The Evolution of Society


Children and youth have been treated as apolitical and passive throughout time.

They are viewed as immature, irrational, untamed, incapable, dependent, inexperienced, victims, compliant, under-developed, unacceptable, manipulable, unknowledgeable, compromised, uncultured, and unfinished for what seems like eons.

Treated as less-than-human, non-members of society, and as adults-in-the-making, children and youth have experienced generations of indifference and neglect simply because they were not perceived as adults.

This view of children and youth is not science; it is bias. It is bias towards adults, which is the definition of adultism.

Over the last 40 years, young people have boldly challenged this view. In the last 10, they have more loudly challenged it through activism and technology than ever before. THAT scares adults for many reasons, primary among which is that the historical order of society is continuing upheaval. That upheaval is quickening though, and as ethically responsive adult allies, it is our obligation to advocate and guide this change in every part of society.

Adultism has become more oppressive as a response to this evolution. More than ever before, the systems, cultures, and attitudes that treat children and youth without regard for their full humanity are becoming obvious. Parenting, friendships, schooling, social services, community groups, governments, faith communities, legal systems, economic systems, health care, nurseries, and playgrounds are among the institutions throughout our society that are being revealed for their biases towards adults.

At the core of the discrimination young people face are the historical roots of adultism:

  • Paternalism. Paternalism is when a child or youth is controlled with the claim that they’ll be better off or protected from harm. It’s ugly enforcer is patriarchy, which is protectionism on a grand level.
  • Segregation. Setting young people apart from other people because of their age is segregation. It’s ugly cousins include alienation, which happens when children or youth are segregated from a group or an activity they should be involved in; demonization, which happens when young people are portrayed as evil, deviant, or malicious; and criminalization, which makes children and youth illegal because of their age, like age-based curfews do.
  • Adultcentrism. The belief that adults are superior to young people is adultcentrism. It’s obvious outcome is adultocracy, which is the system of structural and cultural controls adults use to impose their authority, domination and supremacy over children and youth. The linear outcomes of adultcentrism and adultocracy are their ugly children, gerontocentrism and gerontocracy, which are focused on seniors.
  • Fear. The fear of children, which is pediaphobia, allows adults to segregate them; the fear of youth, which is ephebiphobia, gives adults permission to demonize and criminalize them. These responses to so-called deviance are dove-tailed with infantalism, which is the ascribing of behaviors that are perceived to be “child-ish” to children, youth, and adults.

All of this allows adults to maintain their power over young people in the most dramatic and simplistic ways. Without any voice in the matter, young people are routinely treated apathetically, pitifully, sympathetically, and charitably. This is despite the fact that all adults have been young. Our social programming disallows adults from remembering our younger years, which would lead us to empathizing with children and youth.

What may be needed is that farthest point on the spectrum of perceptions of young people, which is solidarity. More on that later.

I want to end this post by acknowledging that a massive evolution of young people is underway right now. Technology of all kinds is facilitating it, starting with the electronic transfer of communication, knowledge, ideas, and preparation for action. It is underway thanks to academia, where sociology and education have been on transformative bents for years in order to acknowledge authentic realities of young people, rather than their historically subjective judgments. It is underway in social settings too, including homes and neighborhoods and faith communities.

There’s an exciting future ahead, past these dark days. That’s because the evolution of childhood and youth is underway right now, and that’s because of you, right now. That’s why you just read this blog.

False Choice Kills Social Change

We are faced with piles of choices every single day. Advertising pumps tons of clothing and cars, household cleaners and soda for us to choose from. Our friends and communities make these choices seem more real, as we are surrounded by people who want the same things, and everyone strives towards similar goals. 

