Why Youth Engagement Matters

In another page from my journal I explored more about the relationship of children to society. Above is a snapshot of the graphic I made. Thinking about a workshop activity I do where I have people write the attributes of themselves inside a body shape representing themselves, I wrote the characteristics much of society inadvertently or intentionally ascribes to children and youth.

The idea of seeing children as incomplete or humans-in-the-making is not new in Western society. Instead, according to much of the history of childhood that exists, it was originally formulated by the aristocrats in pre-Victorian England in the 1500s and 1600s. This ruling class saw children as feeble and incapable of contributing to society, and to compensate they literally dressed their children up as adults and forced them to behave as they believed adults needed to behave. This is where our present-day society’s system of manners and “dressing up” comes from. Its also where much of our sense of how children should behave in public has its roots. Much of today’s treatment of children is sourced from this perspective.

That’s why kids today are seen as humans doing rather than human beings; its not enough for children to simply exist. This perception drives the understanding of childhood as a period of transition instead of a position in society. Different from adults who occupy roles as parents, workers, voters, taxpayers, church members, neighbors, drivers, drinkers, athletes, professionals, and so forth, children occupy two primary roles, and two only: the role of Child and the role of Student.

In their roles as students, children and youth are seen as uneducated and unfinished. They are largely treated as untamed creatures in need of teaching, people who are somehow less-than-human and undeserving of the respect allocated to other humans. They are treated as unknowledgable and uncultured, underdeveloped and manipulable by adults. Children and youth are seen as feral, unreliable, and incapable of doing for themselves what adults should do for them. From this position, adults are allowed to make decisions for young people without their consent, involvement, or input.

Ultimately, the Western system of childhood is the result of both passive and active decision-making by adults throughout society. This system is perpetuated every day in every way any adult anywhere interacts with any child or youth. The outcomes of this behavior are myriad, and the systems that have been created to perpetuate it are as complex as any imaginable.

Youth engagement matters because it actively challenges many of these assumptions. The work of The Freechild Project over the last decade has been to unfold these assumptions and behaviors with young people and adults across the US and around the world. This has led to the creation of dozens of tools and several publications. The work is far from done, and we’re just at the outside of revealing how the roles of young people are transforming throughout society.

CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.

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

Adam Fletcher on Facebook

So you want to follow Adam Fletcher on Facebook? Well, I offer a lot of different ways to do that on Facebook! I highlight my professional interests through a variety of pages and groups, and I would love for you to join me!

http://facebook.com/commonaction is my community engagement page. Here, I share info on what community work I am doing. You can find out latest thoughts and products I’ve created, and discover what I can do for you.

http://facebook.com/freechildproject is the Facebook home for The Freechild Project. Freechild focuses on the changing roles of young people throughout society, and this page reflects that. I share our resource pages from across the massive website I operate; original articles, blog entries and publications; and videos, articles, publications, organizations, and websites that may not be included on the Freechild site already.

http://facebook.com/soundoutorg is the Facebook page for SoundOut. Focused on promoting meaningful student involvement throughout education, the SoundOut page shares the latest news and research about student voice and new roles for students throughout schools. It also highlights emerging programs and new resources from around the world.

http://facebook.com/personalengagement is the official Facebook page for my forthcoming book, The Principle of Engagement. I share sections of the book, news about publishing, and more for followers.

Student Voice is Changing Schools is a special interest page for folks who are interested in how student voice is growing, but not only through the SoundOut lenses of meaningful involvement. It highlights resources from a lot of places and is meant to help people advocate.

The same holds true for the Youth Voice page. Sharing examples, tools, videos, and more, this page can help youth and adults get more room for more young people at the table.

Ending Discrimination Against Young People is the accompanying page for my book of the same name. In this group, I share news about youth discrimination, and many other people contribute articles, ideas, and more.

Finally, there’s https://www.facebook.com/AdamFCFletcher, my professional facebook page, where I share stuff for followers.

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

A Biography of Adam Fletcher

Adam Fletcher is an internationally-renowned human engagement expert at CommonAction Consulting. He has a background working with individuals of all ages and organizations of all sizes, including schools and community organizations, government agencies, and businesses. Adam earned a bachelor’s degree in human engagement from The Evergreen State College and conducted graduate studies in educational leadership and policy at the University of Washington. For more than 20 years he has combined his expertise in youth engagement with a passion for serving traditionally disengaged populations to provide adults who work with children and youth with scientifically grounded best practices.

Adam is the author of several publications, including the Freechild Project Guide to Young People and Social Change, the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to School Change, the Washington Youth Voice Handbook, and SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum. He has been a consultant for a series on youth activism with Capston Press. He is a contributing editor for an academic journal called The Review of Education, Pedagogy and Cultural Studies, and regularly contributes articles to educational publications around the world.

