Taking Away Youth Power
Between technological, social and cultural transformations happening right now across the U.S., there are new trends becoming apparent everywhere, schools included. This paper puts the massive changes happening throughout the education system into context to help readers understand what’s happening, and why its happening.
Lots have said it, many see it, but few have called it out: for a century, our education system has revolved around ego. As we become an evermore interdependent and transparent society, this is inherently at odds with the future. This article explores the former EGOsystem of education and identifies an emerging ECOsystem taking its place. It also shows what the future might look like.
When I first started working in education 15 years ago, I discovered quickly that educators in schools are most often the ones who school worked well for. After barely graduating from high school and taking eight years to get my BA, it was glaringly obvious to me that I was surrounded by former star students and others whose learning styles, socio-economic statuses and cultural backgrounds were being perpetuated by the system. This formula generally holds true for politicians who make educational policies as well as social service staff who support student success outside of schools.
These students often go on to work in schools as teachers and administrators; in districts as administrators; and in state education agencies as program directors, assessment officials and curriculum experts. They are successful in their careers, embraced by their institutions, and generally, reveling in the ways things are. If they are aware of how things are going for students who are most often failed by schools, they see these learners from a position of noblesse oblige, looking down on them from on high.
The system that created these workers has engendered particular school cultures that ensured succeeding generations of familiarity. Despite technology and social changes of many sorts, in many schools, learners who time travel from a century ago can find similar patterns of teaching, classroom management and testing. This is because the education system revolves around the ego, which is a person’s sense of self-importance or self-esteem.
Educators have relied on fulfilling their sense of self-importance and building their self-esteem through their work for more than 100 years. Through my studies, I have seen four phases in America’s education system.
Initially relying on a high control environments, schools were initially places where teachers controlled students. The Control Phase looked like this:
With time, schools became high command environments that relied less on forcefulness and abrasion and more on leveraging authority for outcomes. During the Command Phase, schools looked like this:
When social change insisted, schools modified their approach to include connection between students, among educators, within the curriculum and throughout the education system. During the Connection Phase, schools looked like this:
Today, we’re in the midst of moving from EGOsystems towards ECOsystems of education. This movement is happening through collaboration fostered by technology, social change and other evolution that holds great possibilities.
The emerging ECOsystem of education is harder to see than previous phases. From my work in schools and throughout communities over the last 15 years, I have seen some aspects of it becoming apparent. Following is an exploration of some patterns that are becoming apparent.
Right now, there’s a new picture of schools that is coming into focus. Across the horizon of testing, standardization and the school-to-prison pipeline are learning, teaching and leadership opportunities for all people everywhere in which love prevails and pessimism stops. With beautiful balance between critical thinking, cultural uplifting and participatory infrastructure, learning mirrors life in a balanced, holistic way that honors difference, embraces hopefulness and builds through equitable partnerships among everyone involved, regardless of their ages.
When considering the ECOsystem of education, its important to remember what constitutes an ecology. An ECOsystem consists of the interdependent and interacting components of a learner’s environment. There are living elements like teachers and other students throughout, and non-living elements like the building, computers and textbooks. Air and light cycles through an ECOsystem, as well as talking, music and paper ripping. Material elements also cycle through an ecosystem via cafeterias, heating plants, and other pathways.
As the ECOsystem of education continues to emerge, we will need new guideposts to know where we’re at. In the 300+ schools I have consulted over the last decade, the following three trends represent the new realities in education. These can serve as guideposts to ensure students, educators, administrators and others are on the right track to ensure the healthy, whole, successful and sustainable transition underway.
While more students opt to learn from home, more schools rely on BYOD and tablets-as-textbooks, and classrooms integrate more with communities, schools will have fewer and fewer options for retaining students in desk chairs. Instead, they will be forced to embrace disruptive learning technologies of all sorts, including experiential education, service learning and integrate CTE that positions elementary and middle school students in applicable, pragmatic problem-centered learning to address real world challenges.
With more adults actively infusing throughout the school day as both co-learners and co-leaders with students who are transforming communities, the role of student will be actively redefined. No longer the plaything of classroom tyrants, students will be recognized for their essential role in the American democracy as the foundation and implementation of lifelong civic identity and engagement. Students of all ages will freely co-learn, co-teach and co-lead communities in quintessential learning communities that are infused with vigor, vim and vitality.
