The Bones Of Justice / The Capacity Of Youth

The tides of discrimination wash back and forth over the bones of justice. Whitewashing reality happens every day, as people conveniently forget what they do not want to remember, and coincidentally recall the most minute details at the perfect moment in time. Keeping these things in mind helps recall how some become the oppressors, and how others reinforce their power.

When considering the roles of young people of all ages throughout society it is easy to deny the truth. This morning I was speaking at a local summit called “Voices of Youth” in which a group of young people from local high schools were gathered to discuss young peoples’ health and well-being. I was quickly reminded that adults, despite having the best intentions, often have it in for youth.

Rather than turning the floor over to young people to identify, develop, lead, and reflect on substantive social change we oftentimes regale them with our knowledge, hammer them over the heads with our capabilities, and expect young people to be passive recipients of whatever we’re giving them. I AM GUILTY of doing this. As a public speaker I feel a twang of irresponsibility when I approach an opportunity in this “sit n’ git” fashion. It pains me some days. But I do it anyway.

Where do adults establish their supremacy? 

Recently I talked with a group of adults- parents and organizational leaders and others- who boiled it down to the statement that “Adults have intellectual and moral capacity that youth do not, and that enables us to make decisions for them that they should not make for themselves.”

However, “intellectual capacity” and “moral capacity” are both subjective perspectives that are determined a variety of factors. Reflecting on my own professional experience, I find that adults generally attribute all variable components of a young person- of any age- to their so-called “developmental ability”, which in itself is a subjective variable dependent on concrete influences. Allowing for all those variables to reasonably influence policy and programs affecting children and youth would encourage much more efficacy in how we educate, socialize, and otherwise engender the experience of being young throughout our society. 

Today I’m curious whether there are boundaries to the intellectual and moral capacity of young people. What do YOU think?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Youth Are Leading Social Evolution

Hey, remember when it seemed like that loud, unruly kid was a punk? Remember when that quiet girl doing art in the back of the room was weird? Remember when the kids who were leaders were predictable and understandable? What a cool world that we live in that none of that is true anymore!

Over the last 100 years our society has been busy birthing new realities, thrusting itself forward into an unfamiliar, unknowable future. Women’s suffrage and civil rights were the cusp of these changes, as our family structures, social relationships, and cultural growth has reflected an even broader transformation. Young people, who at first were merely keeping pace with those changes, went from being the canaries in the coalmine to being the leaders at the front, taking charge, making movements, and driving social change as never before. Today, young people are the bellweather of the brave new future we continue to move towards.

Look around you! See those kids fixing their own problems on the playground? That’s evolution! See the teens in the alleyway finishing that tremendous graffiti mural? That’s evolution! See those tents and that meeting in the park where the Occupy movement is keeping hold? That’s evolution! Who is at the head of all this? Young people.

I challenge you to see today’s reality: The Evolution Is Underway. Can you see it? Can you feel it? The economy, politics, education… Young people are stepping in front of these speeding trains that are bulleting their ways through our society, and they’re doing what appears to be “crazy stuff”. But that crazy stuff, unfamiliar and scary as it may seem, is bringing us towards a positive, powerful future for all people everywhere all the time.

The Freechild Project has been steadily moving towards demonstrating this evolution for more than 10 years, and during that time we’ve made some tremendous strides. Step with us into the future to see where we’re all going – together!

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Quotes About Common Action

The following quotes are about common action, working together, and the web of life to which we all belong. They help drive my work every single day.

‎”It really boils down to this: that all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied into a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. We are made to live together because of the interrelated structure of reality… This is the way our universe is structured, this is its interrelated quality. We aren’t going to have peace on Earth until we recognize this basic fact of the interrelated structure of all reality.”

― Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“If you have come to help me, you are wasting your time. If you have come to because your liberation is bound up in mine, we can work together.”

― Lilla Watson

“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it’s humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

― Eduardo Galeano

“Washing ones hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral.”

