Hearts and minds quote Adam Fletcher

From My Point of View…

“The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” ― Albert Einstein

 

Lately, I find myself thinking more about what actually changes in our lives, and why that change happens. At the beginning of my fourth decade, I’ve seen minor and major changes so far throughout my lifetime.

There have been many major life changes, including finishing college; owning a home and selling it; having and raising a child; and walking with family and friends as their lives have changed, too. There have been countless minor changes in my life. Thinking about this world we all share, there’ve been a lot of big changes since 1975, including the toppling of political regimes and the beginnings of new ones; the deaths of world leaders and the emergence of others; new technologies and the evolutions or end of olds ones; and endless small changes.

As I reflect on these, I see others’ stories interwoven with my own. The mentors who guided me as a young man; the women I’ve loved and relationships I’ve grown through; so many times shared with friends, and the growth of my born and adopted family; as well as the people who I’ve barely known or never knew who have touched my life in ways seen and unseen.

Today, I understand that with strengthening and weakening through experience, its been my heart that’s changed the most. I was born and raised as a good kid, albeit one who made mistakes and was far from perfect, but with an open heart, strong imagination and good humor. As an adult, all of that has been messed with, poked and prodded and challenged and hated; however, I am who I am, still.

I understand know that life is oftentimes an appearance. Because appearances depend on my viewpoint, my experience, my lenses and my interpretation, appearances are always subjective. That means all of these things I thought I experienced are simply a matter of appearance: Seeing the horror of a friend dying from disease can be the honor of walking a friend towards their next journey; or the joy of a family member winning the lottery may be the challenge of watching shallowness replace depth of journeying; or the suffering when a love left me is the welcoming of solitude and sanctity; or the sadness of a pet passing away from old age can become the cherishing of time shared and love gained.

 

How to See Your Viewpoint

Here are five simple steps to seeing your own perspective more clearly:

  1. Say “I see things according to my own viewpoint, biases, attitudes, knowledge and experience.
  2. Write down your perspectives on a specific situation. For instance, how do you feel about your house? What do you think about dogs? Who are your favorite friends?
  3. Once you’ve written those perspectives, ask yourself why you think those things. Are you justifying your thoughts? Criticizing your thinking? Do you feel righteous? Ignorant?
  4. Identify whether you are willing to rethink your own attitudes and behaviors. If so, you’ve identified your viewpoint about something. If not, you have also identified your viewpoint about something.
  5. Consider whether you think some people cannot understand your viewpoint? Do you think you should change others’ minds to understand your viewpoint?

Today, I understand that my point of view is always skewed by my perceptions; I am always subjective. Whenever I pass judgment, I’m weighing evidence against my perspective. That doesn’t mean that nothing has value and nobody is ever right; its totally the opposite. Everything has value and there is right and wrong in the world. However, it does mean that appealing to the hearts and minds of people is as important as changing the society, structures, policies and processes that things happen through.

I’m going to keep Einstein’s quote in mind for myself: “The world as we have created it is a process of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.”

What do YOU think about that?

 

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External Links

 

This is Adam Fletcher Sasse in 1992 at Omaha North High School.

Why I Think We Should Examine Our Motivations to Help Others

When I was young, I was involved in programs at a church in the low-income, predominantly African American neighborhood where my family lived.

One day when I was 16 years old, some friends and I were walking down the street when we came across a couple of shiny new vans delivering a small hoard of white kids dressed in optimistic clothes to the church.

Curious, we we asked some of the youth what they were doing. Nonchalantly, they said they were here to paint this ghetto church, pointing at our fortress of hope.

When we asked if we could help, an adult with the group told us it was their project, and they’d be doing the painting. We brought our concerns to the minister, who explained they were missionaries from another state and this was mission trip, to paint our church.

That didn’t make any sense to me then, and I spent more than a decade trying to reconcile their well-meaning intention and my sense of dejection.

As an adult, I’ve met bunches and bunches of well-meaning middle class people and white people who want to save the world without ever looking at how to empower people to save themselves. These same folks rarely examine their own complicity in oppression and the ongoing slight of snobbery in volunteerism and philanthropy.

