Adults Researching Youth IS NOT Youth Voice

One day your organization decided to create a survey to ask youth what they thought about their communities. You called this a “Youth Voice Project”. However, just because an adult decides something is youth voice doesn’t make it so. While it is true that youth voice is any expression of a young person about anything (Fletcher, 2005), it is equally true that youth voice is not adults determining what young people care about.


Let’s be clear:

  • Adult research studies of youth are not youth voice.
  • Adult-created surveys delivered by adults are not youth voice.
  • Adult-created surveys delivered by youth are not youth voice.
  • Adults using youth to present adult-led research about youth is not youth voice.
What does constitute youth voice in research? Participatory action research, or PAR, relies on youth/adult partnerships in order to identify research questions, create research tools, execute studies, and assess data. This is youth voice in research. Youth-led research is youth voice in research. Even youth using adult-led research about youth is youth voice, so long as youth are interpreting the data.
However, that last example is starting to peel a stinky onion. Since we know that one youth doesn’t represent all youth, we know that even data gathered by youth, for youth, from youth isn’t going to be interpreted “right”. There will be discrepancies that represent bias or subjectivity. The the middle class white suburban youth isn’t going to be wholly effective at extrapolating meaning in data collected from low-income youth of color in working class neighborhoods. This is the nature of research though, and some flaws are inherent in any process.
Learn more about youth-led research at http://freechild.org/PAR/ and remember: Adults researching youth is NOT youth voice!
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

What Do Students Really Know?

My first opportunity to work in a NYC school was yesterday. The Kingsbridge neighborhood of The Bronx is home to the Walton High School building, a massive pile of mortar that was built a long time ago. Housing as many as 5,000 students only 20 years ago, over the last several years the school has been broken into small learning communities via the Gates Foundation. Contention there has continued throughout the last 30 years, recently embodied by community organizing efforts led by Sistas and Brothas United in 2005.

Today there are five academies operating at Walton, including the International School for Liberal Arts, or ISLA. Earlier this school year Giselle Martin-Kniep, the founder and president of the organization that now houses SoundOut, started a participatory action research project at ISLA. Focused on students perceptions of respect, yesterday I observed the student researcher team as they began aggregating data from almost 500 surveys, representing 3/4 of ISLA’s student body.

I will tell you more about the results as the project progresses; all the same, this was an awesome introduction to a powerful experience. Let me know if you have any thoughts about it.

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