The Evolution of Society

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Children and youth have been treated as apolitical and passive throughout time.

They are viewed as immature, irrational, untamed, incapable, dependent, inexperienced, victims, compliant, under-developed, unacceptable, manipulable, unknowledgeable, compromised, uncultured, and unfinished for what seems like eons.

Treated as less-than-human, non-members of society, and as adults-in-the-making, children and youth have experienced generations of indifference and neglect simply because they were not perceived as adults.

This view of children and youth is not science; it is bias. It is bias towards adults, which is the definition of adultism.

Over the last 40 years, young people have boldly challenged this view. In the last 10, they have more loudly challenged it through activism and technology than ever before. THAT scares adults for many reasons, primary among which is that the historical order of society is continuing upheaval. That upheaval is quickening though, and as ethically responsive adult allies, it is our obligation to advocate and guide this change in every part of society.

Adultism has become more oppressive as a response to this evolution. More than ever before, the systems, cultures, and attitudes that treat children and youth without regard for their full humanity are becoming obvious. Parenting, friendships, schooling, social services, community groups, governments, faith communities, legal systems, economic systems, health care, nurseries, and playgrounds are among the institutions throughout our society that are being revealed for their biases towards adults.

At the core of the discrimination young people face are the historical roots of adultism:

  • Paternalism. Paternalism is when a child or youth is controlled with the claim that they’ll be better off or protected from harm. It’s ugly enforcer is patriarchy, which is protectionism on a grand level.
  • Segregation. Setting young people apart from other people because of their age is segregation. It’s ugly cousins include alienation, which happens when children or youth are segregated from a group or an activity they should be involved in; demonization, which happens when young people are portrayed as evil, deviant, or malicious; and criminalization, which makes children and youth illegal because of their age, like age-based curfews do.
  • Adultcentrism. The belief that adults are superior to young people is adultcentrism. It’s obvious outcome is adultocracy, which is the system of structural and cultural controls adults use to impose their authority, domination and supremacy over children and youth. The linear outcomes of adultcentrism and adultocracy are their ugly children, gerontocentrism and gerontocracy, which are focused on seniors.
  • Fear. The fear of children, which is pediaphobia, allows adults to segregate them; the fear of youth, which is ephebiphobia, gives adults permission to demonize and criminalize them. These responses to so-called deviance are dove-tailed with infantalism, which is the ascribing of behaviors that are perceived to be “child-ish” to children, youth, and adults.

All of this allows adults to maintain their power over young people in the most dramatic and simplistic ways. Without any voice in the matter, young people are routinely treated apathetically, pitifully, sympathetically, and charitably. This is despite the fact that all adults have been young. Our social programming disallows adults from remembering our younger years, which would lead us to empathizing with children and youth.

What may be needed is that farthest point on the spectrum of perceptions of young people, which is solidarity. More on that later.

I want to end this post by acknowledging that a massive evolution of young people is underway right now. Technology of all kinds is facilitating it, starting with the electronic transfer of communication, knowledge, ideas, and preparation for action. It is underway thanks to academia, where sociology and education have been on transformative bents for years in order to acknowledge authentic realities of young people, rather than their historically subjective judgments. It is underway in social settings too, including homes and neighborhoods and faith communities.

There’s an exciting future ahead, past these dark days. That’s because the evolution of childhood and youth is underway right now, and that’s because of you, right now. That’s why you just read this blog.

