Leelah’s Murder Is OUR Fault

Leelah Alcorn’s death was practically a murder. It shows how America’s legal system, which enshrines parental rights above children’s rights, has killed another young person.

More importantly though, we need to see that Leelah’s murder is our fault. We have not done enough, taught enough, said enough, or worked hard enough to stop this horror from happening. And it is a horror, and it was preventable.

Discrimination Against Youth

Leelah’s story shows us- yet again- the discrimination against youth that seems inherent in our society. The horribly preventable circumstance that led to Leelah’s death are unfortunately the norm for every single American youth today, regardless of how they identify. The fact that Leelah identified as trans exacerbated that reality for her. Follow me: Every single American youth today is targeted in the most malicious ways throughout society simply for being young. This is the case whether they are cis, straight or queer; wealthy, poor or working class; academically gifted, creatively driven or athletically poised. Youth are singularly denied their rights, oppressed for their identities, conscripted for their abilities, and completely downtrodden because of their because of their ages and our society. And its merely and entirely about their age.

Add distinguishing factors to their age such as race, gender identity, socio-economic class, and academic ability, and youth move from being “merely” enslaved to entirely oppressed. The enslaving factory of this adultocracy is so deeply entrenched that parents, teachers, youth workers and many many people who call themselves youth allies merely perpetuate it without ever knowing it. My book focuses on helping these individuals see beyond their own lenses and aspire to be something greater.

Personal Action

The most effective piece of this article focuses on you. Its what David Bond from The Trevor Project said at the end of the piece:

However, Bond told me, even just one supportive adult in a LGBT teen’s life decreases suicidal ideation. “Be consistent in that person’s life and check in in a genuine way – and don’t be afraid to ask if they’re thinking of killing themselves,” Bond advised would-be allies.

“There’s a misconception that if you ask the question you’re going to put the idea in someone’s head. But it’s more often a helpful question than a harmful one.”

Whatever the answer – and I believe more states banning so-called conversion therapy and easier legal and financial avenues for emancipation, especially for older teens, should be a big part of that – we need more action now.

“A year feels like forever when you’re young,” PFLAG’s Sanchez told me. It’s no longer good enough to remind LGBT kids that “it gets better”. We need to figure out more legal, safe alternatives for those who can’t wait that long.

Everyone of us can take action and do something about this, but we have to face the reality that everyone of us is responsible for Leelah’s death (and the unnoted deaths of so many other American youth) first, and then work from that place. THAT is the work to do, no matter who we are.

And none of that is meant to take away, minimize or otherwise continue the oppression of trans, cis, or anyone who identifies as “other” throughout society. Its meant to highlight the compounding factors that are attempting to decimate peoples’ senses of ability, possibility and hope. We can do better than mere survival, and Leelah’s story demonstrates another way that can happen. Each of us can take action.

Legal Action

America’s legal system must act to do several things:

  • Stop allowing abusive parents to kill youth;
  • Stop devious judges from profiteering off youth imprisonment;
  • Stop racist and classist educators from reinforcing the school-to-prison pipeline;
  • Stop social workers from placing youth in harms way;
  • Stop police from arbitrarily enforcing laws against youth;
  • Change laws to allow all youth everywhere to choose their living situations;
  • Develop a guaranteed income for all youth, everywhere;
  • Prevent youth oppression by acknowledging the full personhood of children and youth from birth.

When these things happen, horrific and preventable deaths like what happened to Leelah Alcorn will not happen again. But not before then. If you really want to change the situation, join the struggle to end discrimination against young people.

Thanks, Kate, for calling me to write about this.

The Freechild Project Youth Political Action Institute

The Freechild Project’s training for youth on politics training is customized to meet the needs of every community we serve. Generally, it includes five areas: Motivation, Knowledge Building, Skills Sharing, Action Planning and Reflection. Each of those areas can cover a variety of issues from a number of perspectives. The length of the training varies according to location and the amount of time our partners have available. Freechild has facilitated this particular training 20 times since we were founded in 2001.
Following is our flyer about this training. Call for more information, including more about the content, costs and our availability.
The Freechild Project Youth Political Action Institiute
The Freechild Project Youth Political Action Institiute teaches basic skills and knowledge to youth, and makes action plans for change!

Promote Youth Engagement in Organizations

How to Promote Youth Engagement in Organizations

1) Share Youth Engagement.

  • Talk with your supervisor, Executive Director, board members, and other decision-makers.
  • Build support by talking to staff members about youth engagement.
  • Train young people about youth engagement, why it matters, and how they can experience it more.
  • Research resources that might help different people in different roles throughout your organization understand youth engagement more.
  • Pass along useful websites, materials, and other info with people who care or need to know.