Adam’s human engagement presentations have annually drawn upwards of 10,000 participants, with past clients and partners across the United States, Canada, Australia, the UK, and Brazil. Since founding The Freechild Project in 2001, Adam has consulted on human engagement for the National PTA, Seattle Public Schools, Youth Service America, the Human Services Coalition of Miami/Dade County, and YouthBuild USA. His work through SoundOut in 2002 led to the creation of his internationally-recognized “Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement.”

He currently serves as an advisor for several local and national organizations and agencies, including the Institute for Democratic Education in America, the National Youth Rights Association, and the Patchwork School in Louisville, Colorado. Adam is also a board member for Generation YES. He has served as a member of Olympia, Washington‘s Parks and Recreation Advisory Board, and the Olympia School District Communication Technologies Advisory Board. In 2010 he was awarded with an Action for Healthy Kids “School Hero” award for his work promoting human engagement.

Adam has keynoted at numerous conferences for the American Institutes of Research, Eastern Washington University, North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center, Arizona Department of Health, Pennsylvania Youth and Family Leadership Institute, Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, and the Washington State Department of Health and Human Services. The United Nations Development Program in Brazil, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Corporation for Community and National Service, the Alberta Ministry of Education, and many other organizations have hired him to consult and teach staff.

Today, Adam lives in Olympia, Washington, with his daughter Hannah and their cat, Mailbox. He enjoys gardening, parenting, and writing poetry.

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

When Will Adults Grow Up?

Today, The New York Times employed the opinions of Laurence Steinberg to answer the question, “When do kids become adults?” My question is about this article is, “When will adults grow up?”

The “reality” of age-based segregation is eroding every day as since continuously shows that both childhood and adulthood are simply made-up constructs that have no practical place in developmental, psychological, or educational practices. Instead, they are political and economic devices used to manipulate the marketplace and governance of our society. Adults need to grow up and see the truth.

I have been conducting a study with The Freechild Project since 2001. My research has centered on my hypothesis that the roles of young people are rapidly transforming throughout society and in turn, the impact of young people is greater than ever before. This is happening because of many things, despite the popular adult conception of youth as incapable. The majority of adults in American society cannot see this because we are too immature, as witnessed in comments in The New York Times article and the vast majority traditional youth studies.

The majority of Steinberg’s argument relies on the tiredly predictable tenets of subjective neurological theorizing. However, he gets to the point when he proclaims, “Alas, age boundaries are drawn for mainly political reasons, not scientific ones.” This is the premise behind much of my teaching about youth engagement. Our political positioning- not in terms of parties or theories, but practices and purposes- determines how we relate to young people.

This is why I teach about convenient and inconvenient youth voice. This is why I teach about traditional and nontraditional youth engagement. Relying on predictability, we chomp at the bit to make sense of the young people we face in our community programs and classrooms every day. Our politics allow us to do this.

However, these same personal politics and shared cultural politics also disallow us from seeing the reality of young people today, let alone the potential of children and youth throughout society. Wanting to make a more subjective case, I have hurled tons of evidence at my students, both young people and adults, over the years. I have waved flags and shared case studies, called out quantitative research and elaborated on findings. None of this has worked.

Steinberg is on the side of expanding our understanding of youth at least. Today, the Times has brought along a group of madhouse advocates and opponents to joust about this question. Joining Steinberg are Kevin Noble Maillard from the Syracuse University College Of Law; Jenny Diamond Cheng, a lecturer at Vanderbilt Law School; John M. Mccardell, who is the president at the University Of The South; Jamie Kitman from Automobile Magazine; Barbara Hofer, who is a professor of psychology at Middlebury College; and Michael Thompson, who is the author of a book called “Homesick And Happy”. (Apparently, absolutely no youth of any kind were available to write on this topic.)

This crew proceeds to push around the question of whether the roles of young people should change in American society. They talk about drinking, driving, and other typical topics that should make the National Youth Rights Association happy. However, never once in a half dozen articles do they consider that the premise of their argument is flawed: The role of young people shouldn’t change because adults want it to, it should be recognized as changing because it already is. We, as adults, are behind the eight ball on this one, just as we’ve been since the political construct of youth was invented in the 1930s and reinforced by marketers starting in the 50s.

We need to join the rest of the world, which increasingly sees youth as the cultural phenomenon it is: A made-up social construct designed to restrain and subjugate people according to their age in order to secure the social, political, cultural, and political roles of people older than them. When we begin to understand this as reality, we can begin to see the roles of youth for exactly what they can be today and in the future. Until then, we’re lost in a construct that actually fails to benefit us as adults, as well as young people themselves.

CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.

