Evolving Roles for Young People in Democracy

“Education should not be the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a flame.” – William Butler Yates

In the early 1800s it was common for non-enslaved Blacks in the United States to take the last name “Freeman” as a testimony to their freedom. Since that time young people have become bound by the ongoing structuring of society, through school, afterschool programs, church activities, and family life. These shared legacies led a group of youth activists and allies to create a new youth empowerment resource organization called The Freechild Project in April 2001. Today, Freechild is an internationally-renowned advocacy organization.


About Freechild

Freechild’s mission is to advocate, inform, and celebrate social change led by and with young people around the world. The organization serves as a not-for-profit learning space, think tank, resource center, and advocacy group that facilitates networking, training, resource-sharing, and technical assistance for young people and youth-serving organizations around the world.

By establishing a network of local and national organizations that includes Gateways for Incarcerated Youth at The Evergreen State College, Fremont Public Association in Seattle, National Youth Rights Association in Washington, DC, and the United Nations Development Programme in Sao Paulo, Brazil, Freechild has reached tens of thousands of young people and their adult allies around the world. We have created dozens of unique publications, resource databases, and popular education workshops that promote children, youth, and adults working as equal partners in democratic social change.

Freechild believes that as a collective body within a global community, children and youth around the world are subject to segregation, alienation, and injustice without parallel. Further, as members of distinct ethnic, racial, and socio-economic groups, many young people suffer unequalled oppression as the targets of genocide, hunger, and war. It is no wonder that in these times when the health of democracy is sacrificed for commercial gain and familial vendetta, many people find it hard to have hope.


Building the World House

When Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke of the “World House,” it is almost certain that he didn’t intend for children and youth to inherit a decrepit house, slipped from its foundation, stripped of its siding, plastered with billboards, and crumbling apart inside.

What is that slipped foundation upon which the World House is built? Is it a higher authority charged with morality and righteousness, or a man-made composite of economy and education, government and military? The Freechild Project believes that it is Community, that common connection of diverse people for a collective purpose. The citizens of modern communities tend to neglect or deny that collective purpose; worse still, many people deny that young people have any purpose at all.

Popular culture seems to exacerbate this situation repeatedly by constantly railing against youth. While corporate marketing to children and youth infiltrates every facet of our culture, movies simultaneously glamorize and degrade the collective image of young people today. Two recent books summarize young people today as “The Scapegoat Generation,” and as “The Abandoned Generation,” while a popular website portrays them as a shapeless, placeless, and an unknowable “Fluid Generation.”

Other culprits to perpetuating negative stereotypes about youth include politicians and government officials who continually attempt to pin vandalism, loitering, and other crime on young people. It is ironic that this demonization actually benefits, and is sometimes perpetuated by, the very nonprofit agencies that purport to provide prevention and intervention programs for young people. Finally, in this period of federally-mandated and locally-supported standardized testing, it is of little surprise that children and youth themselves are often blamed for the failures of the education system. This, despite the reality that most students never have the actual opportunity to make significant decisions or advocate for what is important to themselves in schools.

Demonstrating the wisdom of youth, one young leader recently said, “I’ve never met an apathetic young person, [but] I’ve met a lot of hopeless and discouraged young people, who think that they are not big enough to change things.” This assessment summarizes the raison d’etre of dozens of youth-driven groups in Washington today. Benefiting communities across the state, young people and their adult allies are working together to engage children and youth as social justice activists, action researchers, community planners, popular educators, democratic decision-makers, and as empowered advocates as never before. They are calling for the knowledge, experience, ideas and opinions of young people to get heard now, for their own benefit and for the benefit of democracy.

The issues that young people are addressing across today are as diverse as the children and youth who are engaged. Coming from every walk in society, young people are addressing issues of economic injustice, racism, education reform, sustainable agriculture, disproportionate incarceration, affordable housing, gay youth rights, lowering the voting age, homelessness, among hundreds of topics. Their action is sophisticated, appropriate, and increasingly sustainable; by creating media, joining community boards, distributing foundation funding, creating global technology networks, activating the hip hop community, and politicizing traditional youth programs, young social change agents are radically transforming two pillars of society’s treatment of children and youth: namely, adults’ expectations and the role of young people in democracy.