With so many people more focused on “changing the world” today, I think it’s high time that we reflect on Gandhi’s call for us to “be the change we wish to see in the world. We each have to examine our motivation.

I’ve been writing about that process for a long time without ever offering rationale for why that matters. The story I share here is meant to show one reason.

If you’re interested, check out my PETS (Personal Engagement Tip Sheets) for practical ways to look inside yourself before you try to change the world. You might also read my poem, Missionary. One of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever read about examining our motivations is a speech given by Ivan Illich called “To Hell With Good Intentions,” where he critically examines what it means to serve others. I also recommend Paulo Freire’s last book, which pushed me to embrace my own assumptions in new ways. Its called Pedagogy of Indignation.

After that, if you want to connect about what to do next just drop me a note.

Adultism is... 1) Bias towards adults; 2) Addiction to adults; and 3) Discrimination against youth

An Interview on Adultism

Recently, a youth activist in the UK wrote to me with some excellent questions about adultism. I loved responding to him, and I think we have some excellent conversations ahead of us. I want to give you a peek into what was exchanged. Let me know what you think?

Question 1: Why does youth-based ageism matter to you, both personally and from a broader societal perspective? 

Growing up, I experienced homelessness, generational PTSD, generational alcoholism, and situational poverty. After beginning youth work as a teenager, I discovered a realm of youth advocacy focused on youth rights. Beginning with the analysis that youth aren’t granted rights and freedoms enjoyed by adults simply because of their age, in my early 20s I examined my own professional practice and discovered that I’d perpetuated this discrimination against youth in my youth work. My own professional journey took a critical turn at that point, and I’ve never looked back.

Since then, I’ve studied the phenomenon of adultism in-depth, writing dozens of articles and a book about it called Facing Adultism. I’ve also led workshops with hundreds of youth and adults across North America and in Brazil over the last 15 years. Among my findings, I’ve discovered some radical trends that are disturbing. Rather consistently and regardless of setting, adults appear to be consistently predisposed to the actions, ideas, words and opinions of other adults. I call this bias towards adults adultism. Adultism seemingly happens everywhere, including many places that exist simply to serve children and youth, including schools, after school programs, youth centers, summer camps, and in childcare facilities, as well as businesses that serve young populations, including stores, healthcare, and restaurants. On a very basic level, the problem of adultism in democratic societies is that it inherently undermines and ultimately dismantles democracy. We basically spend 18 to 25 years of a person’s life telling them to be passive recipients of hierarchical, authoritarian decision-making, and then one arbitrary day we bestow them with the mantle of Voter and pray they have faith in democracy. That disjunction doesn’t sit well with most people, and easily explains why so many people are disaffected by voting today.

In a more complex way, I believe adultism is the conditioning that permits all other discriminations to co-exist throughout our societies. From infancy we’re taught in subtle and overt ways that adults are dominate in our worlds. At the same time we appropriately rely on them for food, clothing, shelter and security, we’re conditioned to accept their control over our appearance, attitudes, education and behaviors. Through this control, adultism opens the doorways for oppression through sexism, racism, hetrosexism, classism, and many other biases and discriminations, allowing each of us to both become oppressors and the oppressed. This has massive effects throughout our societies that are grossly underexamined.

Question 2: Is youth-based ageism entrenched in politics/culture/society? What are the consequences of it?

Bias towards adults is thoroughly entrenched throughout the entirety of society, including politics and culture, and education, healthcare, law enforcement, familial relations, community structures, government, economics, religion and spirituality, the arts, and even crime. This bias towards adults, and the discrimination against youth which is consequential, disallows all young people of every age from fully realizing their own capacities, personalities, abilities and interconnectedness. This continues until the time when society stops disallowing them to do so. This means that any contributions that children and youth could make to a better world for all people; any economic contributions they could make; any education they could become truly passionate about; any subject which they could master; all of this and so much more is thwarted because of adultism. The youngest people in our society could make the greatest contributions, if only they weren’t continually denigrated by adults simply because of their age. Mozart was five when he composed his first minuet – not bad for a kid. Imagine what any of us could do without the shackles of adultism.

Question 3: What would you argue is the main factor that prevents pro-youth organisations, such as the UK Youth Parliament and perhaps US equivalents, from being more effective than they are?