Why Adultism Must Stop

Just over 200 years ago, sociology was born. As a science, it hadn’t existed before that in any substantive way. Within 50 years, sociologists had imposed their scientific conceptualization onto education, which emerged as a field in the late 19th century. Pedagogy, which is the science of education, didn’t exist until then.
Both sociology and pedagogy are the driving forces of how our society “sees” children and youth today. Both were developed by adults for the purpose of perpetuating society. They inherently believe that in order for society to continue, young people had to be controlled. That means that society is based on adultism.
Adultism, which is bias towards adults, discriminates against children and youth. It insists that the ways adults “see” the world, including their ideas, experiences, actions, interactions, and judgments, are the only or most valid and valuable perspectives. In other words, only adults matter.
Adultism has structured families, communities, cultures, and societies for time immemorial. It isn’t a recent phenomenon. The usage of social institutions to perpetuate adultism isn’t new, either: Churches were long used to control the behavior of young people; which in turn allowed Church fathers to control the behavior of adults through patriarchy and paternalism. Adultism made their jobs easier.
Adultism makes the jobs of adults today easier, too. 
Without having to think about it, teachers, youth workers, and even parents can control young people. They dispose of wisdom, extol the virtues of manners, and enforce their conceptions of the world onto young people through education and punishment, legislation and rules. 
The question becomes whether, in a technologically and evolutionary progressive world, adultism is still an effective mechanism for perpetuating society. Particularly in these times when society itself is in flux, proving to be a malleable and subjective tool for social organization, we must question whether it’s wise to continue to rely on adultism as a tool for social organizing, if only because young people have proved to be:
  1. Dynamic actors rather than static audience (They DO things instead of just watch them);
  2. Socially responsive instead of culturally deviant (They’re making a better world instead of a worse one);
  3. Highly effective creators instead of ineffectually passive consumers (Preaching doesn’t working- making does.)
These realities provide an opportunity for adults to reconsider the ways we see and interact with young people. More importantly though, they challenge us to reconceptualize society’s conceptions. Are we going to continue being driven by outdated modalities, or rise to the occasion we are faced with? Another way to say that is, Are we going to let old rich white guys who’ve been dead for a century or more control us today?
We need new realities starting today, and adultism must stop now. 
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Every Young Person Engaged

“We can engage every young person in every community around the world. Don’t ever doubt that.”

Recently, after a keynote speech in which I shared the above, an obviously upset person came up to me wagging their finger while I was talking with attendees in the hallway.

“You don’t actually believe everything you say, do you?”
“Well, sure I do!”
“That cockamamie you said about engaging every youth is bullarcky, and I simply don’t think it is true, and I can’t believe that an intelligent man like you would believe that, either.”
“I do believe it. I live it. When I was a young person I there were adults in my life who simply give up on me. I won’t do that to any young person, ever.”
“Well, there are just some kids out there you can’t reach. None of us can.”
“Sure there are, kids you can’t reach. But that doesn’t mean another adult can’t.”
“Huh.”

And with that, they stormed off.

It is a fragile line I walk at times. I speak of the very best positive, powerful potential of children and youth, and I mean every single thing I say. No part of me doubts that every young person has the potential to become engaged throughout their community. No part of me gives up on any youth, no matter how privileged or under-resourced they may be. And no part of me thinks I’m going out on a limb, either.

We live in a society where adults have assume managerial control for every aspect of a young person’s well-being through a certain age. That managerial control extends from home to school to after school to weekends to summer, and so on. However, that same society seems to accept, en masse, that there are some young people that it simply cannot expect to become sustainably connected in society past a certain point, throughout a particular community, or by deliberation or intention. Its as if its okay to just give up on some children and youth.

That is not right.

As a society we need to make a wholesale commitment to every young person in every community around the world that we, as adults, will ensure that they are engaged throughout their lives. This must start in the places where children and youth live, extend to the places they learn, and travel with them throughout the places they place, socialize, entertain, buy things, govern, and on and on. Every single part of our society needs to create fresh, distinctive, dynamic opportunities for every single young person to become engaged – not someday, but right now.

Surely we will make mistakes. Surely there will be grave injustices and disappointments. Adults will continue to be adultist, and young people will feel dismissed, oppressed, and disengaged at times. But we must try, regardless, every single one of us. 


Right now, if you are a parent, go engage with your child.
If you are a teacher, reach out meaningfully to your students.
If you are a youth worker, connect with your young people.
Social workers, ministers, mental health counselors, elected officials, cops, government administrators, poets and artists, professors, tradesmen and tradeswomen, community leaders, neighborhood organizers, nonprofit staff, business owners, foundation staff, camp counselors… All of us, in every single community, can take these steps right now.

We need every young person engaged, right now. What are you going to do today?

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

The Developmental Reasons for Adultism

Childhood became predictable through adultism…

Over the last few years I have spoke and trained extensively about adultism, which is bias towards adults, and subsequently, discrimination against young people. Here I explain the roots of adultism, and how they relate to changing the world.

Note: All of this is based in broad generalizations, and those are inherently discriminatory. All models are flawed. My bad.

 

Adult Bias

Adults are pretty biased. Developmentally speaking, as we get older we like an increasing amount of predictability and sameness. As we age, the human brain generally loses capacity for retention. This causes us to rely on predicable patterns of familiarity and a deepened sense of similarity. In other words, adults want things to stay the same. This happens unconsciously at first, with it becoming an emerging concern on the part of adults as we grow older.

