Radical Transparency with Children and Youth

How To Be Radically Transparent With Children and Youth
  1. Start when they’re young. While young people are still young, that’s the time to make be radically transparent with them. Having a transparent conversation with a 17 or 18 year old can be difficult, if only because they’re conditioned to accept adults obfuscating. By starting early, you weave into your relationships with young people your own ability to be honest, and show your expectation that your relationships with children and youth are motivated by fully mutual accountability.
  2. Take issues one at a time. When creating a radically transparent relationship with young people, go in steps. Being completely open and honest all at once can be really difficult and daunting. Every time you would typically keep information to yourself, ask yourself, “Why can’t I share this with young people?” Unless you come up with a strong argument against it, opt for openness. But in increments.
  3. Make time to explain your logic. As a radically transparent adult ally, you must be honest and fair. Young people need to understand how you came to your decisions and why. Be ready to spend a huge amount of time with children and youth explaining everything. The extra time will pay off, when ultimately, your effort will inspire trust and respect.
  4. Clearly outline the steps for action. Radically transparent organizations need clear ways for young people to take action. You might set specific goals or show young people which skills and outcomes they can be developing. Being fair in this process prevents you from expecting any young people to do something beyond their abilities. Make sure your organization is focused on process more than product, and let young people know that’s the case.
  5. Question your own discomfort. Making traditionally adult-only information available to young people naturally stirs up discomfort. A lot of the time its uncomfortable because it’s never been done before. Whenever you hesitates, ask yourself if sharing that information would help or engage the young people you’re working with. If it would, do it. Once it’s out in the open, discomfort quickly fades. If it doesn’t, its trying to show you more.

There is no such thing as genuinely non-coercive relationships with young people. The best writing about that topic is full of coercion and attempts to get kids to do things, but from particularly obtuse or obfuscated angles. There’s are political causes behind everything- not party politik, but philosophical politics.


Those philosophical politics inform all our ways of being, including and especially our relationships with young people. Its from this place that philosopher/theorists like Freire, Illich, and even Neill become so relevant. However, they represent different perspectives, and as a critical theorist I hang my hat closest to Freire.
It is from this perspective that I find myself wondering lately about the notion of radical transparency with children and youth. Growing up in the mire of post-naive capitalism, I have grown to deeply appreciate attempts to reveal the political considerations of the systems and society I occupy and participate in. The dark forces of gross consumerism routinely pile up cheap plastic crap around us in piles so big we can’t see what’s going on around us. 
Those piles are formed of the detritus of our lifestyles, including the stuff we buy and the places we attend. However, they’re also made from the shady forces of popular culture which seek to block us from seeing why things around us happen the ways they do. 
Given an opportunity to identify clearly what they see in the world around them, I believe young people have the innate capacity to discover and examine why things are the way they are. They can also identify how things operate, and how they can be transformed. With consistent and relevant exposure throughout their lives, all children and youth could gradually, purposefully, and truly become operative democrats—that is, fully engaged citizens in a democracy—at much younger ages than we afford people now.

The believe that there’s a static experience of childhood that should be preserved through ignorance and limited exposure to the world is idyllic and has been proven misguided, if only because we know that for all intents and purposes, that experience is limited to so few young people. Right now it seems as if the domineering modus operandi in society is to “throw them to the wolves” of pop culture consumerism that defines their identities for them. I want young people to be able to choose their identities, connections, and engagements, rather than allowing corporations to choose for them.

I don’t think transparency equals full access or authority. It may lend itself to that, and when it’s appropriate it will. But I’m not inclined to hand over the keys to the house and invite everyone in, as it were. If a young person wanted more of an institution at will and of there own volition, that’s something different. But rather than foist everything upon every young person all at once, I wonder of there’s a need for degrees of transparency. Is transparency only necessary/appropriate when young people request it? If that choice isn’t radical transparency, then what is? Cynicism is popular in some communities, while in most others there’s gross apathy. What other options are there?


Writing about this, I think it’s important to clarify that I’m thinking mostly about social institutions like families, schools, policing, the economy, government, nonprofits, religions. What if Toto ran up and pulled back the curtain on any of those institutions? What would young people themselves see? Can we be that revelatory and transparent?