I would suggest that adultism is the main factor that prevents youth-serving orgs from being more effective, and that adultism uses money as a lever to control the structures, attitudes and cultures of those organizations. There are strong financial incentives that exist in order to enforce adultism. These fiscal constraints are the most powerful force that ensures the sustained habituation and enculturation of adultism in all of its forms throughout our society, especially within youth-serving organizations. Whether these organizations are working in hyper-local settings on the familial, neighborhood and community levels, or in national or international forums, all of them are generally constrained by the authority and ability granted to them by money. The simple fact is that there are absolutely no funds anywhere that actively support the elimination of adultism, or any steps preceding that. Because of that, each of these organizations choose the routes they need to follow in order to most effectively meet their funders’ expectations.

For instance, the UK Youth Parliament chooses politics as its avenue to serve youth. In these politics they follow the pathways which grant them the most ability to affect change on behalf of their constituents. That means that if a bill is going to be fought effectively, it might require a little adultism here and a little adultism there, which is acceptable in order to fight that bill. Similarly, a well-meaning teacher in a public school might know in her heart that student voice should be infused throughout her classroom, with students making and enforcing rules, cowriting and critiquing curriculum, administering and evaluating assessments, and so-forth. However, she also knows her headmaster placed a book in her hands, gave her a URL for student testing, and she must do what she’s told to keep her job. A little adultism here and a little adultism there, and she has a job again next year.

Question 4 and 5: What’s the solution for schools? And what are solutions beyond the school remit?

Schools must stop existing simply to promote academic achievement, and instead adopt the understanding that their singular purpose is to engage students in learning, teaching and leadership throughout their own lives and their communities. Academics is one avenue to student engagement, but only one. There are dozens of ways to engage learners, and schools should be held to the highest account for engagement, simply because that does not happen anywhere else in society. That’s because student engagement is the sustained connection a student feels towards something, and schools should be responsible solely for fostering that feeling. Who is in charge of whether or not a student becomes engaged in something? The student, and the student alone. Who can help facilitate whether a student becomes engaged in learning, teaching and leadership throughout their own lives and their communities? Educators. Student engagement would be the ultimate goal for schools because nowhere else could do it quite the ways they do.

Beyond schools, there are countless avenues towards a more successful society for all people, regardless or because of age. Starting with full suffrage for all people regardless of their age, I believe it extends towards complete citizenship for all people with equitable roles, responsibilities and rights accorded to people because of their ages. Teaching, reinforcing and uplifting the notion of interdependence is vital, too, as it can help both young people and adults understand complex social understandings in a concrete, tangible way. In his last book published, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “When we get up in the morning, we go into the bathroom where we reach for a sponge provided for us by a Pacific Islander. We reach for soap created by a Frenchman. The towel is provided by a Turk. Before we leave for our jobs, we are beholden to more than half the world.” I believe that same sentiment must be translated on the age issue. I don’t think we have a case of youth versus adults here, Tom. Instead, this is an issue that’s endemic in Western culture and its tearing us apart. We can work past this, given the right mindsets and resources.

 

Again, this was just the start of a long conversation. Let me know what you think and whether you’d like to read more!

 

Change Takes Time

Heavenly-feeling1
Do you know how long we have to wait for this view over the Puget Sound?!?

Life isn’t about immediacy!

Sometimes I get anxious or excited, and I want my way to be the way. I get disappointed when I set myself up that way.

I’m learning not to be in the immediate gratification crowd that believes you can actualize your dreams almost the instant you form them. When I was younger and spent so much energy advocating for youth involvement, this is what I believed: If I trained enough people, changed enough policies and moved enough mountains, things would change for young people immediately.

That’s not true.

Honoring the process of change requires accepting the boundaries of time. Moving hearts and minds takes more than education, it takes time and acceptance. People and systems and communities rarely change immediately, on the turn of a dime. Instead, they have to take their time. That doesn’t mean we don’t incentivize or motivate or move what we can, when we can. It does mean accepting our role in the ways things work.

It seems to me that the universe takes it’s time. Sometimes it allows me to see the fruits of my life and other times it holds back the results until another, undetermined time further on down the road. Maybe I get to see the outcomes, maybe I don’t – mostly that’s not up to me to worry about.