However, at what point are those false choices? At what point do those choices distract and take away from the real choices we need to make in our lives?
Renata Salecl, an economist in London, recently claimed in an RSA video that, “The ideology of choice is actually not so optimistic and it prevents social change.” She laid out a compelling argument that highlights how the majority of choices we are faced with everyday are simple consumerist myths that perpetuate our sense of choosing without actually giving us a say about what we’re choosing – they are false choices. She identifies how these choices drive some of us to believe we are being impinged on by false choices, driving us to create new options that in turn become placebos for meaningful decision-making. 
Worst still, Salecl implies that these choices are distracting us from more serious decision-making by filling our minds with rubbish. This “fullness”, apparently re-enforced by a New York Times article called, “Too Many Choices: A Problem that can Paralyze“, which puts consumer choices on par with substantive choices like who should govern us or whether we should go to war. Or, the NY Times is apparently honing in on the outcomes of this rubbish by reporting on a study about “decision-making fatigue“, which apparently seeks to absolve the Average American from their responsibilities over their lives and work and families by acknowledging that we are simply faced with too many choices to be able to function successfully every single day. All this, and personal exposure to younger and older people who “suffer” this way, leads me to agree with Salecl.
We are surrounded by a cacophony of phony, the allure of the unreal. It seems incredible to me that so many people- young and old- actively choose to fill their lives with impediments to their power. It is as if we are actively surrendering our ability to make the world we want to live in. It was Paulo Freire who first taught me that the highest order of being human is to be a maker rather than a consumer. However, as a people we are suffocating under a pile of consumption.
Social change requires the active belief that we are fully capable and desirous of making the world we want to live in. We must actively choose to do that every single day, be it through actively eschewing television and teaching our kids to stay away from it, or by denying the commercial overload that would take over our lives by living simply and within our means. False choices are killing social change.
It is from that place of unhindered decision-making that we can develop the critical consciousness and social awareness necessary to change the world. It is from that place that we can make a real difference.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

In Defense of Public Schools

I’m a product of public schools, and my daughter is attending them, too. The only child of four to graduate on-time, my schooling wasn’t nearly adequate. The mostly white teachers in my high school were overworked, under-appreciated, and stressed from working in a low- and middle-class magnet school in the African American neighborhood I grew up in in the Midwest. My daughter attends a public school, though remarkably different from anything I ever attended.

It’s a sad day when our society has effectively stigmatizes the very institutions we need to rely on in order to have a successful society. The fact is that the founding fathers intended for public schools to be the places where our kids grew into capable, complete citizens. I believe in that vision, expanded for everyone to have free and full access to learn, and to incubate the desire and capacity to learn for life. We have to have public schools, and without them, hope for our democracy is limited, at best.
Private schools are inherently limited in their ability to affect the greater society in which they operate. Those who have the ability to access their services (read: money) are generally responsible for how things have always gone in our society – that much is true. However, as conscientious parents we have to make a deliberate and intentional choice as to whether we are going to contribute to the continued skewering of the public good by subjecting our kids to the exclusivism, classism, and segregation inherent in all private schools. And I understand that in some situations that is apparently the only way to go. I get that! But I also get that every time a caring, concerned, conscious parent retracts from engaging their kids in the public school system, we loose an ally for social justice, student engagement, and equality in public education.
I would pose that rather than choosing not to subject our children to the inadequacies of public schools, we choose to actively engage in them starting right now. As members of a democratic society with the levers of democracy in our hands, we ALL have the opportunity and desire to learn, so do this: learn about the school system, learn about how to change public schools, and then do the opposite of putting your kids in private schools – actively, meaningfully, and fully engage yourself and your kids in promoting the health and well-being of democracy by getting parents, students, and other communities to work changing your local public schools. We have to take responsibility for schools, and there are examples to aspire to and follow. 
Let’s not shirk our responsibility any further. These public schools are one of the greatest hopes we have of ever realizing the full possibility of our democracy. 
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Minority Youth Voice

I am well aware that “Youth Voice” is a misnomer. About a million years ago I started complaining to my work allies and friends that the phrase means absolutely nothing, because its so grossly homogenized, bland and common. After more than 5 years sitting in that frame of mind I decided to adopt the phrase, mostly because of it’s commonality among programs. Youth-led media programs, meaningful student involvement programs, participatory action research programs and youth activism programs all talk about Youth Voice, and who am I to go against their hard work? The research literature that surrounds this work also concentrates on Youth Voice, and the good efforts of my allies who do that work matters to me, too. I respect all of this work.