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

White Culture Dominates Youth Engagement

White middle class culture dominates youth engagement. As the predominant culture in the U.S. today, white people operate many of the nonprofit organizations, government agencies, and education institutions where youth engagement activities occur throughout our society.

In most communities, white people like me create the policy, write the grants, operate the programs, identify the participants, develop the activities, hire the workers, manage the budgets, discipline the participants, evaluate and assess the activities, and promote youth engagement as a concept.

Elements of white middle class dominant culture are the driving force in our notions, activities, knowledge, ideals, and outcomes from youth engagement. Our ways of operating, our systems of belief, and our culture drives the nature of the work we do. Every. Single. One. Of. Us.

In their article “Elements of White Middle Class Dominant Culture“, authors Kenneth Jones and Tema Okun identify the following traits as elements: Perfectionism, sense of urgency, defensiveness, quantity over quality, worship of the written word, only one right way, paternalism, either/or thinking, power hoarding, fear of open conflict, individualism, I’m the only one, progress is bigger/more, objectivity, and the right to comfort.

These traits are predominant in much of the youth engagement work I’ve seen across North America over the last decade. Perfectionism is typical of many organizations and programs that constantly strive to “get it right” without ever finding contentment among the ambiguity of young people. Many other traits, including quantity over quality; only one right way; either/or thinking; power hoarding; I’m the only one; bigger/more thinking; and the right to comfort are hallmarks for many programs and projects.

I find myself responsible for perpetuating many of these traits as I teach people about youth engagement. I constantly talk about the urgency of now, frequently inciting Dr. King’s work while railing against the perpetual disengagement of youth in most communities. The defensiveness implicit in my call extends from a sense of not-worthiness when I bring up the topic of youth engagement. Thinking about individualism and paternalism, I can see my entire practice as a consultant come into focus, as I work alone in many circumstances.

Identifying these traits isn’t about what is bad or wrong; instead, its an acknowledgment that there is another way to do things. Einstein’s insistence that doing the same thing over and over again is the definition of insanity may be spot on; we need new visions for youth engagement if we’re ever going to achieve mainstream cultural and social change.

If nothing else, I am going to facilitate new conversations for people to talk about the white middle class hegemony of youth engagement. I am going to make space for more cultures to inform and motivate youth engagement. I am going to keep bringing more people into the conversation, and continue stepping out of the way when its time.

What are YOU going to do?

 

Resources

 

SoundOut Workshop Topics

For more than a decade, SoundOut has provided training workshops and professional development for K-12 schools, districts, state and provincial education agencies, and nonprofit organizations concerned with education. 

The following workshops are for teachers, building and district administrators, school support staff, community youth workers, AmeriCorps members, youth-serving nonprofit staff, parents, community members, and students in grades 2 through 12.  All sessions are customized to meet the needs of diverse learners, including differences in learning styles, physical abilities, grade levels and cultural backgrounds, and address specific applications and populations. They can be customized and specialized for a variety of settings and audiences, too!


Focusing on practical examples and current research, workshops explore examples, pragmatic considerations, critical reflections and essential tools on any given topic. Depending on the setting and needs of participants, workshops are interactive, action-focused co-learning spaces that build on the knowledge and experiences participants currently have.


Student Voice 101

This workshop is for participants who want student voice to be heard and want to make it stronger in their schools and communities. After identifying current avenues for student voice in their schools, participants examine broad activities throughout the school that could embrace student voice. Action planning and resource-sharing then enable students to be the change they want to see in the world.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Learn the basics of student voice
  • Examine activities engaging student voice
  • Identify barriers to student voice
  • National PTA Student-Driven Education Policy Advocacy Training, 2010. 
  • Plan practical student voice activities

Advanced Student Voice 

Experienced participants examine a variety of tools designed to foster their critical thinking and project development skills. Participants learn about student voice activities across the nation, and explore particular ways they can implement powerful new approaches to meaningful student involvement throughout education.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Learn critical thinking skills
  • Utilize research-based tools to examine current activities
  • Envision new approaches to engaging student voice
  • Plan practical student voice activities
Student Leadership in Communities 
Participants learn about what skills are essential in community leadership. Skills in communication, cultural awareness, community organizing, and action planning are explored in depth. 