2) Advocate Action.

  • Explore policy-making in your organization, and advocate for changes that reflect a commitment to sustained youth engagement through programs and throughout the organization.
  • Create an action plan that focuses on sustained programs and projects.
  • Be a constant and strong champion for youth engagement throughout your program or organization.
3) Facilitate Approaches.
  • Remember Gandhi’s idiom, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” If you want youth engagement in your program or organization, start engaging youth personally right now.
  • Start leading activities and programs that foster youth engagement right now. Build youth engagement on the personal level for young people, then solidify it throughout your organization.
  • Strengthen your knowledge about youth engagement and then facilitate opportunities for others to learn about it.
4) Critique and Examine Outcomes.
  • Create safe space to engage diverse youth and adults in critical thinking and cultural examinations.
  • Actively engage young people and adults in frank, open conversations about the activity, program, or organization.
  • Ask questions that inquire further into peoples’ assumptions or beliefs, and foster new understanding through having everyone share their experiences and opinions as applicable.
  • Ask hard questions about beliefs, understanding, and outcomes.
  • Examine new opportunities to talk change.
When you travel through each of these steps, you’ll find a variety of awards for your hard work, including youth retention, re-engagement, and much more.
Where These Came From

Recently, I’ve been working with a group of traditional, mainline youth-serving organizations. They offer services to young people living in adverse situations, including homelessness, family disruptions, addiction, and other circumstances. The activities generally fall into the realms of intervention, education, and employment.

Working with them to establish new approaches to their work, I have been slowly introduce my conceptual frameworks focused on youth engagement, especially how I wrote about the subject in my publication, A Short Introduction to Youth EngagementWhen I wrote the Short Intro…, I intentionally didn’t cover many important aspects of moving forward with the concept. Here’s one area that wasn’t addressed.

These are steps that I’ve followed for more than a decade as I’ve taught, trained, advocated for, and lived through many, many youth engagement programs and projects. They’re also what I’m using right now to help others promote this vital concept, too.

Thanks for reading! Let me know what you would add, take out, or challenge in the comments section below.More Resources

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

Stop Beating Kids: Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools

  • Spanking
  • Slapping
  • Smacking
  • Pulling ears
  • Pinching
  • Shaking
  • Hitting with rulers, belts, wooden spoons, extension cords, slippers, hairbrushes, pins, sticks, whips, rubber hoses, flyswatters, wire hangers, stones, bats, canes, or paddles
  • Forcing a child to stand for a long time
  • Forcing a child to stay in an uncomfortable position
  • Forcing a child to stand motionless
  • Forcing a child to kneel on rice, corn, floor grates, pencils or stones
  • Forcing a child to retain body wastes
  • Forcing a child to perform strenuous exersize
  • Forcing a child to ingest soap, hot sauce, or lemon juice

THIS IS CORPORAL PUNISHMENT. All corporal punishment is child abuse, and child abuse teaches students nothing. 19 states in the U.S. still allow corporal punishment in their schools, and this must stop now.

“Bullying is enough of a problem among students; the teachers shouldn’t be doing it, too. There’s nothing positive or productive about corporal punishment and it should be discouraged everywhere.” Rep. Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY)

Anytime a young person is treated this way they are being abused. These forms of abuse are the cruelest, most unjust, and most ineffective treatment young people can receive. While including both, corporal punishment goes beyond adultism, beyond adultcentrism, and straight to child abuse. 
The most basic right of any person today is the right to live in peace. 

While that may sound simplistic or naive, violence is a daily reality for almost every young person in the world today. Physical violencewar, family abuse, bullying, and gang violence; mental abuseparental abuse, teacher abuse, or verbal put-downs— and child neglect surround young people. These are all forms of violence. The institutions that are purportedly supposed to support our children and youth, places like schools, hospitals, and governments, abuse young people. In their homes young people face violence through popular media, like television shows, movies, pop music, and video games. And violence surrounds young people in many ways that we don’t see, seeping into everyone’s hearts and minds without us being aware of it: another bombing overseas, another vicious attack on public funding, another slander against youth in the news.
This abuse adds up. According to a United Nations study,

“Corporal punishment of adults is prohibited in well over half the world’s countries, yet only 15 of the 190-plus nations have prohibited all corporal punishment of children, including in the family.”