By actively taking control of the things they want to learn, students are actively moving from being the passive recipients of teaching towards becoming active partners in learning and leadership. Each individual student will develop and implement their own course of learning from their youngest years in schools. Learning about their roles as active learning partners, they will also assume more responsibility throughout their communities for teaching their elders. In turn, today’s teachers will continue towards become learning coaches and facilitators to the willing. Students will gain full authority through true interdependence, and communities will become fully integrated throughout their local education systems.
The effect of dispersed learning and teaching are already rippling throughout the education system. Technology is actively pushing students out of the forced irrelevance of age- and interest segregated classrooms and towards their broader communities, while schools have to reach deeper towards their local communities in order to cover budgets. This is drawing students towards meeting real community needs through authentic leadership and away from falsely important student governments. In turn, this is forcing schools to reconsider engaging those students in educational leadership. In the ECOsystem of schools, education uses all members of the community in order to drive, transform and sustain learning. Students become researchers, planners, teachers, evaluators, decision-makers and advocates throughout communities, which in turn recognize their legitimacy as contributing members of society.
This rekindles community investment in education, which further enriches the educational environment. Racial inequities are eagerly addressed by communities, and the school-to-prison pipeline is dismantled. Every student creates their own learning plan with strategic systems of learning supporting their implementation. Restorative justice engenders new cultures of respect, trust and ability throughout schools, while nutrition, school buildings, athletics and other activities become safe supports for learning and teaching. All of this happens through new leading.
As schools move forward through the phases, a natural ECOsystem of learning will emerge. There is a growing awareness of this transformation. Some people see a complete destruction of traditional, EGO-driven schools, while others see an ongoing evolution towards ECOsystems of learning, teaching and leadership. If we deliberately identify the systems supporting education, we can make this shift intentionally.
As the entirety of the system moves forward, there will be resistance and denial. People who’ve upheld the first and second phases will resist the inevitably of this transformation, while others who’ve embraced the third and fourth phases might actually deny the need for the system to move forward. Those who resist and deny are actually representing the EGOsystem of education that has become entrenched by the powers that benefit most from the EGOsystem. However, truncated by the inevitable transformation fostered by ongoing social change, its inevitable for the EGOsystem to die.
In order to move it forward, its important for educators, students and others to make an honest assessment of where their own personal expectations lay; where their schools’ realities are; and what the gap is between those two areas. Schools will never do more than we are willing to do in them. If a person is young, then its imperative to establish genuine expectations for their own experience. This comes through reflection and critical thinking. If a person is older, its vital to engage in critical self-analysis as well as self-engagement in a project for school improvement. For anyone, its important to get active. Research what exists right now. Work with others to plan for alternatives. Teach people about options, no matter what age you are or they are. Evaluate and critically examine what exists, what could exist and what the gap is between those two spaces. Get involved in decision-making wherever there’s an opportunity, including on committees, in forums and in other spaces. Finally, everyone must advocate for the future of schools and the emerging ECOsystem of education. This has to be brought forth on purpose, and the only way to do that is to encourage individuals, organizations and communities to move towards the ECOsystem on purpose. Advocate for that.
Learning is a beautiful, nature and evolutionary approach towards expanding our human potential. The ECOsystem of education moves us towards powerful possibilities for all students everywhere all the time. You should come with.
I have to admit something: for all of my life, I have tried to make a living following my passion. My experience in the fields of human motivation and civic engagement have shown me I’m not alone, and that there’s an emerging economy of passion. Here I reflect on my experience, and share some of the markers of this new economy.
“…[L]ife is too fleeting, too restrictive and too short to do work that doesn’t reward the soul.”
When I was 14 years old, I realized that youth empowerment enlivened my soul. Over the next decade, I worked with in a dozen nonprofits striving to empower young people through mentoring, teaching, facilitating and supporting communities, families, schools and other places where children and youth spent all their time. I did this work in many roles: tutor, mentor, ropes challenge course facilitator, adult living skills teacher, naturalist, youth center director… Sometimes I volunteered; oftentimes I got paid.
Immediately after 9/11, I decided I wanted to teach others how to make a living following their passions, too. Reflecting on the struggles my family faced while I was growing up and watching the horrific events of that fateful day unfold on TV, I immediately decided that life is too fleeting, too restrictive and too short to do work that doesn’t reward the soul.