It is said two different people will rarely interpret a master’s art the same way. Social change led by and with young people usually has the same effect. Some adults scoff at children and youth who lead action, declaring their actions idealistic and simplistic, while many others maintain the standard of ignoring their contributions totally. Some see young social change agents as anarchists and rebels, while others see them as peons and kiss-ups. Fortunately for our society as a whole, still other adults proclaim that engaging young people is a matter of effectiveness, civil rights, youth development, and ultimately, ensuring democracy.


Examples from the Evergreen State

The following examples from Washington can provide a proving ground for readers to decide for themselves what this action really is.

The Olympia Youth/Teen New Media Fest seeks to foster the vitality of the Olympia community by providing a venue for vivacious and creative youth. This festival is a weekend long celebration of youth-teen culture; showcasing films, videos, comic books and zines, websites, spoken word and bands made and performed by folks 21 and younger. Young people express their opinions, ideas, knowledge and experience by becoming the creators of media that reflects their true beliefs.

Anak Bayan is a collective founded in 2000 by Filipino and Filipino American youth and students who are concerned about the global oppression of their people. According to their website they study and educate others about the culture and heritage of the Filipino people. They also study, expose, and oppose US imperialist intervention in the Philippines. Through this action, the young people in Anak Bayan are engaged as teachers and advocates, and are driving social change that can enrich our state’s cultural heritage and promote social justice for all people.

A nonprofit organization in Kent, Washington is engaging young people as advocates for democracy through poetry/nonviolence workshops. The Institute for Community Leadership (ICL) works to empower children and youth to create a vision of a more just nation and world. Their website, www.icleadership.org, features stories of programs that develop and sustain strength, hope, leadership, and relationships for young people and adults in schools, community organizations, and governmental programs.

A variety of communities across the state have opportunities for young people to engage in government decision-making activities. Cities including Lacey, Colville, Kirkland, Vancouver, and Spokane have youth councils that engage diverse young people in making important and meaningful decisions affecting youth throughout their communities. Several American Indian tribes in Washington also have opportunities for youth to participate in decision-making activities, including Port Gamble S’Klallam tribe, Yakama Nation, and Muckleshoot tribe.

The Seattle Young Peoples Project (SYPP) is perhaps the most vibrant organization in Washington state providing opportunities for young people to lead social change. Their fifteen-year-old organization has provided resources and support to youth-led initiatives throughout the city that have engaged thousands of young people, including conferences, workshops, concerts, and more. Their activities reflect the diversity of Seattle’s youth: whether focusing on queer youth rights, African immigrant youth solidarity, or young womens’ empowerment, SYPP continues to be a powerful example of the effectiveness and ability of youth-led social action across Washington.

The benefits to democracy in Washington, across the United States, and around the world are innumerable.


Stay Awake to Youth

Social change led by and with young people provides individual children and youth with important opportunities to experience and impact democracy first-hand; allows adults the chance to relax and learn from young people by working with them, instead of for them; and it gives our communities hope by developing lifelong expectations and opportunities for everyone. One of those expectations is that there are communities worth living in for everyone, including youth. One of those opportunities is that democracy needs to be constantly reinvigorated through social change.

In his last book before he was assassinated, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote,

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

Activists, educators, youth workers, young people, and all people across Washington must stay awake and vigilant to the challenges facing society today. The need to strengthen democracy has never been greater, and the resources have never been so limited. Communities can no longer afford to ignore the power of children and youth, either morally or fiscally. As Henry Giroux writes, “The stakes have never been so high and the future so dark.” Young people provide light in that darkness – let’s encourage their flames to grow.


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Waiting, or Working?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Video: History of Youth Voice in the US

This video offers an introduction to the history of Youth Voice in the United States from 1664 to 1865. It explores early oppression of children and youth as well as early reliance on youth as the future. I’ve written quite a bit on this blog about this history, including posts called:

Watch the following for the beginning of this story…

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

Intro to Youth Rights

Download my FREE ebook, A Short Intro to Youth Rights, today! 