Instead, I look to nature for evidence: Trees almost always have more leaves than they technically need, and that’s why they’re able to serve the planet by processing CO2. The ocean laps too many waves, and that’s why it’s capable of wearing away the weight of the land while pulling beaches and seaside cliffs into the depths. The sun burns too brightly, and that’s why life is so abundant on this world. It all works in abundance, and I get to trust my life will, too.

By the same token, all of those things take time and processes, and nothing works independently of anything else. I don’t know if sunflowers require patience while their seeds germinate over the wintertime. I don’t know if birds simply have to trust that they’ll know where they’re going when they get their after their long migrations. But I do know that I have to let go and let the universe do its thing, work in it’s time, again and again, over and over.

If I look to the world around me for fulfillment, I’ll always be disappointed, because the world around me doesn’t work on my cues! But when I take a look inside me and find contentment in who I am, how I am, with the way things are instead of how I want them to be, then my life gets easier.

The old turtle in Kung Fu Panda might’ve said it best: “Yesterday is history; tomorrow is a mystery; today is a gift – that’s why its called the present.” I get to learn to appreciate the gifts! That’s my work these days…

 

Critical Thinking Part 1

freedom1

A lot of people reduce critical thinking to simply telling people that what they’re doing is not enough or inadequate. That’s not what its about.

Instead, critical thinking engages people in identifying their assumptions, examining their beliefs, and supporting their personal development before, during, and after their actions.

Instead of right and wrong, critical thinking suggests we help shepherd individuals towards a grey space that is neither: Social change is about everyone benefiting. While that may murky the waters a lot of people wade through in order to volunteer, it doesn’t exclude anyone; rather, it builds their personal capacity to be successful.

Surely that can’t be wrong – can it?

Reflecting on Baltimore

geodesicdome1I have never been in a riot. I do love Baltimore though, and in all my travels I’ve become most attached to that city.

Growing up in a working class African American neighborhood in the Midwest, I constantly heard stories about the riots that destroyed my community in the 1960s and 1970s.

I didn’t believe it all, but saw what people talked about. A torched movie theater was the last one on our side of town, while more than a few churches moved to other parts of the city during and right after the riots.

A lot of the older guys around the block said they were involved. Clyde, who must’ve been 40 when I was 20 in 1995, said he threw Molotov cocktails at police cars. One of my mentors, Ernest, was a Black Panther when it was all going down. He taught me that politicized people are harder to control than economically-driven people, and that was in the late 1980s.

Long after I’d left the neighborhood, I studied my city to learn about the riots. A lesson came shining through: Riots happen a lot, and the majority are led by white people. But when white people riot, its quickly forgotten; when African Americans riot, its scraped in the psyche of the media, politicians, business owners and others.

Another lesson I discovered, at least in the city where I grew up, is that reinvestment in riot-scarred African American neighborhoods is hard to come by, even 20, 30 and 40 years later.

5 Reflections on Baltimore

The riots that happened in my city were strung along similar lines as what’s happening in Baltimore this week. Reflecting on what I know and have learned this week, here are my reflections on Baltimore:

  • Riots really are the language of the unheard. Repressed from decades of political, economic and social suffocation, entire communities are liable to make themselves heard no matter what. This is true for children at the age of 4, and entire communities that are more than a century old.
  • The mainstream media is grossly inadequate, irresponsible and out-of-step with the times. In whatever form they’re broadcasting, these organizations appear wholly incapable of responding to the genuine need for their existence. More than 10,000 people peacefully marched before and after the funeral, and yet the media didn’t report that; it reported the violence that erupted, led by 500 people. Inadequate at best.
  • Youth know what’s up. At the heart of both the peaceful protests and the violent rioting are youth of many ages and from different backgrounds. However, youth also reported on the situation like nobody else. Young people still know what’s up, and adults still need to learn to engage them in changing the world – the right way.
  • Racism is expressed through classism. There is so much evidence of government racism in these riots, which in turn is obviously protecting the socio-economic stratification in place from years of commercialism throughout these communities.
  • Put up or shut up. So many white people, myself included, have something they feel like they must say about these riots. We need to learn to shut up, unless we’re actually ready to put our skin in the game. When we’re ready to take action and do something to make a difference, we can voice up; until then, we need to shut up.