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Examine the purpose, structure and/or outcomes of community either locally, regionally, nationally or internationally
  • Learn practical oral, written and/or verbal communication techniques
  • Explore cultural diversity and cross-cultural engagement
  • Review community organization methods and implementations
  • Create action plans focused on social change
Transforming Learning through Student/Adult Partnerships 
Participants in this workshop learn how to identify adult allies, create meaningful partnerships between youth and adults, and how to challenge discrimination against young people.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Learn about roles for adults as allies to young people
  • Examine student/adult partnerships in action
  • Learn and utilize new vocabulary that builds understanding
  • Articulate a vision for student/adult partnerships
  • Learn about discrimination against young people and analyze its presence in education

Student Equity

Miami middle school students attending a student/adult partnership training, 2011.
What do students think about equity, and how would they change schools to make learning more equitable? This workshop engages participants in learning about equity from other students’ perspectives, and then defining and examining their own. Students then envision “schools of equity” where they can learn, grow and evolve from their perspectives, and compare their findings to the changes currently underway in their schools.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Explore the role of equity throughout education, particularly in leadership
  • Examine equity in relationships between students, educators and other adults
  • Determine opportunities to foster equity throughout the learning environment
  • Analyze potential barriers to effectively equitable relationships

Powerful Learning Projects

Students can and should design powerful projects that clearly demonstrate their learning. Participants in this session identify issues they care about, create dynamic project plans and develop meaning measurements to determine what they learned and how successful they are in their projects.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Learn the basics of powerful learning projects
  • Examine their experiences, environment and ideas for social change
  • Identify how personal perspectives relate to larger social movements
  • Learn about the history of student activism for educational improvement and/or social change
  • Utilize a culturally-responsive action planning process to plan learning projects
  • Develop rubrics for self-usage in order to assess personal performance

Service Learning 101

In this session participants learn the basics of service learning, including essential elements and project planning. After briefly exploring examples from across the country, participants plan projects that meet academic requirements while meaningfully serving their local communities.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Learn the elements of service learning, including curricular connections, student voice, community partnerships, reflection and civic engagement
  • Determine practical applications for service learning in their setting
  • Create service learning plans
  • Develop assessment rubrics

Advanced Service Learning 

Using past experience participating in service learning activities, participants can develop new perspectives to successful projects. This session engages students using powerful tools and specific examples of effective, engaging and empowering service learning projects. Students then conduct critical analyses of their experiences and plan alternative or entirely new approaches to service learning. 

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Learn about social justice, student engagement and/or community connections
  • Reflect on personal experience in service learning activities
  • Examine research-based findings from across the field
  • Explore recent innovations from a variety of settings
  • Design pragmatic and innovation approaches for implementation

Fun, Games and School Change

This session uses cooperative learning activities to help students define group mission, building cohesiveness and plan action. Participants may also learn how to facilitate activities themselves through our unique “transparent training” method.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Participate in activities designed to increase team-building, communication, and problem-solving skills
  • Learn basic activities to implement in other settings
  • Reflect on past experiences in cooperative learning and school change

More than Listening: The Cycle of Student Engagement

In this session participants learn about the Cycle of Student Engagement, a research-driven tool that can serve as a practical guide for student voice. Participants can discover dynamic new applications of student voice in curriculum, classroom management, building leadership and community partnerships.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Identify the differences between current and potential student engagement activities
  • Utilize an action-research process in order to reflect on their experiences
  • Examine potential implementations and practical considerations
  • Apply the tool across broad stakeholder populations

Climbing the Ladder of Student Involvement

From the “How to Engage Disengaged Students” Training
Participants in this workshop learn about the variety of options for involving students throughout schools. Determine whether students. Using research-based tools including rubrics and examples, participants examine current practice in their school and identify new possibilities where students can become partners with adults throughout the education system.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Learn the basics of meaningful student involvement
  • Examine past experience utilizing a tool
  • Develop a rubric to illustrate a range of opportunities within current settings
  • Explore a variety of implementations reflecting personal assumptions