A million years ago somebody wrote something about the “inalienable rights of humans”, meaning that there are just certain things that everyone should be able to experience, do and have in their lives. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights was the first international statement to use the term “human rights”, and has been adopted by the Human Rights movement as a charter. It is short, and worth reading in its entirety — a summary would be about as long as the document itself. The European Convention on Human Rights is the first international document that gives individuals the right to take governments to court based on human rights abuses. Human rights in the United States are protected by the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the United States judicial system.

Somewhere along the way somebody got the idea that children and youth weren’t protected by these documents; or worse still, they were protected but since those rights are routinely violated there needs to be specific statements that address their rights. A few years ago when I created a Wikipedia article about children’s rights I found that the literature about these rights was all over the place; however, I agree that children’s rights generally boils down to wanting to do three things:
  1. Protect young peoples’ access to particular things like food, clothes, shelter, education, etc. These are usually called provision rights.
  2. Make sure that young people are safe from abuses, including physical, mental, and psychological abuse. These are protection rights.
  3. Give young people the opportunity to make, direct, evaluate and critique decisions that affect them throughout society. These are participation rights.
This is a big, broad definition, and a pretty modern one. Probably at the very beginning of it this conversation was narrowed down to exclude any idea of actually expanding the rights of young people. Zoomed in on protecting the basic human needs of children, this children’s rights movement – seeing all young people as in need of protection from discriminatory and abusive treatment – came to dominate advocacy for young people.
In the 1960s and 70s that came to be seen as not enough. A youth liberation movement emerged around the idea that young people of any age could and should have the full and complete rights of all adults, and not just the limited ideas that were pushed around by well-meaning adults. According to those youth rights activists, children and youth of all ages should be allowed to vote, work, drive, own property, travel, have legal and financial responsibility, control their own learning, and have a guaranteed income. There were even more far-out elements of this platform that called for all young people to be able to use drugs and have sex without restraint. Some of these radical ideas were clearly differentiated from the youth rights movement, although some of the platform continues to influence individuals and organizations today.
In the mid-1990s a youth rights movement emerged on the Internet calling for society to pay attention to several parts of this platform. Today the National Youth Rights Association (NYRA) has emerged as the most influential and effective organization promoting this platform, and their positions on age discrimination, curfews, behavior modification camps, the drinking age, driving age, economics, education, emancipation, entertainment, free speech, status offenses and the voting age have been sought out in a lot of different public and media venues over the last 10 years.
Today the youth rights movement continues with varying agendas and purposes. There are dozens of organizations and programs committed to convictions that young people have the right to free speech, sexual education and safety, foster youth rights, youth involvement, and much, much more. At least one annual conference heralds youth rights exclusively, and more areas than ever are concerned with youth rights than ever before. Activists around the United States are challenging discrimination against youth by holding protests, producing publications, going to court, and creating pro-youth climates in a variety of communities and institutions.
The gulf between the intent and activities of the youth rights movement and the children’s rights movement continues to grow. Traditional children’s rights advocacy organizations continue adult-driven, adult-centric change focused on benefiting children’s basic human rights; youth rights organizations are generally focused on expanding the current civil rights of youth and challenging discrimination against youth. Young people themselves, as well as adults who were youth rights activists, are winning court cases, taking influential jobs, and serving their communities in a variety of ways that continue to promote youth rights agendas, all without the multi-million dollar budgets and high influence of the people involved in the children’s rights movement.
As the youth rights movement reaches into the future, I think it’s important to ask if it is healthier to have a single, unified movement, or a movement coming from many directions asking different things. Is there a new agenda for youth rights in this millennium, or is the agenda set 40 years ago still useful? Do the factors of race, class, culture and education influence youth rights and youth activists? Is there a wider alliance beyond youth that the youth rights movement can find allegiance with? Having answered many of these questions for themselves, I believe many youth rights activists can continue to influence and steer legislative, judicial and cultural change into the future.

Trends in Youth Voice

This is the forth of six posts today in honor of the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States.

As young people and their adult allies continue to expand and enliven the movement to integrate Youth Voice throughout society there are patterns and trends emerging. I began analyzing this development in 2001, when I worked with a group of friends and allies from across the US to develop The Freechild Project. Today our databases are widely acknowledged for their breadth and depth. I want to lay out three predictions for the future of Youth Voice, based on trends I’m identifying in current activities across the country and around the world.