Up until that point, I met and was inspired by a lot of people following their dreams, making a difference, and living as fully and wholly as they wanted. Reflecting on those people and examining my own experiences, I found a series of patterns emerge and recalled powerful lessons. Absorbing research and literature on passion, engagement and empowerment, I found some vital points I wanted to teach.
In the 15 years since, I’ve worked to help people live their passions. I’ve spoke at more than 100 conferences worldwide and facilitated many workshops with countless young people and adults. All of them have shown me one thing: An economy of passion is emerging that is changing the world right now.
“We already have everything we need… All these trips that we lay on ourselves, the heavy-duty fearing that we’re bad and hoping that we’re good, the identities that we so dearly cling to, the rage, the jealousy and the addictions of all kinds – never touch our basic wealth. They are like clouds that temporarily block the sun. But all the time our warmth and brilliance are right here. This is who we really are. We are one blink of an eye away from being fully awake.” – Pema Chödrön
I believe an economy of passion is emerging around the world. With more access to more knowledge than ever before, more people are cultivating the skills, habits and beliefs they need to live their dreams. This isn’t exclusive to wealthy white people in the Western hemisphere, either; instead, communities of color and the Global South are leading the way. Maybe that’s because they’ve never left this economy.
My experience and studies have shown me there are five major markers of this emerging economy of passion: Jobs of Passion; Population Sustainability; Nodes of Passion; Intergenerational Equity; and Obvious Interdependence.
These are the major markers of the emerging economy of passion for many reasons, not the least of which being that they are the most repeating factors I’ve discovered through my work. Other markers include Environmental Well-Being; Accessible Passion-Based Education; Apparent Culture; and Expansive Opportunities.
In November 2014, I sat calmly with some friends in the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art in Brazil. Invited there to speak at an education conference, my hostess took me to a beautiful park to share her community’s emerging Economy of Passion. It was there in the museum that she shared with me the power of The Tree School.
Located in the southern Bahia state of Brazil, this dynamic learning space was created by two local nonprofits, one working in Brazil and the other in Palestine. In each community, young people, adults and seniors were provided space to learn with each other. They were given access to tools and knowledge, provided with time and space, and granted explicit permission to follow their hearts and dreams.
As I sat in the São Paulo Museum of Modern Art, I was a member of a circle of Brazilian students who generously translated the conversation to English for my sake. They told me about the baobab tree whose rootball was suspended above the circle and is pictured above. It was a metaphor for the inherent connection between nations where Africans were enslaved for the benefit of Europeans, and the baobab trees that grew where those slaves were originally from.
As I learned more about this school, I saw all the markers of an Economy of Passion become more obvious:
As The Tree School and my professional experience have taught me, the emerging Economy of Passion will provide opportunities for everyone to establish sustainable connections to their hearts and minds, and to share those connections with the people around them and beyond them.
“No matter who we are, where we are or what we’ve done, we all have passionate possibilities for the future.”
Everyone can access the Economy of Passion, and increasingly, more people are whether they know it or not.
As we establish more access to more interesting things that grip our hearts and minds, many of us are enlivening parts of ourselves that were rocked to sleep by today’s consumerist economy. Too many people have become too reliant on other people doing things for them and doing things to them, and we have allowed ourselves to become more passive and less passionate everyday. We don’t have to live that way.
Instead, we can activate our personal passions by identifying what matters to us most, naming that out loud, and giving ourselves the time and space we need to activate, captivate and motivate our own attention. By doing this, we can become active masters of our lives who nurture and infuse the emerging Economy of Passion.
If you’re interested in becoming an active player in the future, embrace the markers I’ve outlined here and work to acknowledge the emerging Economy of Passion in your community. No matter who we are, where we are or what we’ve done, we all have passionate possibilities for the future. The Economy of Passion will engage those as soon as you become engaged. Can your future wait?
I believe that we can each change the world. I believe we can all change our lives, too. After all, it’s a DIY life. Here’s why.
The real challenge of changing the world and changing our lives is to learn to see nuance and acknowledge subtleties in ourselves, in others and all the way around us. In a society that is constantly dumbing us down, we are all becoming increasingly polarized society within ourselves and with other people.
Its a DIY life because we have to look at the details. The systems that want to control us would like us only to look at big pictures and ignore the little things. They anesthetize us with sitcoms and reality tv, paint gigantic swaths of misinformation on the nightly news and internet, and bombard us with too many Facebook friends to actually care for any of them. Looking at the details leads us to caring for the little flower petal pictures made by young kids, hold hands with old relatives, and be kind to strangers on the streets. Little things matter, and living a DIY life teaches us that.