Student-Inclusive School Change 

Participants learn how students can become engaged as partners in school improvement activities. Research demonstrating student successes, examples showing learning efficacy, and anecdotes illustrating impacts are coupled with practical tools that can be utilized throughout schools.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Examine current roles for students in schools
  • Explore stories from around the world reflecting the broad possibilities for student-inclusiveness
  • Determine avenues for inclusiveness within current constraints
  • Envision possibilities beyond current expectations
  • Develop action plans for immediate, short-range and long-term implementation

Exploring Roles for Students in Formal School Improvement Activities

Participants in this workshop explore how to transform learning to meet student needs rather than insisting students meet school needs. Exploring research, practice and personal reflection focused on different ways students can become partners, this session focuses on roles for students from the local classroom to the state school board.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Envision school improvement from the perspectives of students, rather than from those of adults
  • Learn the basics of school improvement
  • Explore current school improvement activities and plans
  • Identify new roles for students within current activities and plans
  • Determine extended possibilities beyond the present

Words as Reflections of Reality 

Seattle Student Engagement Academy, 2012.
This workshop explores the growing body of research that has identified students as the foremost stakeholders in education reform. Participants explore students’ perceptions of school improvement activities from across the nation. Barriers to student voice, strategies for classroom and building-wide success, and general perceptions of schools will all be explored.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Explore students’ perspectives of school, including learning, climate, lifelong aspirations and cultural differences
  • Participate in activities designed to solicit and empower student voice
  • Learn techniques that engage students as equals
  • Identify barriers to student voice and methods to overcome them

Creating School/Community Partnerships

Participants in this workshop explore how partnerships between schools and community organizations can help students graduate and give agencies new volunteer energy that promotes civic engagement. Creating effective partnerships, engaging diverse students, recruiting partners, managing youth volunteers and catalyzing community members can be central topics throughout the session.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Identify the need for school/community partnerships within their experience
  • Explore the range of possibilities for partnerships, including implementation, activities and outcomes
  • Examine important considerations for partnerships
  • Create action plans that utilize partners in a variety of settings

Intergenerational Equity in Schools

Examining the balance of power in classrooms, throughout schools and across the education system, participants in this workshop identify new opportunities for creating student/adult partnerships in schools. Participants also learn about processes for creating intergenerational equity, as well as activities, tools and important considerations.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Learn the basics of intergenerational equity
  • Identify ways to overcome potential barriers
  • Explore avenues and opportunities for fostering intergenerational equity
  • Examine the relationship between intergenerational/social/gender and other forms of equity

Engaging Nontraditional Student Leaders 

SoundOut offers ground-breaking, unique content.
Participants examine the current role of nontraditional student leaders in schools and learn about new avenues for engagement. Using a skill-based focus, participants explore how to create activities, create practical expectations and evaluate performance.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Explore the elements of student leadership
  • Identify nontraditional student leadership within current learning environments
  • Examine examples of meaningfully engaged nontraditional student leadership in multiple settings
  • Learn activities and approaches that foster engagement
  • Develop or co-create nontraditional assessments, including portfolios, presentations and other formats

Decision-Making in Partnerships

Educational decision-making affects students, parents, and educators personally, in classrooms, building-wide, district and state levels everyday without actually engaging all partners in the process. Participants in this workshop examine those decisions and explore new avenues for engaging each other as partners throughout the process.

The goals of this workshop are for participants to:

  • Identify the breadth of possibilities to engage partners in decision-making throughout education
  • Examine research that explores multiple roles for decision-making partners
  • Determine points of disengagement for partners as decision-makers
  • Learn new approaches and avenues that empower partners of all kinds to learn while leading 
To learn more about what we do in schools, visit SoundOut.org or call (360) 489-9680 today!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

My Review of “Childhood” by David Jenks

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

 

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

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

 

Order Childhood

My Review of “Pedagogy of Hope”

Pedagogy of Hope was written by Paulo Freire. 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.

 

Order the Pedagogy of the Oppressed here.