced with increasingly hostile learning environments, with politicians who are seemingly intransigent to the threats they face. Luckily, they aren’t standing for it.
Inspired by activist youth from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, where the latest mass murder happened, young people across the country are organizing on-the-ground, practical campaigns to end gun violence forever. They’re confronting politicians, partnering with parents and teachers, and planning massive school walkouts, rallies and demonstrations.
Like others before them, this generation is calling the American soul to the carpet. Young people today want us to feel their anguish, understand their suffering, acknowledge the collective trauma facing them, and to take action and make change.
However, there can be more to this moment than ever before. Rather than being a flash-bang instance of youth-led activism and instead of a media-driven hysteria focused on the appeal of middle class white suburban youth screaming for change, we can transform the very perception of young people in society in three ways.
Its already happening. For more than a decade, youth have been fighting for social change in dozens of areas, like local farming, stopping smoking, challenging white supremacy and ending zero tolerance policing practices. Students have been partnering with teachers to improve schools, working with parents to build healthy families, and struggling against entrenched perceptions throughout society. That’s all happening right now, and we need to expand these practices.
We need to sustain and uplift the current actions young people are taking to change the world. Instead of creating more opportunities for involved youth to become more involved, we need to create new spaces for disengaged youth to become involved. Whether youth or adults, we can do this by changing the attitudes of individuals around us by confronting adultism (bias towards adults) and challenging ephebiphobia (fear of youth) wherever we see it.
Whether youth or adults, we can do this by transforming the structures we live in and operate throughout everyday, including families, schools, nonprofits, government agencies and bodies, and businesses, including all of the policies, practices and procedures we follow everyday. Whether youth or adults, we can do this by navigating and negotiating our culture, including the mainstream culture that paint youth as incapable non-adults; traditional cultures that treat young people as sometime to be seen and not heard; or socio-economic cultures that rely on youth repression in order to assure the social orders they rely on.
Ultimately, we must engage every youth and every adult in every community, everywhere, all the time. My own professional experience dovetails with history to show us that we must embrace, sustain and expand youth engagement. In more than 250 communities nationwide, I have worked with K-12 schools, nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations to transform the roles of young people in their programs, policies and operations. By facilitating professional development for adult staff members; training children and youth in myriad youth engagement skills and issues; planning programs and evaluating outcomes; as well researching and writing curriculum, I have sought to move the needle from seeing youth as the passive recipients of adult-led decision-making towards engaging youth as partners throughout our communities. I have spoke at dozens of conferences, providing motivational and educational expert speeches for young people and adults to see each other as allies, not enemies, by breaking down generational assumptions and understanding the power of youth.
Most importantly to me, I have stayed at it: For more than 17 years, I have run the Freechild Institute to share examples and tools for youth-led social change worldwide, while directing SoundOut, which focuses on meaningful student involvement throughout education. Recently, I joined the Athena Group, a collective of consultants focused on systems change nationwide. Our work will continue to move youth engagement into the mainstream today and in the future.
When you see the headlines, experience the momentum and feel the demand for youth engagement today, I hope you consider the history that’s come before, and understand the efforts underway to continue these actions today and beyond. Youth engagement is our greatest hope, and you can help build it right now.
The crisis of disengagement facing youth today is shameful. There are so many issues youth can become active in and so many actions they can take our communities have no reason not to engage every youth and every adult everywhere all the time. But somehow, they don’t. Adam Fletcher works with nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations to build youth engagement throughout communities.
Following are Adam Fletcher’s tools for youth engagement in communities. Contact him.
Adam Fletcher’s Free Publications
Adam Fletcher’s Website on Youth Engagement
Adam Fletcher’s Articles