Border-Crossing Youth Will Make A Difference

Following my dad into the arroyo, I imagined the Gerry cans filled with water. He’d just told me about his and Glenda’s past water drops for the migrants who used to travel up and down these creek beds. I imagined the groups I’d seen in the media, with working men, women and children huddled together and moving through the shroud of dark night that blanketed these lands so easily.

Now, in a newly militarized, sensationalized and wicked American reality, those migrants have stopped coming. They aren’t flooding the deserts or strewing their clothes in the mesquite bushes anymore. Those that are left were more like the “bad hombres” some politicians conjured for votes. Sure, desperate people will still try to escape the punishing economic realities of Central and South America, but the odds of them succeeding have greatly diminished over the last decade.

My Experience Crossing Borders

What happens to the children and youth facing these realities? When I was a kid, my family constantly traveled back and forth across the border between Montana and Alberta. We weren’t crossing with permission, and we moved around a lot.

I remember some catywampus explanations, some crooked dealings and some harsh realities that started when I was a little boy and lasted until I was 19 years old. Many of my friends have no idea still today, because I just let out the easy tales: We stashed a ferret in the glove compartment. If our things didn’t fit in the trunk they didn’t come along. I couldn’t keep the steer riding trophy made for me when I was five. Things like that.

I don’t tell them about the time I remember laying quietly under the blanket in the back seat. Or that we evacuated hotels like hostages fleeing their captors. I don’t mention that eighth birthday sharing a cupcake with my family of six, or the nights we woke up on the side of the highway in the rain, only to be ushered along by a local sheriff who didn’t want riffraff in their town.

Today’s Border-Crossing Youth

These children and youth who are racing across the southern border are going to grow up and be like me, for better or worse. They’re going to struggle and challenge, work and change the world around them. Sure, a few will become bad guys, and many will just peter out and live simple lives.

But some of them will get an idea stuck in their craw. They’ll want to make a difference and facilitate transformation. They’ll study, learn, teach and grow. They will become more than ever expected. Are you prepared for what they’re going to bring? Because surely it’ll affect you, me and everyone in our lives.

What will these world changers advocate? In my life, I have advocated for the holistic democratic inclusion of everyone in our society. That was after I grew up in nonprofit organizations, churches and schools where those ideals were firmly seeded. Later, I continued learning in programs and agencies that sought to infuse the virtues of liberal arts education, engagement and social action into the hearts and minds of young people.

Making Their Own Differences

The young people who are being deported from the U.S., who are being turned away at the border, and who give up on the American dream before ever leaving home are going to have visions for social change that reflect their surroundings, too. Their social change narratives are going to harken to the harsh economic realities they face at home, in their communities and elsewhere. Using the language that speaks to the deepest parts of them, they will piece together their own stories and develop unique perspectives that support their worldviews.

These will not be supported by notions of American pluralism, embracing diversity or expanding democracy. Instead, if they continue to reflect anything American, they might look like the desperate attention-seeking of politicians and the money-grabbing of capitalists. In the dystopian order of the day, they could have the appearance of benign chaos or the cloak of neoliberal beneficence.

Reaching further than American mythology, these same young people may create new plans for a different future, ones which enliven, enlighten and empower their nations and the world. They might reach for universal empowerment, enfranchising the masses with hopeful truth-seeking, determined political action and holistic social engagement. Beyond the American pipeline involving the military-education-prison-healthcare-justice-housing-industrial complex, they will building communities, encourage young people, circulate social capital and infuse social responsibility within their families, among their neighborhoods, throughout their nations and around the world.

There are already plenty of border-crossing youth changing the world in ways we don’t see quickly or easily, too. Working across issues of immigration, education, economic justice and environmental racism, they’re also transforming cultural boundaries, shifting technological realities and moving social change in whole new directions – right now. What’s going to happen when these youth are deported, denied entry or become disillusioned with the American dream?

This burgeoning reality isn’t limited to Central and South America, either. Every nation around the world pushing against the new American norm will have young people desperate to confront, challenge, reconfigure and infuse the future with hopeful action.

We might not need to put water in the arroyo much longer, because people may not be crossing that way anymore. Instead, we need to seed resources that support the border-crossing youth of today.

What are you going to share in the desert today?

Get in touch with me to talk about what this means.

 


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Stop Excluding People

When programs are developed, many people can be excluded. Among youth programs, community nonprofits and government agencies frequently cater only to particular children and youth. Same with activist organizations helping particular adult populations, and businesses doing outreach in their demographics. Our society is built on this type of exclusion.

