Tall Pedestals for Old People

There’s a tricky space for adults as we grow up in our community work.

Spending all these years working with children and youth, I’m treated with more respect than ever before. Young people quiet when I speak, and older people lean in to listen. My peers recognize the experience I have and the knowledge I’ve accumulated, and my friends turn to me for advice. I’m a truly blessed man.

Getting my first job in this field of human engagement at the age of 14, I practically grew up in my career. I learned and grew along so many different pathways with so many different teachers and mentors who I will always stand indebted to. They were kind and harsh in equal measure, often working to make sure I didn’t grow up egotistical, other times letting me fall flat on my face when necessary. Always attentive, each in their own way. In the same way, my young people have taught me too. They’ve listened at times, learned other times, and let go occasionally.

This is how I’ve come to stare at this tall pedestal. Its about a million feet sometimes, and stands next to others’ tall pedestals. That’s the myth older people like me tell ourselves, anyway. We believe that since we’ve had all this experience and learned all this stuff we’re due some kind of innate respect and access that others aren’t.

However, I have learned that time owes us nothing, and none of us are due anything because of our age. Respect must be earned by subsequent generations and for all sorts of reasons. Age is an arbitrary distinguishing marker relied on by the lazy and privileged. The privilege of growing old doesn’t automatically anyone anything beyond wrinkles and Social Security, and even the latter is in question these days.

This doesn’t mean that young people should not be taught to value their elders, or that respect should only be afforded to those who demonstrate their worthiness. Instead, it means that the people who are in power right now- middle age adults- should set about teaching young people and each other that they can form substantive relationships between generations in order to foster meaningful interactions, which in turn allows older people opportunities to earn younger peoples’ respect. In turn, this allows elders to respect young people.

I read recently that youth and old age are the two mystical bookends of a lifetime. One end is occupied by visions and action, while the other is filled with reflections and ease. I believe that. But let’s acknowledge that tall pedestals for old people get nobody anywhere fast. Instead, let’s create a level playing field we can all benefit from.

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360)489-9680.

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

Addendum: Not Post-Youth

I want to add something to my earlier post on “So-Called Youth Issues“: we’re not in an era of some type of “post-youth” analysis. While I want young people to focus on issues that are beyond their demographic, I do not want adults to think that for one minute we should respond in kind by ending our work with young people. Instead, I think that this awareness of young people working outside issues that affect them directly calls us to respond by increasing advocacy with child and youth activists. We must call for more youth involvement, deeper youth engagement and more sustainable youth action. There must be more opportunities for youth activism, more projects for youth researchers, more classes for youth to teach, and lobbying for programs that focus on children and youth – its just that this advocacy shouldn’t be stopped or relegated to youth alone.

These are times when adult allyship is more important than ever before. Ours is an increasingly adultcetric society that is completely comfortable with youth segregation; by identifying that, examining it, educating it and challenging it we can end the stigma that surrounds young people. We aren’t post-youth – we’re actually pre-integration. Let’s call it what it is and work accordingly.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Recruiting Youth

I consistently get questions at workshops about recruiting young people. It can feel so hard to well-meaning adults to bring children and youth on board in the projects, organizations and communities where we so desperately want and need them to be involved. Today I drafted a tip sheet on recruitment for the Cloud Institute for Sustainability, and I want to share some thoughts I’ve had about recruiting youth for youth programs.

Lesson One: Market Your Brand.

I have learned that recruitment shouldn’t just be seen as a once-yearly activity shared in a little flyer and then forgot about. When its done best youth recruitment is seen as an ongoing process, just like advertisers do it: rather than simply launching Coke as a summer drink, its a year-around refreshment.