― Paulo Freire

‎”I do not believe that I’m sacrificing. In fact, I feel very uneasy when others used the word sacrifice to describe my life. It sounds like I’m demanding returns for my investments. I chose to walk on this journey, because I solely believed in it and wholeheartedly decided to do so, and I’m willing and able to pay for the consequences…”

― Aung San Suu Kyi 

“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as a manor of thy friends or of thine own were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind. And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” 

― John Donne

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”

 Herman Melville 

In the progress of personality, first comes a declaration of independence, then a recognition of interdependence.

― Henry Van Dyke 

Interdependence is and ought to be as much the ideal of man as self-sufficiency. Man is a social being.

― Mohandas Gandhi 

The least movement is of importance to all nature. The entire ocean is affected by a pebble.

― Blaise Pascal 

All life is interrelated. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.

― Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. 

“I want there to be a place in the world where people can engage in one another’s differences in a way that is redemptive, full of hope and possibility. Not this “In order to love you, I must make you something else”. That’s what domination is all about, that in order to be close to you, I must possess you, remake and recast you.” 

― bell hooks 

 “Stories are webs, interconnected strand to strand, and you follow each story to the center, because the center is the end. Each person is a strand of the story.”

― Neil Gaiman

I died from minerality and became vegetable
And from vegetativeness I died and became animal.
I died from animality and became man.
Then why fear disappearance through death?
Next time I shall die
Bringing forth wings and feathers like angels;
After that, soaring higher than angels 
What you cannot imagine,
I shall be that. 

What inspires YOU?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Schools Change The World, For Better Or Worse

Adam’s Note: A few weeks ago I was thinking about my daughter, school reform, the nascent Occupy Wall Street movement, and the Elizabeth Warren video where she ranted about Republicans so effectively. The following is what I arrived at after reflecting on it all for a while. By way of preparing you for the introduction, as anyone who knows me knows, my daughter is very important to me. She and I talk about monkeys a lot.

Part One: The Basics of Society

We’re all descendant from monkeys. Somewhere along the way someone got it into their head that, hey, let’s work together to make life easier for each other. The monkeys started handing each other twigs to pick their ants out of the ant hill, they nurtured each others’ offspring, and eventually, with some twists and turns, they evolved into homo sapien – humans, us. About 12,000 years ago we got together and started forming societies. Some societies moved towards towns and cities, and others stayed within loose knit communities. This is where society came from.

Before forming societies, humans were engaged in intrapersonal exchanges of confidence and cooperation. We began trading “this” for “that”, and “that” for “those”, until we had some of this, that, and those. These exchanges generally were not seen for what they were. It took until 1916 for a West Virginia educator named L.J. Hanifan to call these them social capital. This social capital, which requires “goodwill, fellowship, mutual sympathy, and social intercourse” (Hanifan’s words), was basic requirement for societies to develop and grow. Any fiscal capital exchange, i.e. personal services, or property, or cold, hard cash requires the exchange of social capital before hand.

Social capital is what is exchanged when you help the old lady cross the street, have a conversation with the mailman, or drop coins into the Salvation Army tin at Christmastime. Teachers grow social capital among students habitually as they teach manners, encourage kindness, and infuse community service into their curriculum. The wonder of teaching social capital is that teachers have actually served to underpin another essential component in society that is called the social contract.

The social contract is a generally unspoken exchange occurring beyond the immediacy of social capital. It is a swap, too. But this time it is a trade on a grander scale, one that considers trading personal rights for social abilities. When social capital is interested in exchanging personal pleasantries or doing favors for neighbors and strangers, the social contract is more concerned with trading our individual right to defend our interests (thus police and the military exist) for the social ability to leave relatively peaceably within our borders.  

Recently, the Democratic candidate for a Massachusetts United States Senate seat named Elizabeth Warren caused The Wave to go around the Liberal Stadium when she chastised Republicans for their indifference to the social contract. She said,

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear: you moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for; you hired workers the rest of us paid to educate; you were safe in your factory because of police forces and fire forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory, and hire someone to protect against this, because of the work the rest of us did. Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea? God bless. Keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Here she was talking about the apparent indifference of Republicans towards the social contract and preserving social order. Given my political inclination and her vast experience as an attorney and law professor, I believe Warren knows exactly what she is talking about, which were the basics of society.