In the name of social justice, many advocates frequently position their constituency above all others. In cities that are predominately white, people of color may be targeted for programs civic engagement, cultural enhancement and community-building activities. Women-focused nonprofits are offering more STEM programs for girls. Low-income and poor children are being provided free sports programs they couldn’t otherwise afford.

These programs are generally based on inclusionary assumptions: Where there’s a gap between haves and have-nots, they are bridged specifically for the communities where they’re happening. Programmers are literally trying to expand the in-crowd so there’s more room for more people to become active in things they want to, they could, or they should be involved in.

If we don’t remain vigilant, acute assumptions and prejudices can lurk in at about this point.

Exclusionary action of ANY kind is never the solution. These are not black OR white problems, rich OR poor, homeless OR homed, youth OR adult. We have to reach EVERYONE inclusively, everywhere, all the time. I’m NOT okay with segregation of any kind.

Our biases are ugly little hungry ghosts that come in from our pasts and invade our present. They have nasty names and do gross things, like excluding others and fostering dislike, in spite of our best intentions. Suddenly, we’re judging people by their skin color, socio-economic levels, cultural norms, gender identity and sexual orientations, and much more. In our attempts to make a better world, we actually serve to cheapen, lessen and otherwise tear apart the good things that exist right now. One of the good things about our world today is diversity.

Despite what some people would have us think, North America is not heading towards a giant pool of light-brown skin people who all earn middle class incomes, sharing loving families and equal lifestyles. That’s simply not ahead of us.

Instead, we’re going to continue being a pluralistic, spastic, dynamic and diverse society for a long time yet to come. Instead of forcing conformity, uniformity and singularity of any kind, we need to create new opportunities that foster dialogue, encourage interaction and give people chances to experience people from different backgrounds, different beliefs and different realities from our own.

From that place, we can build democracy. We got get behind positive, powerful social change. We can make a change. But not before then. Not before we stop segregating people for who they are, how they are, no matter what they are.

Don’t make new programs just for homeless people. Don’t facilitate new programs just for youth. Don’t target only rich kids. Instead, weave it all together and create new realities, new communities, new opportunities and new possibilities, everywhere, all the time.

That’s what I’m trying to do.

In Favor of Adultism?

Over at Wikipedia there’s a debate flaring over the article on adultism. Two trains of thought occur in this debate: one regarding the validity of the article and whether there are enough reliable sources in the article to make it a legitimate Wikipedia article; the second focused on the validity of adultism as a topic to be addressed on Wikipedia. Both arguments are worthy debate. However, I find a recurring pattern of discrimination present in the former argument: There are those who firmly believe that adultism should be presented with a neutral definition that does not portray an inherently negative basis. Note that this is different from the treatment racism or hetrosexism receives on Wikipedia, as both of those are presented in their biased forms.

In coming out in favor of a neutral definition of adultism editors will often expose their bias towards adults. As one editor redefined the term, “Adultism the the belief that adults should have inordinate power over children”, and “Adultism is the act of exerting inordinate control over children by adults”. I believe that these very definitions, by nature of their phrasing, demands the reader to accept this “inordinate control”.

I have defined adultism three ways in my writing:

  • “Adultism is favoring adults by dismissing young people.”
  • “Adultism is the addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults.”
  • “Adultism promotes the discrimination of children and youth, and bias towards adults.”

Reviving my knowledge of the current literature surrounding adultism, I searched across the research databases to find out how adultism has been defined recently. Following is a collection of definitions from throughout the neutral, scholary realm of academic journals and books.

  • “…negative construction of the meaning of youth is a form of oppression, referred to as either ageism or ‘adultism’.” – C.A. MacNeil, “Bridging generations: Applying “adult” leadership theories to youth leadership development”, in ”New Directions for Youth Development” (2006).
  • “Adultism… can be defined as the inherent belief that adults are ultimate experts on youth, their issues, dreams, anxieties, abilities, and health; adults are thus thrust into positions of ultimate decision-makers and arbiters of policies, programs, and services involving youth.” – M. Delgado and D. Zhao, ”Youth-led health promotion in urban communities: A community capacity-enhancement perspective”. Rowman & Littlefield (2008).
  • “…an antiyouth bias sometimes called ‘adultism’…” – D. Hosang., “Family and community as the cornerstone of civic engagement: Immigrant and youth organizing in the southwest” in ”National Civic Review” (2006). 
  • “If we define abuse as restricting, controlling, humiliating, or hurting another, it’s clear that abuse is a daily experience for young people. We have a new word for it: adultism.” C. Close,  “Fostering youth leadership: students train students and adults in conflict resolution” in ”Theory into Practice” (2007).