  • Raise Expectations. Instead of telling us about Cloverfield the month before it came out, movie watchers were bombarded with ads a year before it came out. By building a constant presence and a regular energy these products enforce their brands in the lives of youth. Youth programs should be branded in that same way by establishing a constant presence in the lives of young people.
  • Name A Value. In the same way that Sprite markets excitement and urbanity, youth organizations should market values, too: positive experiences, powerful ethics and pragmatic outcomes should be at the core of the message. Only then will we not have to market to youth based on benefit; instead the programs designed to serve them will be as ubiquitous as Coke, and something that all young people expect in their lives.

Lesson Two: Keep Youth On Board.

First off, let me say that YOUTH ARE NOT YOUR CUSTOMERS. They are not buying anything, and no, they are not consuming your programs. Consumption implies that they have no role in the development, production or re-invention of whatever you’re marketing. Young people must have a greater role than that.

  • Create Opportunities. The way to keep youth involved is by treating them as equal members in your activity, program or organization. Create opportunities for them to lead and grow through your activities. Engage young people in program research and planning, administrative leadership, facilitating and training other young people, evaluating activities and organizational governance.
  • Get Past Stereotypes. Make open communication and intergenerational transparency the norm in all of your activities. Young people can feel the investment your organization is making in them when they receive quality training and support throughout your activities, and when they have meaningful opportunities for reflection and evaluation. Only then will they want to stay involved, and for a few different reasons, the primary among them being the feeling of being involved. Experiencing power feels like everything else; sharing it feels like nothing else, because there are so few places in our society where that actually happens. Make it so.

Lesson Three: Engage Youth as Recruiters.

Maybe the most important method anyone can employ to recruit young people is to actually engage children and youth as recruiters.

  • Acknowledge Their Ability. My experience has consistently shown me that young people are more consistently more effective at recruiting other young people than adults are. Its seems so logical, because young people know how to relate to their peers and how share the issues with them in ways we don’t. They also know where and when to reach them. Make sure youth recruiters have all the information about your program you can give them, including information about sustainability, your program or organization, and the expectations and outcomes of activity.
  • Increase Their Knowledge. Every recruiter should be able to tell young people why they should get involved, who else is going to participate, whether there is going to be food, and how many people will be coming. Practice recruiting before doing it. That includes going over the approach, the message and the wrap-up.

There are a lot of other important considerations, too, and this is just a start. Let me know what you think are some other things to think about!

My Learning Community Grows

These last few weeks my blog posts have been on the road, as I’ve traveled almost 5000 miles to and from the Northeast on two different trips. During these two trips, both at the insistence of my friend and colleague Giselle Martin-Kniep. I met Giselle last year during a project we were both working on with the New York State Student Support Services Office.

Earlier this year she invited me to become a fellow with the Center for the Study of Expertise in Teaching and Learning, recently renamed Communities for Learning. A few weeks ago I joined the C4L crew, along with about 40 other fellows, in the woods of rural Connecticut to explore the power of working in a cross-field learning community among education-related folks. I learned a lot, mixing and mashing ideas with K-12 teachers, principals, school coaches, higher ed faculty and others who simply “get it” on a lot of levels. I also presented the meaningful student involvement frameworks to folks, and was able to learn from the experiences of a wide range of educators from across New York State. Very cool. (Note: I’m the first out-of-state fellow in C4L; everyone else is from New York.) I spent more uninterrupted time concentrating on my work than I had in a long time, and for the most part unconstrained by the stuff that shares my daily attention. It was awesome.

If that weren’t enough, the next week I was able to spend three days outside of Boston with Peter Senge, one of the “Top Strategists of the Century”. With Giselle’s prompting, I was invited by Jaimie Cloud of the Cloud Institute to attend the Society for Organizational Learning‘s Core Course, facilitated by Senge to launching a “National Learning Community of Schools and Communities that Learn for a Sustainable Future”. While that seems pretty high-minded, it actually was. Senge strikes me as someone who spends a lot of time thinking and creating high-minded solutions to issues that strike much of society. Check out his book called The Fifth Discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization to find out more about his theories and work.

