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Freechild includes a massive website full of free resources for young people and their adult allies. The mission of The Freechild Project is to advocate, inform, and celebrate social change led by and with young people around the world, especially those who have been historically denied the right to participate. I do this by facilitating training and workshops, and through our website. Given the rough economic times facing our communities, the training and workshops aren’t paying for the website these days.

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“By far the largest repository of projects, ideas, and organizational links, [Freechild] provides more than adequate information to help students brainstorm ideas in order to start their own initiatives.” –School Library Journal (2005).

“[Freechild] is especially relevant in getting young people to participate in the realms of politics and critical education.” – Henry Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux in Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era(2004) New York: Palgrave MacMillan.

“This is a site well worth viewing. Information is critical to understanding as well as galvanizing youth programming and participation.” – Ramona Mullahey in the American Planning Association ResourceZine (2003)

The Freechild Project website includes many popular resources:
  • Youth Voice Toolkit
  • Survey of North American Youth Rights
  • Scan of International Youth Involvement
  • Freechild Reading List
  • and much more…
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Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Want to Stop Violence? Change Yourself.

I just got an email from Ari Melman, who leads Philadelphia’s Urban Playground. Concerned about the violence raging throughout his city, Ari wanted to know why the youth movement hasn’t succeeded in fostering the mass social change we need in order to stem this type of response. This is what I replied with:

Primarily, I would suggest that there are several different forces working to keep young people in subjugated positions throughout society. For a long time I thought it had to do with oppressive systems, and so I allied myself with organizations that dealt with changing systems and led a lot of projects focused on systems change. 

But over the last year I have come to understand that it’s not systems change that is going to engender the transformation of the hearts and minds of the people. Instead (call it rocket science) I have figured out that I need to focus on personal development: To change the hearts and minds of people, we have to change the hearts and minds of people

So I’ve spent the last 6 months retooling my approach to my work. I am continuing to work with nonprofits, government agencies, schools, and other institutions that directly affect young people. 

However, instead of advocating the development of new rules and programs and funding streams and policies focused on youth involvement, I’m teaching people about themselves, what they know, and how that can change for the betterment of themselves individually, and in turn how they treat children and youth.

In turn, we’re doing to see the rapid transformation of the ways that children are raised, taught, and treated throughout society. I’m going to reach out to moms and dads, teachers and counselors, politicians and preachers to teach all of them how to do this. We have to reach to peoples’ hearts and minds.

Otherwise, your observation is right: we’ll keep getting what we’ve always got, and as the situation in Philly (and London, and Haiti, and Somalia) shows us, that’s just not enough anymore.

Let me know what you think of his question and my response! Here’s another piece I’ve written related to this. Also, read this great editorial for more insight.

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

Critical Thinking About Volunteerism

This last month I’ve been talking with Emma Margraf, the Director of Special Projects at the Volunteer Center of Lewis, Mason, and Thurston Counties. Our conversation is a critical dialog on volunteerism in American society, and we plan to continue it. Following is the text of the first blog entry from this series, with the intro written by Emma. Go to the original blog to share your thoughts (linked in the title below). – Adam

Bouncing Balls in the Hallway

For the past year, the blog for the Volunteer Center has been about the adventures of our Executive Director, Sara Ballard, as she volunteered her time in the community and got to know more and more about the amazing things that happen here. It’s been a great path for her to travel, but we’ve decided to change it up a little and incorporate all of the different aspects of our work – particularly the things that keep us excited, interested, passionate, and involved in what we do.

Ever since Adam Fletcher, the Director of CommonAction moved into our office, I’ve been having a lot of fun. I find myself in the hallway bouncing big plastic balls back and forth and debating how to make the most impact, how to build the most capacity, and how shake things up. The bouncing ball aspect is important, but I can’t tell you why. It’s how we get to our biggest, brightest, and most impactful ideas. To give you an idea of what I mean, I’m going to transcribe an interview of sorts with him here, and you can draw your own conclusions. Are you ready? Here we go:

Emma: I have a question I think only you can answer, Adam. Are you ready for this? I’m a little concerned that for the most part when people volunteer in their community, they aren’t really accomplishing as much as they could. Do you know what I mean?

I’m not saying it’s their fault, or anyone’s fault at all, just that the precedent has been set for volunteering to be very temporary, where we’d like it to be sustainable. If you were all powerful in the universe, where would you start with that problem?

Adam: Emma, I’m always ready for a nerdy conversation about volunteerism!