Trend One: Youth are not content with being heard. In the past young people wanted to make their voices heard in decision-making; today that is just not enough. As I watch repeating patterns of youth engaging in politics, meaningful student involvement, youth involvement in government decision-making, and deepened youth/adult partnerships throughout nonprofit programs across the country I am seeing less contentment with a seat at the table; instead youth want to own the table, too.

Trend Two: Youth are progressive. The fractious and mostly arbitrary differentiation between Republicans and Democrats is divisive and derisive. However, there is a true and substantive difference between liberal and conservative thinking. Progressiveness is different – and the same – as both. To be progressive means to be committed to movement, either to the right or the left. In this way, and by way of generalization, I believe young people are largely progressive, as the inherent nature of life between the ages of birth and twenty-five (or older) is that of change. That makes their politics, their culture, their actions, their knowledge, their ideas and more progressive.

Trend Three: Youth can find equity in our society. Equity and equality are two different things, and I believe it is irresponsible to advocate for youth equality throughout society. However, equity is about fostering and engendering fairness and justice by deliberately making concessions, acknowledging mutual benefits, and creating partnerships that are sustainable and effective. Any adult who considers themselves an advocate and/or ally to young people has an ethical imperative to do nothing less.

These are patterns I’ve found – how about you? What do you see as the emerging, the next big thing?

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

Fearing the Power of Youth

This is the third of twelve posts today honoring the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States.

In the history of the U.S. There comes a time in the history of every major social movement, including feminism, African American civil rights, and gay rights, when the architects and leaders of these important movements had to identify the exact ills that stopped them from moving forward towards their goals of liberation, empowerment, integration and equality. I believe the youth movement is rapidly coming towards this juncture.

Let’s begin by naming the foremost barrier to youth rights around the world today. Rather than blame ignorance or denial, I believe its vital to identify fear as the single greatest barrier affecting youth today. This is the fear of the unknown, the fear of the different, the fear of “the Other” that so many minority groups find themselves facing from their oppressors. When targeted at young people scientists and sociologists have labeled this as ephebiphobia, which I’ve written about before. This fear has more than manifested itself in recent times, which I became more sensitive to in 2003 after reading an article from the Christian Science Monitor quoting James Carville talking about George Bush’s legislative tax schemes:

“This is not class warfare, this is generational warfare. This administration and old wealthy people have declared war on young people. That is the real war that is going on here. And that is the war we’ve got to talk about.”

Along with Henry Giroux’s hard-hitting analyses in his early 2000s books, Carville’s words were a door-opening for my awareness, calling me to pay attention to the differing realities of youth today, versus the realities I’d faced as a young person. The power of youth today extends much deeper, much more sophisticatedly than young people in the 1980s and 1990s, when I was a teenager. Since then youth have actualized their power in the form of economic power, technological savviness, and cultural influence that has never been witnessed before.

Perhaps these elements individually wouldn’t have constituted the threat that many adults percieve. However, I think this election cycle has given many entrenched adultists a more urgent reason to be fearful: Young people have shown their true power by bringing together the wieght and strength of their might, tying together their individual and collective economic, technologic, and cultural abilities with political will. By doing that young people have undisputably, clearly and forevermore demonstrated that not only do youth have the ability, but they have the fortitude to see through their intention, ideas, knowledge and actions to create change. In other words, Youth Voice has clearly shown itself to be a force to be reconded with.

That should give any young person hope, and if you are scared of youth, now you have a clear reason why. Let’s work together to change those opinions, hearts and minds – because we can.

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

A Brief History of Youth Voice

This is the second of twelve posts today in honor of the election of Barack Obama as the next President of the United States of America.

One of the privileges of my work is that over the last 10 years I have been in this movement I have identified, studied, witnessed and promoted a transformation in the international movement promoting Youth Voice. Almost 200 years of youth voice have permeated American history.

The Earliest Years

The first youth voice in the Americas existed among the historical nations already here before Europeans arrived. These American Indian nations were often directed by young people working with adults.

As a distinct phenomenon, I have identified Youth Voice first emerging as a distinct movement in the 1830s. During that decade, young women called the Lowell Mills Girls worked in textile factories. In 1834 and 1836, they led protests to get better wages, and identified the source of their problem as discrimination against the young.