More and more, everyone seems to believe in A/B, either/or, black/white, us/them thinking through reductionism and isolationism. Anyone wants to make a decision for themselves or prove a point to others will just follow the formula taught to us by today’s media:
We have to learn to see the colors beyond the outlines drawn for us by other people. It’s a DIY life because of the greys, blues, yellows and awesomeness all around us. We miss those in between areas when we rely on the world to paint our pictures for us. We can miss the in betweens, the both/ands, and the we/us thinking that is inherent in an interdependent world.
Great ideas routinely die in the hearts of brave and strong people because of this formula, at home, in businesses, across communities, throughout organizations and all around our society. Politics are rotten inside the Beltway, in state houses, and in city halls because of that thinking. Talk shows and the news are generally terrible because of it.
In each and every moment lies hope for the universe and eternity. This DIY life can teach each of us to let go when its time, and hold on when we’re supposed to. It embraces sustainability and eschews disposability by seeing more broadly than just this moment, this place, in this specific way. We have to hold out hope no matter what is going on in the world around us, and that hope won’t come from outside of us; it comes from within. The real hope is for you, and that’s why it’s a DIY life.
For almost 20 years, I have taught people to see that we are all part of the problems AND the solutions in our world. We are all responsible for the status of the world today. Whether or not we’re conscious of it and accept it, we are ALL responsible for the world today and we ALL act on that regardless of our best intentions.
It’s DIY life because nobody else can effectively drawn a plan for your life that you have to follow. Your mind belongs only to YOU, and you are the ultimate person responsible for what goes into it and comes out of it. Accepting responsibility means owning up to your station in life, embracing it and moving forward boldly towards who I am and what I’m doing. My station in life isn’t complete, isn’t finished and doesn’t mean that I cannot change. Instead, its the opposite – it means that I’m unfinished, my life is a process, and this is a journey we’re on, not a destination.
Only after recognizing the subversive ways our own hearts and minds have been manipulated can anyone begin the work of dismantling the powerfully oppressive hegemony of injustice throughout our society. Only after recognizing our own fallibility can we challenge our culpability, and only after challenging our culpability can we call others to the carpet. Trying to do it before that makes us hypocritical at best. At worse, it makes us the worst offenders.
Learning to look within, be within and change within ourselves can be a scary, frustrating and obtuse process. That’s why it’s DIY! No human on Earth comes to their born day with a guide prepared to be implemented. Society constantly urges us to rely on large, impersonal engines designed to command and control our movements, actions and thoughts. Beginning with ourselves is the opposite of that; the rewards are boundless.
When we’ve confronted ourselves, then we can confront others. Then we can take action for social change. Then we can try to change the world. But it all goes back to what old Gandhi said: Be the change you wish to see in the world. It’s a DIY life because the world isn’t waiting for you to change it, and you cannot wait on the world to change. Instead, as you accept responsibility for yourself and lean into DIY, you’ll discover there’s an inevitability to engaging with the world around you and working to transform it, either accidentally or on purpose.
I have learned that we have to change the world because the world we see around us reflects the world within us. When we’re not satisfied with who we are, how we are we cannot be satisfied with the world and how it is. The converse is true, too: When we change ourselves, the world around us has to change because of that change within us. If it doesn’t change, we have to change it. That’s the nature of being human!
Live your DIY life as fully, wholly and meaningfully as you wish. Embrace it! And take action steadily knowing that you can be the change you want to see in the world!
Over the last six months, I have written more than a dozen articles about youth engagement in the economy. For the first time, I’ve compiled them into a publication and added some important information. A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement in the Economy is a guide addressing youth employment, youth entrepreneurship, youth training, youth banking, youth programs, school classes and other activities. Covering the most forward-thinking about economic youth engagement, this publication is for employers, youth workers, teachers, and others committed to building the economy through youth engagement. Learn more by downloading it today, and share it with your friends, colleagues and networks!
A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement in the Economy
by Adam Fletcher
Published by The Freechild Project
Olympia, Washington, USA
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
The book is essential for Freirians; first-time readers of his work want to go to the original, and then onward. Eventually, come back to this book and you’ll appreciate its depth a lot.