Part Two: Social Engineering

Throughout my own 20-year career as a community educator and advocate, I have come to understand that deepened connections among young people and adults throughout our communities are key to the survival of democracy. It is from this perspective that I am interested in social capital and the social contract. I believe both of these happen through social engagement, and that is why I am concerned about our society.

Evolution has often been painted as a competition: From a random starting point every species is aiming to propagate their own kind at the expense of all others. Sociologists, economists, and even politicians will at times insist that competition is the root of all progress, and that from the chaos of living in the woods with our monkey relatives we only progressed because of competition. Darwin’s theory of evolution, “survival of the fittest”, and all that.

This is where society collides with schools. In his 1932 primer on genuinely authentic democracy education called Dare the School Build a New Social Order, radical educationalist George Counts wrote, “All education contains a large element of imposition, a case which is inevitable and in the existence and evolution of society, educators have a major professional obligation.” This “major professional obligation” centers on more than simply imposing curriculum, although that is a component of it.

Counts was describing the ways that teachers teach society to students, because that is what teachers do. The ways teachers teach, the topics they teach, the ways they describe the topics they teach… all of these prescribe precisely how young people learn to attach to the world around them. Counts was suggesting that if teachers teach authoritarianism and consumerism, then children and youth will become oppressed consumers.

This negative reality played out long before Counts delivered the speeches that comprised his 1932 book. For more than 100 years of public schools, and massively so in the last 11 years of “school reform,” increasing pressure has been put on competition to become the predominant methodology used in teaching. By fetishizing competition in educational processes, as a society we have squeezed the enthusiasm, joy, and simple pleasure of learning from our schools.

This competitive pulse has led to the exhibition of public education as a liability dressed up for the public as a commodity, at best. At worst it is seen as somebody else’s problem, a NIMBY situation that doesn’t affect the students we are apparently so concerned with. The results of this false positioning are being felt throughout our marketplaces, our governments, and our communities. It becomes most apparent in our personal lives, where many of us feel no deep connection to ourselves, let alone the people closest to us.

The cost of integrating the competitive approach throughout learning, teaching, and leadership in schools is the end of authentic student engagement in learning. Competition single-handedly obliterates the inherent desire of young people to learn and growwhich all children and youth have, despite socio-economic, cultural, or other background. Schools today, which rely on competition, are killing students’ desire to learn.

In turn, absent their desire to learn and grow, young people are experiencing a declining exchange of social capital. They are not experiencing the invaluable, positive, and powerful interchange between cultures that schools once nurtured. They are not learning the deep, meaningful background that schools could be teaching. Do not mistake my analysis though: I have great hope that children and youth will persevere; I just do not believe that schools are doing what they can to assist in that effort. Instead, they are perpetuating the competition and further stifling the possibilities we need them to actualize.

As social capital continues to dwindle at school, we see teachers increasingly encouraging young people to withdraw from their investment in the social contract. This is the worst possible scenario. Absent the substantive social discourse schools could nurture, teachers inadvertently teach that the social contract is not effective.

Part Three: Social Change

This reality gives our society the possibility for two real futures full of social change. The first is the worst:

In this scenario, as social discourse continues to unravel, our politicians loose their capability to arrive at a rational point of debate. This becomes increasingly shadowed throughout mainstream society, as the media hyperbolizes all aspects of the news, and commerce is loosed of the tense arrangement between producers and consumers. In this scenario, every child, woman, and man must defend for themselves, and in no time we distinguish the social contract, those spoken and unspoken norms governing our every move. A type of social malaise is contracted throughout society, and the former agreements shared in the social contract become null and void. More than becoming irrelevant by maintaining status quo, institutions such as schools become negative catalysts that increasingly drive the devolution of society into the hearts and minds of the nation’s citizenry.