These definitions show a clear patterning of negative perspectives in the defining of adultism. However, given the apparently predominant perspective of at least one Wikipedia editor, Wikipedia will soon feature a supposedly neutral definition.

Reviewing the definitions I have previously used in the Wikipedia article, I found this an active trending towards exposing the discriminatory basis of adultism by authors from across the realms. However, many of the following sources are questionable to Wikipedia editors who find them to be from “advocacy organizations” or authors with dubious bases for their assertions about adultism. (I personally find that perspective discriminatory, as it alienates perspectives, but for the sake of process I’ll accept it.) Following are some of those definitions.

  • “[Adultism is] behaviors and attitudes based on the assumptions that adults are better than young people, and entitled to act upon young people without agreement.” J. Bell (1995) “Understanding Adultism” on the YouthBuild USA website.
  • “Oppression of Young People (from the day they are born), based on their age, by care givers (who are used as the oppression agents) and by the society and its institutions.” – Co-counseling.
  • “Adultism is an adult practice of forming certain beliefs about young people and practicing certain behaviors toward them because of societal views, usually negative, that are based on their age.” – Child Welfare League of America.
  • “Addressing adultist behavior by calling it ageism is discrimination against youth in itself.” – Youth On Board.

It is interesting to see how the tides of discrimination vary, washing back and forth over the bones of justice. We should take a close examination of our own biases before calling out others’, and afterwards revisit this conversation with a thorough acceptance of our own perspectives.

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

Wikipedia Articles

After spending three years and 100s of hours on the cause I am wrapping up my time served as a-lot-of-time Wikipedia editor. Contributing as “Freechild” and a few anonymous IP addresses, I have created more than 400 articles, including dozens about the issues I originally explored on the Freechild Project website. Following are some of those topics listed for your easy reference and contributions. Please make Wikipedia better by getting in there and monkey-wrenching around yourselves – and don’t be shy! Want to know how to write a good article, defeat an “article for deletion” proposal or find references about obscure topics related to young people? Respond to this post!

Here’s a list of some of the articles I created on Wikipedia about topics focused on young people:

Issues

Organizations

Individuals

Other stuff

This list is almost complete. Also, please understand that Wikipedia is a constantly moving target, and I cannot be held responsible for the content of the articles beyond the last time I edited them.

Please let me know what you think, and again, please let me know how I can support YOU contributing to Wikipedia!

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

Young People as Enviable

This is post 2 of 5 exploring popular perceptions of young people today.

Marketers have spent more than a half century trying to convince consumers to buy the image of youth being a perfect time, filled with frivolity and carelessness. Literature portrays an idyllic time of life that is airy, unassuming and light. Pop music suggests that between mood swings youth have little room left for the concerns of adulthood. As for childhood, these same elements perpetuate a further mythology, reinforcing the traditional conception of children as simplistic minions, empty vessels awaiting the knowledge of adulthood and eagerly assuming whatever mantle is given them by the adults around them, whether that of son or daughter, student or client – or all together, at the same time.

Adults are taught to envy this existence. In modern America this first took the form of cherish, in a Victorian era when middle class children were placed on pedestals for their preciousness and perfection. During that same period youth were married off or sent to their professions when they were young. Working class boys became apprentices to laborers, craftsmen and farmers while poor children were sent to the fields, factories and mines. In the ensuing 100 years youth were alternately viewed as powerful (1930s); suspicious (1950s); despised (1960s); lazy (1970s and 80s); dangerous (1990s), and; overachieving (2000s). All of these attitudes are then marketed back to adults as something to actually want: In the 1940s adults were sold the power of their youth; the so-called laziness of the 1970s was used as a counter-image for adults to rebel against in the 1980s, driving them to become more even more driven, more capitalistic. This says nothing of today, when adults are busy buying HDTVs and widgets for their cars in order to compensate for our inadequate knowledge of technology in the face of the Digital Natives of today.

None of this says anything of the political concerns of youth today, living in a world where they are systematically denied the right to freedom, participation or democratic representation. But that’s another conversation for a different day. This post is simply meant to expose another popular perspective towards children and youth, which is young people as enviable.

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