It’s a statistic like this that leaves little wonder in my mind about why young people appear “apathetic” and “disenchanted” with a world so intent on numbing them to pain, hatred, cynicism and violence.
Luckily, our North American eyes are beginning to fully comprehend the imperative any ethical person faces when dealing with the situation of young people and violence today. We are beginning to stand with young people to change the situations that they face, and the situations our world faces. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) boldly declares that,

“Young people must be meaningfully involved in promoting and strategizing action on violence against children… Children… need to be well informed about their rights, and fully involved in the life of the [community and] school…”

This call situates corporal punishment as a fully-authorized premise for social action in 198 countries around the worldminus the US and Somalia, who are the only non-signatory countries. Canada and Mexico have signed on. There is no other convention, consensus, or constitution in the world that is more widely accepted than the CRC. So the vast majority of global governments agree that corporal punishment is a significant premise for social change, and we agree that young people should help lead anti-abuse efforts.

I believe that corporal punishment is the root of all discrimination in society. Premised on the hatred of young people, on adultism, on the self- and cultural repression of childhood, corporal punishment is made worse through dozens of other factors, including socio-economic class, gender, race, ethnicity, and more… Corporal punishment is at the heart of all this.

Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act
In 2010, Representative Carolyn McCarthy, a Democrat from New York, introduced a bill called “Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act” in the US House of Representatives. The bill would impose a ban on all public and private schools with students that receive federal services. Learn more about the bill, and support it. I do. 

Stop beating kids.

Resources on the Ending Corporal Punishment in Schools Act

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

National PTA

I contracted with the National PTA in 2010 to plan and facilitate a Youth Leadership and Policy Institute.

The National PTA contracted with me to design a program focused on engaging high school and college students as education policy advocates. The National PTA Public Policy Team wanted to move students from being the passive recipients of school decision-makers to active partners. 
Writing the program from scratch, I worked with experts in PTA’s training office to refine the program and then piloted it at the 2010 National PTA Legislative Conference. The 16-hour curriculum was tested with a national audience of high school and college students.

So-Called “Youth Issues”

The myth of so-called “youth issues” is pervasive throughout our communities, as young people are routinely segregated from adults throughout society, including mainstream decision-making, problem-solving and policy choices. There has been a frequent temptation to pigeonhole children and youth by focusing on schools, children’s healthcare, youth homelessness, child labor, afterschool programs, social work, nutrition, and other issues addressing children and youth specifically.

Luckily, young people won’t have any part of this. Children and youth activists aren’t be fooled anymore by adults’ frequent insistence that they need to focus on what we think they should. Instead, they are addressing hundreds of inconvenient truths facing our world today in immeasureable ways. And historians like Phillip House have shown us that there is a precident of youth activists doing this throughout American history.
Today I found some hope from Barack Obama’s transition team. In recent conversations the national youth lobbying community succeeded in demonstrating the wide range of issues that are important to young people. While the transition team member in the video reduced their concerns to “having a seat at the table,” having this step forward is further than anyone has got before. That along is cause for celebration.
  • Oh, and thanks to Dana Welsh and Jonah Wittkamper for informing this post.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Giving Youth Life Sentences: Efren Paredes, Jr.

Efren Paredes, Jr. was a 16-year-old Latino honors student in southwest Michigan, not far from Chicago, when he was convicted of armed robbery and first degree murder for the shooting death of grocery store manager Rick Tetzlaff. He was found guilty and sentenced to multiple life terms. He is among the 300 people in the state of Michigan who were under 18 when they were sentenced to life without parole. Today Efren is 35, and he maintains his innocence. The victim’s family, are convinced otherwise.

I don’t want to argue Efren’s guilt or innocence, mostly because in my initial scan of the Internet I am finding it difficult to find any unbiased information regarding his case. The point I do want to make is that sentencing people under 18 to life without parole is wrong on many levels, the most basic of which is that it violates their most basic human rights.

I have talked about the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, or CRC, several times. The CRC is the world’s most widely supported treaty, with only two countries withholding signatures: the United States and Somolia, and this case shows why the US is; Somolia has not had a functioning government for more than 15 years. The CRC expressly prohibits the death penalty and imposition of life without parole against children and youth. As of last month the United States is the only country in the world that imposes life without parole sentences on people under 18. The mainstream media and several advocacy organizations, including Freechild, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and other have called attention to the matter.

SPECIFIC to Efren’s case, a recent survey showed that a majority of Michigan residents support giving juvenile offenders the opportunity for rehabilitation. This may have led to the early 2008 Michigan House committee which took up the issue of juvenile incarceration, only to defer decision-making as of last January. Few studies have been conducted as to the effectiveness of juvenile incarceration in Michigan, and apparently none in Michigan have examined the effectiveness of sentencing children and youth to lifelong prison sentences, both in terms of the individual offender and on potential offenders.