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

The REAL Youth Revolution

Ten years ago I began an international campaign to revolutionize the roles of young people throughout society. The Freechild Project was born in the steely fires of my career in local and national youth work, and I was ready to fight. For more than a decade I crisscrossed the country and traveled the world promoting youth-driven social change. Today I’m happy to report that I’ve learned that the REAL youth revolution isn’t a revolution at all- its a transformation. And it’s not just about youth- it’s about youth and children and adults and the whole world. It ain’t happening tomorrow, and it didn’t stop yesterday- its happening right now.

It turns out that as our society continues to transform through technology, young people are on the bleeding edge of what is actually happening. Where adults have long spoke of globalism and interconnectedness, children and youth growing up around the world right now are experiencing that in real time. The transformation at hand is deeper though.

Instead of just inheriting whatever stuff adults chose to hand to them, youth today are actively creating and co-creating the worlds they want to live in right now. They are not waiting for permission, education, or even laws to catch up with them- they’re just going, right now. That’s the REAL youth transformation, and luckily, it’s happening right now.

We need to get on board with what’s happening. Adults need to work with young people, unite in interdependent solidarity, and encourage and support this transformation. Check the Freechild Project website and join our Facebook page to learn more.

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

New Workshops Available!

New Workshops Available for 2012!

Are you looking for powerful learning opportunities for your organization or community?

Do you want to engage deeper, more powerfully, and more effectively than ever before?

Hi, Adam here. As the founder and president of CommonAction, I am glad to report that we are available for booking throughout 2012! With a dynamic, responsive, and engaging team of consultants and trainers, we are ready to assist you and your community this year. 

Here are some comments people have shared for my past presentations: 

Adam Fletcher facilitating in November 2011.
“One of the most gifted, principled visionaries today, Adam empowers people of all ages and backgrounds to pursue authentic engagement in all sectors of society.” – Wendy Lesko, author of Youth: The 26% Solution

“We continue to receive positive comments about how instructive and entertaining you were! Your work in the area of youth engagement is so critical, and we are fortunate for your commitment and your leadership.” – 
Elaine Matthews, senior vice president, North Carolina Rural Economic Development Center

Our team at CommonAction is available to travel to communities across the United States and Canada to provide hands-on, practical, and powerful speeches and workshops. Our activities are customized for each community we visit and each topic we cover. Here are some examples:
  • The Human Engagement Academy 
  • Finding Your Heartspace—The Engine of Personal Engagement
  • Transforming the Roles of Young People Throughout Society 
  • Six Steps to Social Change
  • Our Only Hope: The Future of Community
  • Student Engagement: Frameworks for Learning Passion through Partnership 

Here’s a list of our past clients, and here are some photos and recommendations from our past events. Contact me today for more information about what CommonAction can do for YOU.

Contact us!
Adam Fletcher
(360) 489-9680
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

20 Steps Towards Youth Engagement

Are YOU concerned about disenfranchised youth? Do YOU believe young people don’t have enough power throughout society? Do you think YOU can help make the world a better place through youth engagement?

Here are 20 steps towards youth engagement right now. These are for all people of all ages in all locations at all times, always in all ways.

  1. No matter what age you are right now, reflect personally about your experience being young. 
  2. Examine your personal experiences with youth engagement, no matter what age you are. 
  3. Identify what your beliefs about young people are , no matter what age you are . 
  4. Examine your beliefs about young people. Why do you have them? How do you act them out? 
  5. Stop discounting people because of their age right now, no matter what age they are. 
  6. Stand up to others that discount people because of their age, no matter what age they are. 
  7. Identify an adult to have honest conversations with about being young, no matter what age you are.  
  8. Identify a young person to have honest conversations with about being young, no matter what age you are. 
  9. Have honest conversations with everyone about being an adult, no matter what age you are.  
  10. Read books, websites, blogs, and other forms of expression by young people about topics you are interested in, your job or profession. 
  11. Start a group, join a group, or offer personal support to a group of young people promoting youth engagement in your community, school, or organization. 
  12. Contact current youth engagement activities in your neighborhood and learn about them. 
  13. Evaluate your organization using the evaluations in my Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit
  14. Contact local officials and write a letter to the editor to advocate for youth engagement. 
  15. Explore books, websites, blogs, and other forms of expression about society, youth engagement, and advocacy. 
  16. Provide free training in your community using The Freechild Project Youth Engagement Workshop Guide. 
  17. Learn about issues that are important to people throughout your community by having conversations with people you want to know. 
  18. Join a group that is not focused on youth or youth issues. 
  19. Consistently represent the interests of young people or your community in personal, professional, social, and other parts of your life.
  20. Create a conscious critical relationship with a young person or adult, right now. Allow them to call you out for your behavior, attitude, or actions that do not promote youth empowerment.

Why are you still reading this article? Stop, and get to work, right now. Young people and adults everywhere thank you!