That said, I want to talk about minority Youth Voice today. The reason why I begin with an explanation of my opinion about the phrase is that I believe that refering to “the distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people” as a collective body inherently disenfranchises the minority opinion among those young people who are being refered to. And I wrote this definition of the term, so my work inherently disenfranchises young people.
The reason why I say that is that in this sense Youth Voice serves as a form of representative democracy, actively engaging those who care and deliberately neglecting those who do not care. That’s a tough pill to swallow for some folks, but it doesn’t take much to see how this plays out in the United States. And I believe the consequence of this neglect is a type of imposed apathy. This is true with Youth Voice.
Now, the danger of this line of thought is that it may appear to relegate minorities to being apathetic, and that is simply not true: sometimes it is the smallest sectors of a population that are most engaged in the decision-making that affects them. I may also risk seeming like I’m equating democracy and Youth Voice to a popularity contest or a shouting contest, and that, well, that may be true. I just don’t want to sound too cynical, because its important to me that readers understand I believe in democracy – its just that I believe in a much more radical form that what we’re currently acquainted with, which perfectly segues into the next point.
“Minority” isn’t simply about race, although that is a part of the equation. Instead, the phrase “minority Youth Voice” refers to any instance when difference and dissent go against the grain of popular culture. Young people themselves are a minority in the United States. While African Americans, Hispanic/Latinos and American Indians are a minority, there are minorities within those populations as well. Even within a racially homogeneous school there may be gender, cultural, religious and educational minorities. There are oppressive relationships between majority and minority populations everywhere, and the active engagement of Youth Voice should be a tool in the toolbelt of every responsible adult who is committed to defeating oppression of all forms.
Engaging Youth Voice encourages young people to come to the forefront so that their “distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions” can challenge and be challenged in the open forums of democracy, whether in classrooms, homes, governments, nonprofit agencies, or other cultural transmission sites throughout our society. This may be the most important thing I’ve written in a long time, because that is why Youth Voice matters. By actively challenging and being challenged in those forums, young people become acknowledge as the civic actors they are – particularly when they represent any form of minority Youth Voice. On a base level this demonstrates to adults that the passion, excitement, commitment and energy of children and youth can serve the collective good; in a more sophisticated way, this action transmits to adults the core relevance of actively engaging minorities throughout the democracy which we all occupy.
I can expand on this further, and perhaps you can too, seeing how adultism and ephebiphobia play central to the defeat of democracy. Maybe later. In the meantime I hope we can all further expand on why and how minority Youth Voice matters in our own life. That’s how we can make this real.
can be challenged.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Humanizing Youth Involvement

In the early part of this decade I worked for a national nonprofit organization promoting youth involvement. They had whittled youth involvement into a handfull of nutshell-type experiences and wanted us, their on-the-ground promoters, to share those nutshells with the field. You are likely familiar with those nutshells: Youth councils, youth evaluators, youth trainers, youth forums. You probably know about the different ways people promote those ideals, couching them in popular methods such as service learning and participatory action research.

Talking with my new comrade Stephanie Cayot Serriere today I was reminded that buried inside of all these nutshell-type experiences is what Lilia Bartolome refers to as a “method fetish”: we want a particular way to do this work of youth involvement. We want special models or proven methods or replicable practices that we can just pick up and roll with. I have dones this before, and would suggest that my own work has fallen prey to this fetish, too. The dilemma of this approach is the temptation to generalize all youth and to mechanize youth involvement. Somehow we believe that if we just follow somebody else’s lead we’ll be successful, and when we’re not successful we can just blame our inability to respond on them rather than shoulder the burden of responsibility ourselves. The simple fact is that youth involvement must change, meld, transform and be re-invented anew in each community. Rather than relying on models youth workers must learn to be comfortable with the need, and ultimately their responsibility, to respond directly to needs of the young people they work with.
In my thinking the alternative is to begin seeing youth involvement for its nuansces: woven within each of these activities, inside of all of these practices is an emergent set of principles and designs that pulled together form a broader framework for youth involvement. This is what we must explore, together, and what will lead us towards humanizing youth involvement.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

A Parent’s Question about Punishment in Schools

I receive a lot of email and have a lot of conversations with concerned parents, people who know that their childrens’ rights are being violated or that Youth Voice is being suppressed or any of a number of bad, bad things. Sometimes it is overwhelming; sometimes enlightening. Following is an email I received last night:

My daughter was “sentenced” to Saturday work detail (picking up garbage after a Friday night football game) for talking in class. This occurred without any due process. There were no warnings, no “in school” punishment handed out and the “dean” of discipline told my daughter that when he receives a complaint from a teacher (called a referral) he automatically believes the teacher and not the student. there are probably 25 or more of these a day handed out. In addition, the school that she attends (public school) has a “wall” labeled in BIG letters “THE WALL” where the students who had referrals must line up against to receive their assigned punishments. (in this case, my daughter contends she was one of many students talking during an in class “lab” type assignment where students are paired up to collect personal information from each other (by talking). There was no loud speaking during class, no swear language, nothing that should rise to this level of punishment. We recently moved here. My daughter has never had problems with discipline or otherwise, and is a 4.0 college bound senior. The dean who handed down the punishment suggested to my daughter that she should drop this class if she believes she is being unfairly singled out by the teacher. This is the second school official to tell her this. Doesn’t she have the right to protect her transcripts that have already been sent to colleges (by not dropping out). Several issues here seem like a violation of her civil rights. am I right ? I have spoken to school officials who say this is how they handle these situations. what can I do?