This young person is protesting segregation in Texas in the 1950s.
This young person is protesting segregation in Texas in the 1950s.

During the Civil War, 12 and 13-year-old young men fought to preserve the American union on the lines against the rebellious South.

In the 1890s, newsboys across the Eastern U.S. went on strike against William Randolph Hearst, effectively defeating one of the largest economic titans of their day. At the turn of the century, young people left the mines, factories and plants they worked in to march against child labor. More than 10,000 joined Mother Jones in a march from Philadelphia to Washington, DC.

After receding throughout the next 30 years, in the mid-1930s Youth Voice resurfaced in the form of the Declaration of the Rights of American Youth, which was delivered directly on the floor of the U.S. Congress by the American Youth Congress. The AYC was suppressed in the 1940s, and white youth apparently stopped protesting for almost 15 years afterwards.

However, youth voice wasn’t dead. In 1960, young Ruby Bridges showed up to integrate schools in her community, and in 1961, the Little Rock Nine were young people who fought against white supremacy and for the desegregation of public schools. African American youth were essential to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, too, with Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. winding together youth activists throughout adult-led campaigns for justice.

These young people in Philadelphia are protesting schools in the 2010s.

It was in the 1961 Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society that white youth came back en masse. This stepping out effectively led to the youth revolution of the 1960s and early 70s, birthing many, many radical attempts to thrust young people into the mainstream political of American society. The 1965 case of Tinker vs. Des Moines showed a pair of young people fighting against adultocracy and attempts to limit their voices. A lot of that energy came to fruition with the passage of the 26th Amendment to the US Constitution in 1971. And then the 1980s happened.

In the late 1970s Youth Voice moved began to go viral, seeping into the mainstream culture and “poisoning the Kool Aid” with its idealism, passion and enthusiasm. This became apparent in two once-dicotomous cultural backgrounds: Hip hop, embracing rap, DJing, graffiti writing, and breakdancing and infusing them with vigor and fervor; and so-called “Yuppies“, defined as “young upwardly-mobile professionals” whose self-reliance and determination to be financially secure individualists secured their upper-middle class status to this day. I believe those two cultural backgrounds are still determining American social values today, as I have lived through their maturation into mainstream memes that defy the boundaries of race or class.

The determination of 1970s radical youth and 1980s self-serving youth was not lost into the air. In the 1990s their leadership led to the development of a variety of Youth Voice programs and initiatives across the U.S. and around the world. National nonprofits, foundations, and other organizations began beating the drums for youth involvement, and community-based organizations rose to the task and led the way, illustrating diverse, new ways to engage young people throughout society.

These youth activists are marching in 1970 to lower the voting age to 18.

In 2004, School Girls Unite led a campaign to start the International Day of the Girl. Working hand-in-hand with adults as allies, this organization achieved lasting recognition for youth voice.

With the emergence of new technologies that are quickly adopted by young people the new millineum has brought a celebration of Youth Voice that has never been seen. Organizations such as Freechild, YouthNoise and TakingITGlobal came out quickly as national and international networking hubs focused on connecting divergent young people and moving forward. This has led me to call for youth integration and intergenerational equity at every corner, as we must continue to live up to the challenge of Youth Voice.

In that way we can live up to the hope, the expectation and the courage young people embody. Let’s build society we want our young people to grow up in.

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Exploring a Day In The Life

Imagine being 3 or 4 years old and invited to adult dances, singing and dancing with them through the night. When you’re 4 you dance in adult ballets – and even though you’re not particularly graceful or talented, you are still welcomed and applauded for your performances.

At 5 years old you practice archery everyday, playing cards and charades with your adult uncles and aunts, and family friends who are adults, too. The adults around you love fairies and fairy stories, and you do to, often listening to storytellers share tales until late at night. In crazy, large group games with those same adults, and others, you run crazy playing hide-and-seek, blindman’s bluff, and other games.

Sure, you do stuff that only kids do, like play with dolls and race your toys around the place. And you get disciplined, too, for refusing to eat dinner. But generally adults let you participate in all the adult activities going on around you – not as an oddity or a plaything, but as a person.