Predictability matters to adults, so we codify predictability. Our laws and rules and policies and regulations enforce commonality, consistency, and conformity. This is neither inherently good or bad; it just is what it is. For time immemorial, adults have used religions, governments, occupations, and schools to ensure that young people succeeded them accordingly. That is how societies and technologies have spread through the ages, and more than one sage has declared that the treatment of youth shows the priorities of a society, and can predict its downfall.

Predictability, sameness, familiarity, and commonality are some of the developmental reasons for adultism.

 

Actual Experience

Juxtaposed against this developmentally is the experience of youth. As teenagers, young people strive to do several things in the course of growing: Youth push against the rigidity of their childhood in an effort to explore the larger world beyond their homes and neighborhoods. They react against social conformity as they test the boundaries of behavior, language, appearance, and more.

Generally, that is the developmental pattern of all youth. It is enforced through broad cultural promotion, acceptance, and retention. This means adults think that’s the way it should be, we encourage it, and we make sure it exists for succeeding generations. It is not generally codified and formalized, insomuch as unspoken cultural norms ensure that young people have the room they need to become who they are.

Couple this with the reality that young peoples’ experiences of time is elastic. Learning to appreciate both the past and the present more, the future appears limitless in its ability and potential, and with that in mind anything is possible. They do not generally see the future in the long arc of adults, and this enables them to focus directly on immediate outcomes. They also do not feel the burden of the past so heavily, either. The inheritances of the ages are generally lost on young people as they experience what simply already exists, rather than understand where it came from.

 

Familiarity Rules

Adultism happens because adults are compelled towards familiarity. Youth are the known unknown, and adultism ensures they stay that way.

If we are to successfully challenge the prevalence of adultism throughout society, we have to become fully aware and focused on the developmental reasons behind it. That prevalence is negating the effectiveness of our family structures, youth work, education systems, social services, and more. Let’s do something about it, right now.

 

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Engaging Children In Activism


A lifetime of teaching children, youth, and adults about social change has taught me that all young people have innate and unique voices that want to be expressed in action. My experience as a parent and adult ally has shown me that children can be a valuable activists. Young people and adults have taught me that involving younger and older children is a great way to create an ethic of action that can last a lifetime.

Here are a few tips to tap into children’s energy, enthusiasm, ability to think outside the box and create new ideas.

Don’t tokenize children.
Children should not be decorations or tokens in your activist campaign. Rather than simply making them walk in front of your march, engage children in sharing their ideas, creating dynamic promotional materials, teaching adults about the issue, and engaging adults.


Foster child/adult partnerships.
Interdependence of children and adults is a key to successful social change. Engage children and adults in meaningful action that is designed to foster positive relationships between them. Encourage intergenerational mentoring by introducing this concept to children and adults and create safe spaces for mutual teaching, critical thinking, and support.

Focus on historically disengaged children.
Children of color, low-income children, students with low grades, foster children, homeless children, children with disabilities, children of parents in the justice system, and other disconnected children are historically disengaged from activism opportunities in their communities. Focus on engaging these children in your activism campaigns to create vibrant, vigorous social change.

Challenge Adultism.
When adults’ views are favored over those of children, it is adultism. While this is appropriate in a variety of circumstances, it’s important to acknowledge that children have important ideas and knowledge, and can take action to affect their own lives, as well as the lives of those around them. Challenge adultism by engaging children in your activism, teaching them about adultism, and by training adults to accept children as partners.

Create Opportunities for Children to be Involved in Planning and Leadership.
Genuine leadership activities can include project planning, team facilitation, teaching others, and meaningful evaluation. Allowing children to take on genuine leadership activities helps them to develop lifelong skills and creates goodwill towards your community. Also, engage children and adults in meaningful and fun activities designed to foster positive relationships between them.

Accept Children for Who They Are and Meet Them Where They Are.
To foster positive relationships between children and adults, avoid dismissing technology, insulting children’s culture, or criticizing what children know. Instead, challenge adults to accept children as partners. Engage children in the communities where they live, learn, and work every day. Involve organizations that children participate in and, where possible, connect their activism to learning. Help children identify resources that exist in their own communities and build social capital among neighbors by showing the positive force children can be in their own communities and throughout their lives.