I’m continually amazed by the range and possibilities of this work around meaningfulness in schools, and I’m concerned that it apparently hasn’t struck folks more powerfully before now. Giselle, Peter and Jaimie all show me that the doors are wider than I’ve imagined, and I am hopeful for a powerful future for this work.

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My Review of “Eliminating Corporal Punishment”

Eliminating Corporal Punishment: The Way Forward To Constructive Child Discipline was edited by Joan Durrant. This is my review for The Freechild Project website.

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 period; hold an uncomfortable position; stand motionless; kneel on rice, corn, floor grates, pencils or stones; retain body wastes; perform strenuous exersize; or ingest soap, hot sauce, or lemon juice… THIS IS CORPOREAL PUNISHMENT. Anytime a young person is subjected to this treatment they are being abused. These forms of abuse are the cruelest, most unjust, and most ineffective treatment young people can receive.
I can hear Alex’s voice right now: “That’s sentimental crap! Those people just want to babysit kids without giving them a chance to run their own lives!” Alex is the head of a large national organization that proponents the rights of young people to, well, run their own lives. His is a noble cause that I fully support, and that I agree with most of the time – except now.

Earlier this year the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, released the seminal publication available for anyone interested in securing the most basic right of any person today: that is, the right to live in peace. While it sounds simplistic and naive, violence is a daily reality for almost every young person in the world today. There is physical violence, like war, family abuse, bullying, and gang violence. There is mental abuse, like parental abuse, teacher abuse, or verbal put-downs. But there is also the abuse of being neglected everyday by the institutions that purportedly are designed to empower children and youth, such as schools, hospitals, and governments. There is violence hurdled through popular media, like television shows, songs on the radio, and video games. And there is the violence that surrounds young people everyday, 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 paper…

These abuses add up. As the book notes, “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.” There is 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.

That is why this book is so important. For the first time my Americanized eyes are beginning to fully comprehend the global imperative any ethical person faces when dealing with the situation of young people today. That is, we must stand with young people to change the situations that they face, and that our world faces. While I’ve always believed that, I’ve never been fully able to describe why – until now. Now I’m beginning to understand the larger picture.

By situating its premise in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the CRC, Eliminating Corporal Punishment serves as a powerful international wake-up call, shattering any formerly sentimentalist or naive perceptions about the need to fight with young people for their rights. The 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 world- minus the US and Somalia- and even they have signaled their intent to sign on. There is no other convention, consensus, or constitution in the world that is more widely accepted.

So the majority of global society aggress that corporal punishment is a significant premise social change. I believe that corporal punishment is the root of all discrimination in society. Sure, its premised on the hatred of young people, on adultism, on the self- and cultural repression of childhood… and its exacerbated by dozens of other factors, including socio-economic class, gender, race, ethnicity, and more… but I wouldn’t have been able to confirm that for you without this book. Today I understand that corporal punishment is at the heart of all this, and more.

What this book essentially does is provides an astoundingly comprehensive, yet relatively simple summary and analysis of corporal punishment, its background, and the effects and outcomes on our society. Then it carefully proposes culturally-relevant, socially-progressive responses to developing holistic, caring, and supportive responses to discipline that all adults – parents, teachers, youth workers, and others – can stand to learn from. A variety of illustrative anecdotes and a massive research scan all confirm that this is the most powerful, positive change that can possibly affect young people in around the world today.

There is so much I can say about this book. My own copy is almost completely marked-up on many pages, and I have dog-eared dozens of pages to reference and return to in the future. I would strongly suggest this book to anyone who wants an introduction to corporal punishment; to anyone interested in understanding the larger societal influences, impacts, outcomes, and forces at work behind corporal punishment; to anyone who wants to discover the international affects of corporal punishment; and to anyone who wants to understand the relationships between corporal punishment and adultism, ageism, and discrimination of all sorts. In short, I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares. I would even recommend it to Alex.


Order Eliminating Corporal Punishment: The Way Forward To Constructive Child Discipline at http://amzn.to/UfX9E9