All this is to say that riots can teach all of us something, no matter what our distance or proximity to them is. Its our obligation to think critically, act consciously and move forward deliberately.

That is what riots demand.

Transformative Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement

Continuing to Learn from Meaningful Student Involvement

Transformative Spheres of Meaningful Student Involvement
Want to learn more about this? Send me an email for an exclusive article! adam@soundout.org

Since 2002, working through SoundOut, I have worked with more than 10,000 K-12 students and educators in schools across the United States and Canada.

Over the last year, I have been a bit consumed by writing the Meaningful Student Involvement Handbook. Its my complete compendium of what I have learned about engaging students as partners throughout the education system.

In my reflections, I have found four themes constantly emerge from my projects. These are lessons for me that I will continue to teach people into the future.

  • Unacknowledged capability: Students of all ages, identities, achievement levels, and social backgrounds are fully capable of becoming partners throughout education, but are rarely engaged in equitable partnerships that allow them to take action.
  • Untapped wisdom: Students have a lot to say about the schools they are attending and the education they’re receiving, but rarely feel like adults want to hear what they say.
  • Undelivered invitations: Students are almost never invited to participate in school governance, educational research, learning evaluations or substantive decision-making about classroom instruction, school improvement or educational leadership.
  • Unmet human resources: Adults are craving more human resources throughout schools, but rarely consider students as potential partners who could lighten the load and secure success.

I have tried hard to document dozens of cases of Meaningful Student Involvement and describe how handfuls of students are engaged in planning, researching, teaching, evaluating, making decisions, and advocating for their own learning, as well as throughout the education system as a whole. In each case, these lessons shine through. They also shown through my own projects in dozens of states and a few countries. Its a consistent pattern, yet fraught with hope.

As I assess my big ole picture of student/adult partnerships, I am left wondering about how important Meaningful Student Involvement will become to the education system. We cannot be satisfied with tokenizing students, or simplistic attempts to listen to student voice. Instead, we want to transform all of learning, teaching and leadership.

Onward we go!

We should get uncomfortable by sticking our necks out.

Get Uncomfortable

We should get uncomfortable by sticking our necks out.Are you preaching to the choir or sticking out your neck?

If we’re really going to ensure that more young people have more opportunities to change the world and their own lives, we have to reach further. We have to touch the hearts and minds of children, youth and the adults who are with them every single day in as many ways as we can. That means teaching, engaging, learning and engaging with them as much as we can in as many places as we can.

In all the time I’ve been working with schools and nonprofits to engage people more effectively, I have had entire years where I felt professionally endangered, including some times when I felt personally at-risk.

I’ve frequently worked with groups of adults who initially behaved in hostile ways towards me. Other times I’ve worked with young people who adults said I could never reach. However, given the opportunity to reach them I try again and again. Sometimes I fail, and other times I succeed.

I think we should ALL operate this way, as often as we can, especially if we’re not comfortable with it.

Are you not sure if you’re uncomfortable? Then you aren’t.

5 Ways to Get Uncomfortable

Are you not sure how to become uncomfortable? You can try these five ways to get uncomfortable:

  1. Raise uncomfortable questions in meetings with your colleagues.
  2. Challenge other people to stop saying things that discriminate against other people – including children, people of color, low income people, youth, people who identify as BGLTQQ, and others.
  3. Spend your money in places you know you should, but you don’t.
  4. Push your friends to become more accepting of differences. Make new friends with people who are different from you.
  5. Open your mind to the farthest possible extremes of your thinking, and walk in that direction.

 

In order to reach these unknown spaces, we have to commit ourselves to doing things that can’t be done. We have to learn things we don’t know. And we have to try, intentionally and with determination, to make a difference wherever they can. “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

Do what you can.

Do what you can with what you’ve got.

Do what you can with what you’ve got where you are.

I know the people who are truly committed to changing the world because they are truly reaching beyond where they know they’ll succeed every single day. They’re doing things they’re uncomfortable with and passing by the mundane, predictable results they can anticipate.

We should get uncomfortable by sticking our necks out.