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

Youth Are Leading Social Evolution

Hey, remember when it seemed like that loud, unruly kid was a punk? Remember when that quiet girl doing art in the back of the room was weird? Remember when the kids who were leaders were predictable and understandable? What a cool world that we live in that none of that is true anymore!

Over the last 100 years our society has been busy birthing new realities, thrusting itself forward into an unfamiliar, unknowable future. Women’s suffrage and civil rights were the cusp of these changes, as our family structures, social relationships, and cultural growth has reflected an even broader transformation. Young people, who at first were merely keeping pace with those changes, went from being the canaries in the coalmine to being the leaders at the front, taking charge, making movements, and driving social change as never before. Today, young people are the bellweather of the brave new future we continue to move towards.

Look around you! See those kids fixing their own problems on the playground? That’s evolution! See the teens in the alleyway finishing that tremendous graffiti mural? That’s evolution! See those tents and that meeting in the park where the Occupy movement is keeping hold? That’s evolution! Who is at the head of all this? Young people.

I challenge you to see today’s reality: The Evolution Is Underway. Can you see it? Can you feel it? The economy, politics, education… Young people are stepping in front of these speeding trains that are bulleting their ways through our society, and they’re doing what appears to be “crazy stuff”. But that crazy stuff, unfamiliar and scary as it may seem, is bringing us towards a positive, powerful future for all people everywhere all the time.

The Freechild Project has been steadily moving towards demonstrating this evolution for more than 10 years, and during that time we’ve made some tremendous strides. Step with us into the future to see where we’re all going – together!

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

Supporting Adults in Youth Work

There are a lot of reasons to support youth engagement, including it’s affects on young people and the larger communities they’re part of. Today I want to share an excellent opportunity to find out how youth engagement affects adults and to support them in the process.

Kyla Lackie of Seattle’s SOAR (http://www.childrenandyouth.org/) and I are co-facilitating a brand-new Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre starting next month. We are working together with Seattle Public Schools’ Youth Engagement Zone to build a genuine learning community among Seattle’s professionals who work with youth to engage youth. In the process we’re going to cultivate the wisdom of the area, identifying what we know and what we want to learn. We’re going to collaborate on community-building activities and promote real co-learning among different organizations.

This is an exciting project for me, and I want to encourage anyone in my Seattle network to consider applying today. We’re offering good scholarships, and we’re appealing only to experienced folks to join in.

Let me know if you have any questions, or of you’d be interested in hosting me facilitating a cadre in your city. I’m leading Student Voice Cadre in Pasco, Washington, and a Cadre in Miami. Now is time to maturate our approaches, and deepen our senses of belonging. The Youth Engagement Practitioner Cadre is one way to do that!

http://bit.ly/nvvBSA – PDF with basic info
http://svy.mk/r9B1OE – Application

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.comr

Written by Adam Fletcher for CommonAction Consulting. It was originally posted at YoungerWorld.org. Contact us for more information by emailing info@commonaction.org or calling +1 (360)489-9680.

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

Favoring Adults By Dismissing Young People

Recently, I rewrote the Freechild Project webpage on adultism to add a short essay at the beginning of the page. This is going to be the new pattern for Freechild.org’s content pages, with unique essays by me featuring information not available anywhere else on the web. I’m going to give you a preview here.

This is the new text to the page called, “Adultism: Favoring Adults by Dismissing Young People“.

Introduction to Adultism
Adultism is favoring adults by dismissing young people. Adultism is also the addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults. Adultism promotes the discrimination of children and youth, and bias towards adults. 
It is a major factor in how society is organized: By assuming children and youth do not have anything of substance or value to add to the majority of social activities, adults keep their power intact. Adultism happens in government, education, social services, religious communities, and families. It is present in our laws, legal practices, economic activities, and the ways we share our cultures.
There is value to adultism, as adults sometimes act more responsibly and capably than young people. However, adults often act as if children and youth are never responsible and never capable. That is the problem.
Adultism ignores, silences, neglects, and punishes children and youth simply because they are not adults. Every young person experiences adultism from the day they are born until the day the world around them recognizes them as an adult. Every adult in our society today has experienced adultism.

Because of this unconscious sharing of the same experiences, adults often perpetuate adultism without knowing it. In some cases, young people themselves perpetuate adultism.
The result of adultism is severe. Seeing and treating young people as weak, helpless and less intelligent than adults impresses inability in the hearts and minds of youth into adulthood. Adultism often makes verbal, physical, and emotional abuse towards young people seem “okay”. Further, adultism can make other negative opinions about people seem okay, so that young people see racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination being “okay”.
There are children, youth, and adult allies who are working to challenge adultism right now. Find resources on our website at http://freechild.org/adultism.htm

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