The following is my response:

If your daughter is receiving the treatment that you described it is bordering child abuse, and according to the United Nations it is definitely corporal punishment. It is too bad that situations like this have to occur in order to bring light to the situation, but this country is too big and its schools are too big to bring light to every injustice at once. That said, the unfortunate reality is that long ago courts decided that schools operate in loco parentis, meaning that when you’re not there they can act as parents. Furthermore, in 22 states schools retain the right to physically punish students at their own discretion and without consent of parents. The Supreme Court has continuously ruled that schools retain the right to limit the civil liberties of students in – and out – of schools. However, as your daughter’s scenario shows, school discipline is generally in a pathetic situation, and one that we, as parents, should not and cannot continue to allow.

There are alternatives to the ways that schools treat students, including methods teachers and administrators can use to actually teach students. In big cities and small towns across the country, parents and students and teachers and school board members are actually doing good through student discipline. Not all programs are radical; some are subtle changes, and some are just wrong. But the common thread is that things are changing.

In your daughter’s particular circumstance I’m not able to say what the next best steps are. I would encourage you to remember this: Schools are instruments in a democracy, and democracy CAN create change in schools. This requires you, as a parent and school community member, to DO something. If you have attempted to discuss this situation with your school’s principal and other administration, and they have not responded, I would suggest that you attempt to identify the person in your local school district office who is responsible for discipline – every district has one. If that person is not responsive, then contact your district superintendent. If you do not get an answer to your satisfaction from that person, then I suggest that you contact your local school board member. That person is elected by the public to represent the public’s interest in schools. If that person fails to answer your questions or meet your needs, you have several routes to take: There is a state-level official in every state in the nation who has the job of answering these types of concerns from parents. They may be an ombudsman or a state education agency official – but regardless of where they are, they are ultimately accountable to YOU as a parent. Their bosses are either a “chief state school officer” or the governor. Every state also has a state board of education that is generally elected by the public and generally accountable to the public.

If all those steps fail then you MUST run for school board and change this policy from the inside. The end run is that may be your only choice – to use the instruments of democracy to change a democratic institution. Good luck.

I don’t know if this was the best response – but it is what I know and believe: Public schools are not going to behave more democratically until the public demands they behave more democratically. We – parents, students, concerned community members – have allowed them to be autocratic, dictatorial institutions for too long, and we must hold them accountable for that. Transparency: I am not blameless here. I work in a public agency and am responsible for including students, parents and concerned community members in my work, and I have not been particularly successful in each of those categories thus far. I know how challenging this is; however, it does not let us off the hook.

As usual, let me know what you think.

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

Democracy Building in the United States

The institutions, culture and public policy that drive our society needs to be transformed so that adults and young people share roles more equitably within government, communities, workplaces, and families. With that assumption firmly intact, the development of new cultural and structural avenues to foster the active participation of children and youth takes a firm light. Such avenues might include the following:

Horizontal, non-authoritarian attitudes between young people and adults. This takes the form of stopping the discrimination against children and youth inherent in adultism. Dismantling oppressive cultures and structures that discriminate against young people is no small charge, with the systematic disenfranchisement facing children and youth thoroughly entrenched in all corners.

Fully-democratic positions for young people throughout society. The institutions we rely on to support and sustain democracy must be made completely accommodating towards children and youth. This extends beyond government, and includes schools, hospitals, nonprofits, policing, etc.

Restructuring of educational opportunities. The introduction, infusion, deepening, reflection and critical examination of democracy is a taught thing that must be reinforced throughout the schooling, working, out-of-school, and other activities all people are engaged in.

These are three massive ideas that have to be thoroughly examined, and unfortunately this little blog isn’t the best place for that to happen. The evolution of young people is simultaneously motivated by and motivating of the advancement of technology throughout society. Wikipedia, videocams, Facebook, cell phones and other sorts of developments are encouraging the development of democracy that is more than participatory; instead, it is owned. An owned democracy – and not one that is owned by corporate overlords, either, although its a slippery slope between popular ownership and corporate ownership. Walking that slippery slope is essential, the nature of our society requires walking that thin line constantly: democracy in an evolving society cannot be enshrined. In that same way, neither are young people static. More than ever, they refuse to sit still or wait. Instead, they’re rapidly moving forward at a pace that we must strive to stay caught up to. Deliberate democracy building must be geared towards youth engagement.

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