To answer your question, I would begin by having everyone look at why they volunteer. See, in order for volunteering to be really effective, people have to be genuinely empathetic with those they want to serve. You can’t be empathetic if you don’t know why you’re doing what you’re doing. So the first place I’d start with the problem you stated is looking at why.

But more importantly Emma, I might suggest that you aren’t addressing the right problem.

Emma: Huh. Way to throw out the gauntlet with the open question that has me thinking and thinking. What’s the right problem? (HA. RIGHT problem.) Is it volunteerism addressing actual empathy? I feel like we should recognize that there is a range of emotion within the understanding of empathy. Some define it as the understanding of others’ feelings, some as the ability to walk in other people’s shoes.

I for one was raised within the “there but for the grace of god go I” school of empathy, but that’s not what everyone believes. We were taught that it would take a simple twist of fate to turn our luck and leave us in serious poverty, or poor health, and without that which we needed to survive. And so it was our responsibility to look out for others. We are our brothers keepers, we are our sisters keepers — E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One.

And because it was how I was raised, that makes it right. Isn’t that the way it works?

Adam: The problem is that you are assuming that anything, anybody, anywhere needsyour help. That’s easy to do, and volunteers do it all the time. Kids in schools need tutoring. People without homes need that house built. Roadways need to be cleaned. People who can’t read need to be taught how to read.

Now don’t get me wrong: I believe literacy and housing and environmental health are important. However, I don’t think that going blindly into the night assuming that any of those problems needs us to fix them is the right way. The right way has something to do with helping volunteers see that they benefit from giving as much if not more than the recipients of their volunteerism. This truism has been known for a long time in the fundraising field – teach givers that their philanthropy benefits both them and the recipient and they’re more likely to give more money in a more sustained way. That should be the rule with volunteers, too, in every situation, all of the time.

Emma: I have given that fundraising training. During that training you ask the group to tell you who benefits more from a donation to a non-profit, the donor or the non-profit? Those new to fundraising say the non-profit, those who are experienced say the donor, always. What I wonder about, when applying it to volunteers, is how heavy and complicated race and class and sexual orientation and gender and personal history issues will get when you are asking someone to check your motivations.

Adam: You’ve hit the nail on the head Emma, and identified exactly why we are not already asking these questions whenever a volunteer walks through the door: we’re scared of what we might hear. We might find out that someone hurts, or that somebody feels righteously indignant, or that someone somewhere somehow thinks they did something wrong. Often that someone is us, ourselves. Pair that with the intonation that volunteerism heals the soul, and suddenly volunteerism becomes self-help, and self-help saves the day. And that’s the problem.

Emma: You remind me of something that happened to me years and years ago. Right after the Rodney King verdict, I was walking through one of the toughest part of Oakland with a long-time friend. He’s African-American, I’m white (as far as I can tell), and he was angry. His response to the verdict was that the black community should rise up, take California, and kick everyone out. In particular, NO WHITE PEOPLE ALLOWED. My immediate response was to say, “except me, right?” He said no. I might get a visitor’s pass, but he’d have to consult with his people.

I was really offended. The truth about that situation was that he loved me, we had a long time friendship, I grew up in Oakland. But I wasn’t allowed in.

Adam: It was probably that love that allowed him to speak honestly to you. Speaking from my personal experience growing up I can attest to the feeling that used to well inside me whenever somebody foisted assistance onto me and my family. That feeling, which is hard to name, is one part humility and one part inability, mostly because it felt like whenever somebody forced charity onto my family we were obligated to take it. In turn, I felt forced to believe that because we had to take charity we were somehow lesser than those who had given it.

In this same way, well-meaning volunteers often force themselves onto the organizations, communities, and individuals who they choose to serve. I understand your story about your friend to mean that he didn’t want any white person, you included, to force themselves into the fictional country of people of color he conjured up; rather, he wanted people of color to have the right to let in white people as they chose to, rather than as they forced themselves in.

Emma: I’m certainly not offended anymore. I love the people that can speak that way to me, and I love being able to do the same. Every day volunteers ask me why they sometimes their phone calls to a particular group with an offer to help aren’t returned. Sometimes the answer is, we can’t use your help right now. Sometime the reason for that is because people you’d like to help are trying to sort out what they need and how they need to get it. They deserve that time.