Learn about Efren Paredes’s case on his blog, his Facebook page, his petition, his website and many other online outlets.

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

Barack Wins the Under-18 Vote

Well, I’m no fan of mock voting, and as a matter of fact I stand firmly in opposition to it. However, I do appreciate that at the very least it raises the visibility of Youth Voice. It seems that the preliminary estimates from the National Mock Election, held last week across the United States, show Presidential candidate Barack Obama winning 46 states.

Mock elections, mock voting and mock parliaments are an apparatus of ignorance that forces young people to internalize their powerlessness in the political process of the United States. Mock elections grind into young peoples’ heads that their political voice is not worthy of full consideration until they are 18, at which point their minds will become suddenly capable of understanding politics and their votes will suddenly matter. Oh, and you’d better become politically active when you’re 18 for fear of being a pariah. (Ever wonder why the voting rates for 18-25 year-olds weren’t high after the national voting age was lowered in the 1972? Because youth were continuing to react to generations of systemic disenfranchisement. Young people are just beginning to emerge as significant political players, and as they begin to recognize their individual and collective power we are only going to see increased ephebiphobia throughout society.) A complicit component in these mock elections is the emphasis on the so-called “youth vote”, which generally when spoken of by the mainstream media refers to actual voting by 18 to 25 year olds. What does that tell young people under 18? That they aren’t youth and that they are still children. And since we, as a society, have infantalized children to the point of worthlessness to society, no one wants to be a kid.

All told, this situation makes the mock affairs nothing more than exercises in futility that frame children and youths’ opinions as not worthy of real consideration. Further complicating the scenario are the well-meaning adults who propagate these activities in schools and youth-serving organizations. We mean to engage young people, we mean to hear their opinions, we mean to validate them by at least acknowledging what they think. These adults aren’t bad people, and honestly I have been a promoter in the past. However, it ended for me the day a group of teens at a youth center scoffed at me when I suggested they participate. I asked them to tell me why, and they did, and now, well…

Now I see a different route to promoting civic engagement among young people. Rather than continue to perpetuate this egregious and immoral violation of citizenship and human rights, the United States should completely abolish the voting age. Germany has considered this as a serious legislative agenda, and we must follow this mode. Only then can we move from openly and unabashedly mocking Youth Voice to actually engaging, sustaining and integrating young people throughout society.

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

A World Without Youth Issues

I have been conscious of presidential elections since 1992, when Bill Clinton was making his first run for president and I was a junior in high school. That year was the first time I heard of Rock the Vote, a nonprofit hooked up closely to MTV, where I heard their message. Its not that my house had MTV – we didn’t – but a lot of my friends did, and that’s where I got the feed. (Since then MTV has expanded their interest into youth activism, all suspect for the consumerist bent, but hey – who else is talking about it?)

Anyway, since then the marketing, aka voter drives, to get youth voters engaged in the electoral process has become much more intensive. This year that 16-year campaign comes to fruition, as media and pollsters show young people are more interested than ever before, more youth are going to vote than ever before, and Obama is going to win by a landslide because of youth voters.

But these sources are downplaying the substance of the so-called “youth vote.” Along with the realization that there is no such thing as one “youth vote,” young people increasingly identify their disenfranchisement within a political system that does not acknowledge the unique needs, perspectives, actions or wisdom of youth.

Politicians try to acknowledge this imbalance by actively speaking to the issues all young people care about, like education and the wars. However, the disjuncture between that rhetoric and the realities faced by children and youth today has to do with politicians’ sources for learning about those issues. Rather than relying on simplistic polls and research summaries by their lackeys, politicians need to listen to young people themselves to learn what they care about and how they care about it and how they think it should change. Only then will the youth vote have any substance.

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

Student Voice in Europe, Pt 1

In the late 1990s the Swedish education agency invited all new high school students across the country to be part of a process that identified new educational priorities and develop new school policies for their nation. More than 200 students said they wanted to do it.

Students were asked to send letters that explained what they thought the priorities of schools should be. Researchers and education officials read the letters and analyzed them for the main themes that arose. Each year for the next three years students were asked to write a letter that focused on those issues. At the end of the the four-year cycle in 2000, the responses were compiled into a report which is has been continuously used to inform school policy.

It continuously blows me away how far removed European practices are from those here in the States. And this is not to put anyone on a mantle: YoMo, DK, and the ESSA would probably all admit the UK is just coming along now. But in the long run the practices that have been instituted in policy and practice there are by and far a long run ahead of where we are.

I want to keep this short and recommend three publications for anyone who wants to learn more about student voice in Europe:

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