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?
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!
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 vegetableAnd from vegetativeness I died and became animal.I died from animality and became man.Then why fear disappearance through death?Next time I shall dieBringing forth wings and feathers like angels;After that, soaring higher than angelsWhat you cannot imagine,I shall be that.
What inspires YOU?
“I am certain of nothing but the holiness of the Heart’s affections and the truth of the Imagination.” – John Keats
It can be really exciting when we start discovering what moves us personally, what we’re passionate about, what makes our wheels turn. Spark plugs start firing in that engine between the brain and the gut, in that magical space that feels like power and awesomeness and excitement and purpose. I call that engine Heartspace, and it’s a wonderful place to become familiar with.
Heartspace is the quiet inner voice that guides us towards the things that speak most deeply to us. We know it by the emotions that speak most directly to it, like passion, courage, and joy. Desire, intention, and compassion come from our Heartspace, too. Heartspace is where our deepest interests come from, and where our most powerful energy comes from. It is magic, made real.
There are people who live all their lives in Heartspace, and they are wonderfully engaged people. They aren’t just the Einsteins and Kings; they are common folk who celebrate their deep connection to themselves every single day. Everyone is capable of this.
For people who have not lived in their Heartspace for their whole lives, discovering that space might feel like an introduction to a long lost friend. That’s because it is: All people from their youngest years live in their Heartspace, if only for a little while.
Heartspace is the engine of natural curiosity that drives our childhoods and compels our youth. This is the reason why I choose to work with young people over the beginning of my career. Most in touch with their Heartspace, young people are the grand hope of our society for this reason.
Poor are those among us who lose their capacity to dream, to create their courage, to denounce and announce… – Paulo Freire
There are factors that literally kidnap us from our Heartspace, most extending from abuse of some sort. Those factors eat away at that connection. I lived some of those factors as a child, and my Heartspace was challenged. But more than endure, I thrived. My parents encouraged me to find and attach to the things that inspired me, drove me, and moved me. The adults who surrounded me moved me and compelled me and challenged me to see beyond the problems in my life. I found my Heartspace young, and stayed with it.
Risks to our Heartspace continue into our adulthood, but they shift from external abuse imposed on us by extenuating circumstances towards internal motivations that extend from our childhoods. There are a lot of ways to rediscover our Heartspace as adults. Last week I blogged 10 Questions on Personal Engagement, and those questions provide a logical entryway into Heartspace.
We can work with our challenges and transform our lives, move from being interested, and find our Heartspace. CommonAction Consulting is now leading workshops to do that.
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There is a missing piece in most civic engagement and community engagement initiatives. Most well-meaning practitioners come storming into programming intending to teach folks about issues, engage them in actions, and move forward to change the world.
- In schools, parent engagement coordinators focus on connecting parents with teachers or committees they can support.
- In nonprofits, youth engagement workers dive into connecting young people with social change action.
- In business, community engagement coordinators want to connecting consumers with their brands.
While none of these are inherently wrong, they are all flawed.
Social engagement of any kind requires that people connect with something outside of themselves, true, and that’s what all of these approaches focus on. But another key element is missing: Before connecting to something outside ourselves, we need to connect to within ourselves.
My work with thousands of young people and adults over the last decade has shown me that personal engagement happens when people have a sustained connection to something inside of themselves.
This is different from social engagement, which is when people have a sustained connection to someone or something outside of themselves. Social engagement includes our campaigns for civic engagement, school engagement, voter engagement, worker engagement, and environmental engagement. However, all these forms of social engagement, no matter how effective they appear, are missing something: I have to be engaged within myself in order to be engaged outside of myself.
That is true of everyone. Whenever we appear to succeed in engaging people outside of themselves without first making sure they’re engaged within themselves, we actually fail. Every program for engagement needs to address the broader role of engagement in a person’s life in order to create that sustaining factor of the connection. Without sustainable connections engagement does not happen.
How are you engaged in yourself?
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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,
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 grow—which 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:
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.
- Pulling ears
- 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
“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)
“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.”
“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…”
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.
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 http://www.YoungerWorld.org. For more see http://www.bicyclingfish.com
More than ever before, young people are surging ahead in our society, creating great new realities that are vastly different from those of their parents and all the generations before them. This is happening right now. More youth are actively engaging in creating, fostering, nurturing, and sustaining substantive social change than ever before. More than ever before, there are young women, young people of color, low income children and youth, and more immigrants than ever seen before who are actively leading, teaching, evaluating, researching, decision-making, advocating, and organizing throughout our society. These are the new roles that The Freechild Project and SoundOut advocate for. Children and youth are addressing radically diverse issues and demanding and creating drastically different realities. This are the rapidly changing times we live in right now. This is what I elaborate, amplify, and celebrate every single day.
Young people are solving poverty right now.
Young people are reinventing education right now.
Young people are reinvigorating spirituality right now.
Young people are energizing democracy right now.
Young people are the future- right now.
In the meantime, adults are living in a negative trance that is disallowing us from seeing exactly what is happening. We’re getting scanned at airports, sucked into cynical television, drum beaten by opportunistic politicians, consumed by parasitic corporations, and thwarted by our own subconscious shackles that keep us in very narrow perspectives of young people. Our own limited views are causing us to see and treat children and youth apathetically, pitifully, and sympathetically, and worst still, sometimes even with antipathy. We enjoy our perspectives of young people, even while they’re trying to teach us otherwise.
The world will thrive because of young people today. The stop gap solutions of adults will not continue to serve us. The excuses we have relied on will be proven wrong. The barriers we have relied on to withhold a powerful new future will evaporate at the hands of kids and teens today. Adults play a vital role in the lives of all young people, and that is a simple truth. Luckily though, they’re not waiting for us before they get to work.
These brand new youth are with us right now. This is the present right now.
Are you ready for the future, today?