Adam: This is the way that our socio-economic system works. We teach volunteers they have something to give and we expect them to give it. The underlying lesson that people who receive this volunteerism learn is that they must accept and appreciate whatever they are given. In this way our society forces every poor, low-income, working class, and middle class person into indentured existences by training them to aspire to lifestyles they simply cannot attain, for whatever reason: credit, education, opportunity… Whatever “it” is, something keeps them from having “it.”

It is through this logic that we actively enshrine volunteerism’s role in our society today. Volunteerism is becoming a defacto way to achieve enlightenment and self-satisfaction for those who volunteer. At the same time the recipient of that volunteerism is bound to the social position they occupy, primarily because the unspoken language of volutneers is that, “I am better than you because I do something for you from the goodness of my heart.” This disables the recipient and reinforces that socio-economic hierarchy which repressed them to the place of needing charity in the first place. It’s a wicked cycle.

Emma: It’s funny that we’ve gotten to this, because the other day I facilitated a conversation between volunteer managers where they were concerned about keeping every single volunteer. They were worried that they were losing volunteers after their orientation trainings, and they were worried about how to keep short-term volunteers involved who didn’t want to be there.

I tried to introduce the idea that they didn’t need everyone who darkened their door. I suggested, fairly directly, that they should be picky about who they let volunteer in their organizations and that they should power through without the folks who didn’t show up. They didn’t agree.

Later on, I brought this subject up with the director of a local program who recruits volunteers for long-term, high demand work with court-dependant children and she said, “oh no, I say thanks for stopping by! And let them leave. People who drop out in the middle of a training are people who, if I’d successfully talked them into staying, would most likely be back in my office a few months later having a conversation about how it’s not working out. Self-selection makes my job easier.”

I bring this up to say this: it’s a partnership.

Adam: Yes, a partnership – in a mechanistic, institutionalized sense. I want to aspire to something higher though, and maybe that’s my Achille’s heel. I think that we can ascend, as a society, to utter solidarity in our every action and reaction. We have to reach higher than mediocre, and I would suggest that merely having convenient partnerships throughout our society as mediocrity.

Solidarity, taught, nurtured, and sustained in our every interaction, could allow every person to fulfill their hopes and dreams, while simultaneously defeating our current condition of apathy toward our fellow humans – because through solidarity those hopes and dreams would be as Langston Hughes wrote about in his poem, “Freedom’s Plow”:

“Thus the dream becomes not one man’s dream alone,

But a community dream.

Not my dream alone, but our dream.

Not my world alone,

But your world and my world,

Belonging to all the hands who build.”

Emma: With that, shall we leave this here and post it on the blog? Or are we solving all the world’s problems today?

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

August 2010 Newsletter

Hello Friends of CommonAction!

This is a test to see if you like the idea of me putting out a monthly newsletter for CommonAction Consulting. It’s going to be a monthly summary of work that’s going on, including stuff for Freechild and SoundOut. If you like it, subscribe at!

About CommonAction

CommonAction Consulting is based in the combined 15+ years experience of The Freechild Project, connecting young people and social change around the world, and SoundOut, promoting student voice in schools. Today we provide a variety of consulting, training, public speaking, and writing services to support young engagement throughout society.

Led by Adam Fletcher, CommonAction has a bevy of consultants who support our projects, including Teddy Wright, who specializes in youth violence issues, Brittany Couch, who is focused on systems and cultural change, and Mike Beebe, whose experience is in national service and community organizing. Each of us brings a commitment to youth involvement and changing the roles of young people throughout society, and can provide a great deal of expertise to support your organization or community.

Current Activities

In the last quarter, CommonAction has provided a variety of support to organizations in the United States and Canada. Following is a summary:

  • Alberta Ministry of Education Student Engagement Initiative – We are providing strategic planning services to Ministry staff as they re-consider their Speak Out! Initiative. A training session in late July has lead to an invitation to present to Ministry leadership in October as they consider focusing on student engagement in the province’s forthcoming education legislation.
  • American Institutes of Research Technical Assistance Partnership – CommonAction staff continue to provide technical support and writing services to the TAP youth involvement initiative. This project will lead to the development of materials to support youth involvement in Systems of Care.
  • National PTA Policy Team – After piloting our curriculum focused on training students as policy advocates in March 2010, we completed a training kit for National PTA in July.
  • TeamChild – This Seattle-based community organization brought CommonAction staff in to provide training for their staff focused on operating a youth forum in fall 2010.