Freire examined his own career consistently, revisiting his beliefs as often as some people change socks. This book was written a quarter century after Pedagogy of the Oppressed, with the purpose of reliving the experience of writing it. He examines his own experiences, offering some of the personal story behind his society-changing critical theory. This book is for people who’ve read the original and want to know more, particularly from a humanizing perspective.
The other week I published 16 Capacities to Change the World. So many of you responded so awesomely to it, that I have been thinking over each item carefully for the last week. Today, I’m going to elaborate on each point and add some more to the list.
I call these items “capacities” because they provide definition to our vessel in life. They determine what we can do, who we can be, and where we are. Each of us is absolutely limitless in our capacities. The following attributes are what I’ve experienced and observed are useful when working to change the world.
You’ll remember that the list included these items: Change Management; Humility; Collaboration & Teamwork; Conflict Management; Decision-Making; Diversity & Cultural Competency; Coaching; Motivating & Empowering; Personal & Professional Goal Development; Knowledge Management; Problem-Solving; Training & Facilitation; Verbal & Written Communication/Public Presentation; Personal Engagement; Compassion; and Systems Thinking.
In the original list I was originally considering the skills that a person needed in order to be a successful change agent; you’ll see that I began to add on the dispositions I know are important at the end.
The 18 expanding capacities are Challenge; Focused; Deliberate; Facilitate; Release; Listen; Simple; Action; Help; Amaze; Driven; Funny; Bold; Learning; Openness; Community; Passion; and Humility.
The entire list of capacities to change the world is now: Change Management; Humility; Collaboration & Teamwork; Conflict Management; Decision-Making; Diversity & Cultural Competency; Coaching; Motivating & Empowering; Personal & Professional Goal Development; Knowledge Management; Problem-Solving; Training & Facilitation; Verbal & Written Communication/Public Presentation; Personal Engagement; Compassion; Systems Thinking; Challenge; Focused; Deliberate; Facilitate; Release; Listen; Simple; Action; Help; Amaze; Driven; Funny; Bold; Learning; Openness; Community; Passion; and Humility.
Respond to these capacities in the comments section below and let me know what you think!
There are a lot of people who want to change the world. However, many get frustrated because they don’t know what it takes.
After more than a decade of teaching people around the world how to do it, I’ve decided to share this list of key skills, abilities, knowledge, and dispositions. They’re based off my life as I’ve worked for social justice, and they are what I’ve seen consistently in my mentors, heros, and students. These capacities make the difference between people who talk about changing the world and people who actually change the world.
If you’re really interested in these capacities, send me a message for my free self-assessment tool. I also provide training and coaching in each of these capacities for groups and individuals.
Let me know what you think in the comment section below!
Who are we as individuals if we are not changing the world?
Who are we as a people if we are not changing the world?
There are many animals that are caught up in the nuances of altering their environment, transforming their thoughts, and modifying their actions. However, how many creatures do we know that do all three at the same time? Changing the world seems to be what makes us human.
A lot of people seem to believe they don’t have a role in changing the world. As I grow older, I see many of my friends relax into complacency, trusting that everything works “fine” or becoming completely oblivious to the situations in the world that need to change.
I have personally experienced the struggle of living in more dire circumstances where my basic needs weren’t met. In those times, changing the world seems to be the farthest thing away from your mind, as you become fixated on your next meal, keeping the electricity and water running, wearing sufficient clothes, if only to deal with your personal security, money, health and well-being, or illnesses. After that, according to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, you start thinking about your family, friends, and intimate relationships.
After your relationships with others, you start considering your self-esteem and self-respect, including strength, competence, mastery, self-confidence, independence, and freedom. However, after each of those needs are met, a person can become self-actualized, capable of doing anything a human can. At this point, they live by the reality that what a person can do, they must do.
Maybe everyone is living under the guise that they’re needy and without wholeness in their lives. Maybe, according to Maslow, there are few fully self-actualized people in the world actually realizing their ability and the necessity of changing the world. Each of us can do something, anything.
Someone once said, “Service is the rent we pay for living,” and maybe the secret to our full humanness is doing things for others besides yourself, no matter who you are or what relationship you have with the world around you. Our humanness- including the joy, struggle, certainty, confusion, daily living, and fantasies we all have- is the center of who we are and what we do. It is us!
Remember your humanity and do something. Please.
Order your copy of the SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum: Teaching Students to Change Schools today from Amazon.com!
This publication is also available for customization for your organization. Contact me to learn more.
— C Nelson-Goedert (@CNelsonGoedert) November 7, 2013