In the second scenario, there is a revolution. This is a revolution of intent, as it challenges many of the basic assumptions underlying our society. It demands that the rights of all people are honored and cherished, defended and demanded by all people, for all people. It sees that the equality of the rights of the planet and all it’s creatures by honored, too. It places top emphasis on the conscious creation of social capital among all people as it propels the social contract into the forefront of society for examination, deconstruction, re-examination, reconstruction, re-envisioning, redevelopment. The overall demise of complacent acceptance and passive receptivity becomes the norm throughout society as the exchange of social capital becomes hyperbolic. Uncountable people from every walk of society emerge as massively active, infinitely invested players on the local, national, and global scale. Heroes are not required, as the everyman becomes the everypersonthroughoutsociety, and all people everywhere activate in a radical demonstration of human potential.

It may seem as if we are already deep into the first future. Luckily, the second has become emergent, and is being led by young people themselves. As Westerners revel in the American Fall and it’s great potential for social upheaval, our young sisters and brothers in the Middle East have known that we are on our way since the Arab Spring of 2011. There is much more ahead, and young people will and should continue to lead the way. They are rebirthing the social contract and revitalizing social capital, creating a new exchange and embarking on a strange adventure that has it’s roots in the Civil Rights movement, the Labor Movement, the Women’s Suffrage movement, and further back still. Most importantly, young people taking action to reinvent their schools and society have their roots in authentic democracy, exactly where they belong.

In Dare the School…, Professor Counts got blunt about why teachers should endeavor to something more than capitalist competition:

“If we now assume that the child will be imposed upon in some fashion by the various elements in his environment, the real question is not whether the imposition will take place, but rather from what source it will come… That teachers should deliberately reach for power and then make the most of their conquest is my firm conviction… It is my observation that the men and women who have affected the course of human events are those who have not hesitated to use the power that has come to them.”

What Counts did not see was that young people have their own power, independent that of teachers. And while many youth
—not all, but many—have given up their power, many have not. Succeeding generations have shown us that those young people will not give it up, either. They young people continue to assert their power and do their work regardless, with their peers join them eventually. That is what the Arab Spring proved, and the American Fall is demonstrating right now.
Today is the day that students and teachers step up and meet the demands of the future of democracy and start teaching the social contract with intent. Many teachers—not all, but many—have given up their power. Classrooms need to be environments that foster investment in the social contract. Social capital needs to be deliberately invested in and built. Authentic democracy needs to be lived. Authentic engagement needs to be the goal. And a new social order is what the schools need to build.

Our world—and our young people—demand nothing less.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

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 Learn more at!

The Dilemma of Hope

The story goes that Dr King would end every meeting of his inner circle with having them gather for prayer, then circle up. They’d then stick their hands in the middle, huddle-style, and chant “Keep hope alive!” Every time.

I have become leery of the evangelists of hope, and I don’t believe Dr King was one of them.

Through these decades of experience teaching thousands of young people and adults about community engagement I’ve come to understand that hope IS a panacea to despair. It serves a role in the hearts of those who’ve given up, and it’s essential for invigorating the hearts and minds of the disconnected.

However, for those who are capable, hope can be a conundrum that presents a roadblock to genuine change. Hope can be a placebo for those who believe change must happen. It salves our restless hearts and codifies our belief that someday, some thing will be different.

The dilemma of hope is that it can suffocate the imagination with it’s best intentions. Absent the component of critical thinking, hope becomes a drug that’s capable of hooking the masses, reeling them into the danger of just needing another fix. Hope is addictive.

The solution for this is to activate hope through practical, powerful, and positive action. Each of us must take responsibility everyday in every way we possibly can. This can happen at home, in school, during our afterschool hours, and all the time. But it must happen. We must confront the complacency hope sells us.

From there real social change can and will happen. But we must start by challenging the assumption that hope is enough, and for you and me, it will never be. Let’s get to work!

Thanks to Reyhan Reid for the comment that brought forth this piece. It’s good to get inspired!

— This is Adam Fletcher’s blog originally posted at For more see

Written by Adam Fletcher for CommonAction Consulting. It was originally posted at Contact us for more information by emailing or calling +1 (360)489-9680.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!