For the rest of this summer CommonAction Consulting is continuing to support work by our allies at the Institute for Democratic Education in America, Action For Healthy Kids, and the Santa Barbara Service Learning Initiative. We have other work coming up, as well, and would love to connect with YOU! For more information about what CommonAction can do for you, contact Adam Fletcher today:

Adam Fletcher
(360) 489-9680

Have a great day, and remember: Common challenges and common dreams require COMMONACTION!

Check out my books on Goodreads:

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

Waiting, or Working?

I’m flying right now and thinking about my roots in youth engagement. One of those roots grew about 20 years ago when I was a teenager living in Omaha, Nebraska. The year I was 15 I was invited to go to Chicago for an anti-youth violence conference. It was my first conference, my first airplane ride, and my first youth action training.

My neighborhood was torn up my youth violence, with drive-bys and getting jumped as daily staples of our social reality. The news slammed us, too, constantly portraying our blocks as terrible and terrifying. If I’d known differently I might’ve agreed; but I didn’t- this was my home and I was tired of the parents of my school friends who wuldn’t let their kids come to my house because it was in “that” neighborhood.

I live far away from that neighborhood now- but my memories are fresh in my imagination. I remember my little sister’s friend Fish who was as powerful a leader as any I’ve ever met even though his skills were mostly applied in dealing illicit narcotics. There were my best friends Joe and Tracy who dropped out of Scouts as soon as they realized it wasn’t cool – even though they were as good, if not better than me, and should’ve got Eagle Scout, too. The stories in my family, among our friends, and throughout that neighborhood stay here, too. They keep me company in long state government meetings, during marathon writing sessions, and on another cross-country flight, like right now.

I can’t sit waiting, hoping that some other reality will come along and steal my imagination to make me it’s own. Instead, I continue to work, giving room for my memories to meet my present, and allowing my past to inform my future. How about you- are you waiting, or working?

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at For more see

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

Student-Driven Individual Education Planning

Meaningful Student Involvement takes many forms in many different ways. Over the next week I’m going to explore some of those different ways that Meaningful Student Involvement happens throughout the education system today. Here are some of my thoughts on students as individual education planners, meaning that they’re planning their own learning in some way, shape or form.
Imagine if you will, before the beginning of the school year, every educator receives a file. The student, their previous teachers, and their parents all participated equally in creating this file. In it is a description of the child, learning goals and objectives for the year, particular learning needs and focus areas, and past evaluations of the student’s learning, completed by the student, their previous teacher, and their parents. This “student-driven Individual Education Plan” (IEP) is developed with every student, regardless of age, grade, ability, or achievement, focusing on the student as a partner in his or her own education.
While there are currently few schools developing student-driven IEPs for every student, the effectiveness of this approach to education planning has been echoed for many years. Students with disabilities have been using these tools successfully in many schools, with large increases in students’ focus and motivation, more support for students in mainstream classrooms, and more (Wehmeyer, 1998). The responsibility of a student’s progress is not just on the shoulders of the adults, but shared with the student. The student becomes eager to track his progress in specific IEP objectives, such as reading speed and accuracy, sentence writing and paragraph skills, math fact fluency, self-control behaviors and self-advocacy (Koegel & Kern-Koegel, 1995).
The student-driven IEP is a written document that has been historically used with developmentally disabled students. However, according to Michael Wehmeyer’s 1998 Making It Happen: Student Involvement in Education, Planning, Decision-making and Instruction, these activities shouldn’t only happen for them. IEPs are written documents that outline a student’s education. The plan is individualized, meaning that it is tailored to each student’s needs and wants in their own learning. What works for one student doesn’t work for the next. The assumption behind standardized education and the one-size-fits-all approach of schools today is that by learning in tandem with everyone around them students will better “fit in” in the world around them. IEPs shake of that ignorance by acknowledging each learner’s individual abilities and challenges – because every learner has them! Creating IEPs with all students would allow every student recognize what they need to grow and learn during a school year, in terms of supports and abilities, challenges and strengths.
Each IEP should outline:
  • the student’s goals are for themselves during the year,
  • the supports students identify they need for themselves to succeed throughout the year,
  • a plan for how students can meet those goals using the supports they’ve identified,
  • and a way for students to self-evaluate how they are progressing throughout the year
The student’s goals shouldn’t just be a collection of ideas on how schools can educate students; instead they should be concrete learning goals that meet basic standards while pushing every student to new horizons within their own conceptions of success.