Acknowledge Disparities.
All communities are not equal, and it is important to acknowledge that with children. For children, serving in neighborhoods where they do not live can help build understanding. Especially for historically disconnected children, serving where they do not live can help them recognize how they can become key to creating healthier, safer communities.

Sustain Children’s Engagement.
Don’t limit outreach to children to one day a year. Instead, use community activism as a launching point for children’s engagement by involving them in activities throughout your community all year long. Children can provide vital energy, creative thinking and critical reflection in a variety of ways that can benefit your activist campaign or entire community! Always ask, “What’s Next?”

Make Action Meaningful Through Reflection.
Children can become easily disenchanted without meaningful opportunities to reflect on their involvement. Challenge children to make meaning from their activism and encourage them to think critically about their involvement.

Build Knowledge Among Children.
Don’t expect children to be fully knowledgeable about your issue or the purpose of activism. Instead, ask them to share what they know and teach each other as well as the adults who are participating.

These are some basic steps to take when engaging children in activism. What would you add?

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

Privatizing Afterschool, and Privatizing Society

I just read about a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives, H.R. 3498, that will expedite the process of privatizing afterschool activities across the country. This greatly concerns me as a career-long youth worker, as an advocate for nonprofit social services, and as a lowercase “d” democrat.

Let me begin by suggesting that in addition to being aware of wholesale efforts to privatize public education, every single privatized area of public education needs to be strategically cataloged and made apparent to the Public. They range from curriculum to assessment to professional development to food services, now tutoring and teachers, and so many other areas. The process that got us to this point started in the 1950s, caught steam almost three decades ago, and is well underway.

This process was not the gateway into our possible future as a privatized society; it’s just the biggest door to indoctrinate young people. The original doors were utilities, the military, hospitals, prisons, and transportation. Once all regarded as public essential bastions of democratic living, now almost all these institutions are privatized across the United States.

Social services are one of the last great pillars holding up the roof of the so-called “public good”. Once a public service, most mental health services are privatized today. Social welfare management is increasingly private, as are services for developmentally differently-abled people. Libraries, public health, social security, and so much more sits squarely in the sights of private corporations and people committed to profiteering off a unconcerned and disengaged Public. Schools are high on their lists, and afterschool programs are next.

Young people are obviously the best objects for privateers to target, both because of their susceptibility, and because of the long-term impact of “teaching them right”. Since the decimation of public schooling is well underway, the battlefield for the next wave is afterschool programming. I am watching this unfold right now as standards for afterschool programming are emerging across the U.S. and internationally. As public schools proved, the process of standardization lends itself to professionalization, which in turn morphs quickly into privatization.

Unfortunately, The Radical Left has been largely useless in fighting the privatization movement. As demonstrated by what is happening in public schools, their voices have been co-opted by The Right to fight against the institution of public schooling, rather than the process of privatization. Even the non-radical Left has historically reduced school privatization to anti-unionism, which is a myopic perspective at best. By taking these stances, The Left is actually contributing to the further decimation of the democratic infrastructure that built the American middle class and provided a utopian ideal to motivate social mobility, particularly among the poor.

All of this critique examines the heinous nature of neoliberalism, which describes the process of privatizing all public services, including education, social security, water, prisons, public transportation, and welfare services. Neoliberals believe that when the government, acting on behalf of The People who vote for them through democratic process, is a bad manager of these services. They think all these institutions need fixed, and the only way to fix them is in through privatization. History has shown us there are very few benefits for The Public in privatization, while large corporations controlled by small groups of people make great deals of profit. I first learned about neoliberalism and its effects on young people from my mentor Henry Giroux, and I have continued to examine the ill effects of neoliberalism throughout society through the writing of many other writers, including Noam Chomsky and Amartya Sen.

From all of this I arrive at the belief that we need a new conversation in our society that goes beyond revolution for the sake of revolution and “anarchism as hope”, because both of these fail. We have to make plain the mythologies of history. Let’s examine our social capital and the social contract. Take our afterschool programs, along with our schools systems, social services, community development activities, democracy building movements, and let’s critically explore their intentions, outcomes, and assumptions. Let’s peel this onion throughout our society in order to make meaning of the chaotic disembowelment democracy is experiencing today. However, let’s not abandon the positive powerful future we could all share together.

Who is to write that future? I have an idea that I’ve written about before – let’s start with young people.

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