Around the age of 7 you are encouraged to give up your toys and act more mature. You learn to gamble, ride horses, and hunt… and by 8 you become the king of France. This was the life of Louis the 13th, who took full control over his country when he was 15.

We don’t often hear the stories of historical figures whose lives seem so different than ours. But I think there are lessons buried inside these tales, lessons that we can and should learn from. Let’s consider some of the points in Louis’ story: He was allowed to be a child when he was a child. He was encouraged to take responsibility as he grew up – albeit, at the age of 8, but that works for some people. He fully interacted with adults as a peer, and not just as a puppet or puppy. He was afforded opportunities for self-realization within his social circles. Not to say it was all roses, or anything near that, but again, there are lessons in there.

I’m going to be writing about the history of children and youth for a little while, so bear with me. This Wednesday I’m going to beautiful Wenatchee, Washington, to work with a group of teachers, and I’m sure I’ll have something to say about that, too. But in the meantime, if you’re interested, I’m working from the following books about the history of young people:

  • Childhood in America by Paula Fass and Mary Ann Mason. Explores popular and not-so-popular conceptions of how and why young people are treated the ways they are. This book summarizes what the ideas have been and examines where we’re headed.
  • The Case Against Adolescence by Robert Epstein. A scientific study of how the notion of adolescence damns youth, challenging conceptions about the limitations and inabilities of young people by showing a different reality.
  • Teenagers: An American history by Grace Palladino. This is a great history that focuses on how marketers created the concept of “youth” to sell crap to young people and adults.
  • Consumed: How markets corrupt children, infantalize adults and swallow citizens whole by Benjamin Barber. An intense book that says we’re still getting sold.
  • Childhood by Chris Jenks. An academic treatise that pulls together diverse thought to forward a comprehensive notion of what the phenomenon of childhood means today.
  • Generations: The history of America’s future, 1584 to 2069 by William Strauss and Neil Howe. This book shows the long view of how children and youth have been treated, and why they are seen the ways they have been.
  • The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager by Thomas Hine. Another thorough examination of how young people got to where they are in our society, and why our society sees them as so valuable to everything around us.

As you can see, I’m concerned about two things here: What the collective histories of children and youth are, and why those histories have come to be what they are. Unfortunately they are very American-centric – but its a start. In my work with Freechild and SoundOut over the last 8 years I have made a lot of assumptions about the inherent goodness and “evil”ness of society’s treatment of children and youth; now I want to break those myths in my mind, because they aren’t true. Come on – let’s see what’s out there!

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More History of Youth Voice

I told you this has been going on for a little while! Following is an excerpt from the introduction to the New Youth Voice Handbook, with links for your entertainment:

For more than a century youth voice has brought the front pages of newspapers across the United States to life. Examining the New York Times archives shows that as early as 1885 the paper reported about a youth in Arkansas with a headline shouting, “Youngest Mayor a Murderer,” after the youngest leader of any town in the U.S. shot a man during an argument. Schools have been an important focus of youth voice since at least 1937, when the Times reported that, “Children Protest School Transfer: 200 Stage Demonstration in CityHallPark and One Airs Grievance to Mayor.” In 1950 the paper celebrated youth voice as it announced, “Jersey Youth Leads Advisory Council.” Almost appearing surprised, in 1960 a headline stated, “Teen-Agers Blunt at State Discussion of Their Problems,” while in 1963 the paper finally determined that, “Teen-Agers Take Action on Urgent Social Issues.”

Note that in this section I’m trying to introduce events that have gone past my radar in the past, which has included the Newsboys Strike of 1899, the various activities of the American Youth Congress, the Port Huron Statement of the Students for a Democratic Society, and the pamphleteering of Youth Liberation of Ann Arbor, Michigan. And all of that says nothing of Sonia Yaco, Vice-President Agnew’s sympathy with the Youth Liberation Movement, or calls for a “youth nation” within the U.S.

I am ready to admit it: I have become a history geek. I know, I have written about it before. But a

fter recent conversations with a few colleagues here in New York City I have decided to put my energy into writing during this next period of time. There are too many stories, too many lessons and too many opportunities to forward youth involvement that we just shouldn’t loose. Writing is one of the best ways I know to share them.

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