Every student should have an opportunity to create their own IEP. They can engage their parents, their teachers, nonprofit community-based youth workers, and other adult allies from throughout their lives. They can also engage their peers or siblings as they see fit.
The student-driven IEP should be driven by each student from the time they’re new to school and beyond. In this way, engaging students as individual education planners can provide an opportunity for every student to experience Meaningful Student Involvement. Read the rest of this section and find more examples at
This was adapted from Stories of Meaningful Student Involvement, copyright 2005 Adam Fletcher.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Taking Charge: Going to Pennsylvania

Last fall I started learning more about the exciting realm of youth involvement in mental health services. I first learned about the practice from the California Adolescent Health Collaborative back in 2004, later spending time training folks at Olympia’s Community Youth Services agency. A few years later began volunteering with Partners in Prevention Education, and in each of these settings I met committed youth workers who focus on the idea that young people who are engaged in these “systems of care” shouldn’t just be subjected to adults making decisions about their lives without them; instead they should be completely engaged as partners and allies throughout the process.

For years local, regional and national organizations and the federal government have been promoting this practice, with folks like Lorrin Gehring [pdf] leading the way. The leadership of the Technical Assistance Partnership (TAP) at the American Institutes for Research brought me to Georgetown in January to help a group of 100 local practitioners from across the country move to the next level in their thinking and  practice. It was there that I learned about Lorrin’s powerful book, Youth Involvement in Systems of Care, which carefully lays out a detailed agenda and guide to young people moving to the forefront of this work. 
There has been a lot of local work in the area of youth involvement in Systems of Care. Communities like Westchestire County, New York [pdf]Aurora, Colorado [doc], and Seattle, Washington have had thriving programs. Find more examples here. Resources can be found on the HRWT National Resource Center website, as well as at the TAP website above. Also, Youth MOVE National is a youth-led organization “devoted to improving services and systems that support positive growth and development by uniting the voices of individuals who have lived experience in various systems including mental health, juvenile justice, education, and child welfare.” 
In Georgetown I met many committed and wonderful people, including Dan DeLucey of Allegheny County (Pennsylvania)’s Youth Development Project. Dan connected me with the Youth and Family Training Institute, who invited me out for their youth leadership development conference whose theme is “Developing Youth-Professional Partnerships: From Tokenism to Meaningful Youth Participation.” Very exciting! So on Wednesday I’ll be presenting an extensive work session there for youth and adult professionals that examines youth involvement throughout our communities. I’m really excited to learn about Pennsylvania, as my research has shown me some spectacular activities that are happening there. Another exciting highlight of the trip includes meeting with Dana Mitra, a faculty and student voice researcher at Penn State University, and a group of local youth voice practitioners, as well. Good times.
In all of my workshops I strive to learn as much as I can from the participants. I am sure this group will prove a powerful muse, and I’m excited to soak it up and help it along. Wish me luck!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Challenging Internalized Adultism

The tendency of being dismissive or disregarding of adultism by both young people and adults reflects one of the core, unspoken strategies inherent in the dominant relationships between children, youth and adults in our society. Taking in that discrimination so deeply that it silences a child or youth is one effect; encouraging a young person to lambast themselves or their peers or younger people is another. Thisinternalizationdisables young people from being able to form a positive identity based in their age, and further promotes the inability of young people to become effective agents for social change throughout our society.

Much needs to be written about identifying internalized adultism and drawing out its causes and effects on their lives of both young people and adults. I have found very little literature that does this in a sophisticated enough way to warrant response. In the meantime, I would suggest the following questions can be essential for challenging internalized adultism. They are good for any age, and only need to be adjusted for each individual’s usage.
  • What has been or is good about being a young person?
  • What makes me proud of being young?
  • What are children and youth people really like?
  • What has been difficult about being young?
  • What do I want other young people to know about me?
  • Specifically, how have I been hurt by other young people?
  • When do I remember standing up against the mistreatment of one young person by another?
  • When do I remember being strongly supported by another young person?
  • When do I remember that another child or youth (unrelated) really stood up for me?
  • When do I remember acting on some feeling of internalized adultism?
  • When do I remember resisting and refusing to act on this basis?
We must examine these questions for their outcomes in our own lives and the lives of those around us, simply because they begin to allow us to go further. If you want to learn more about adultism I would encourage you to explore my ally Margaret Pevec‘s blog, as well as John Bell’s essential article on the topic. I have a resource page on The Freechild Project website, too, and my friends at Youth On Board address the issue extensively, as well.
In order to effectively challenge adultism we each have to examine its effects throughout our own lives. This is one attempt to encourage each of us to do that.