Individualism or Interdependence?

In a facebook conversation today, I began to write about the inherent ideological split among the ranks of folks who support my work, and across the spectrum of people who call for youth engagement, youth voice, meaningful student involvement, student voice, student rights and youth rights in general. I believe that split looks like this:
 
  • INDIVIDUALISM: An individualist viewpoint reflecting a traditional American line focused on pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. If youth had total freedom over themselves they would have full authority and rights to do what they want, and this would lead to a better world for everyone. There is little to be gained in surrendering rights, freedoms or authority.
  • INTERDEPENDENCE: An interdependent perspective other focused on a more democratic/communitarian perspective. The belief here is that everyone benefits when everyone works together for everyone’s benefits. There is much to be gained from recognizing how everyone benefits when everyone sacrifices.
 
In the field of education, I believe there’s no better illustration of these viewpoints than the book We Make The Road By Walking, which is a conversation between Myles Horton, who founded the Highlander Center, and Paulo Freire, who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Horton represents the first aspect, while Freire highlights the second.
 
I find myself frequently advocating and writing and working into the second realm, and I hold Freire’s work with the highest esteem. That said, I am from the North American West, where the first ideal is highest. I am also a great admirer of the Highlander Center, where the Labor Movement and the Civil Rights Movement were trained to lead their uprisings, and which teach a lot of community organizers in the US today.
 
The arguments I’ve run into over the last 15 years of being involved with the YR movement, which all started in sparing with Alex Koroknay-Palicz about these very things, have all shaken into one of these two categories. Among the National Youth Rights Association, I would say the vast majority of vocal supporters believe in absolute freedom, vis-à-vis the first argument.
 
Among the democratic education movement there seems to be a balance of perspectives between the two sides.
 
However, within the public school realm, I have found a lot of older folks hold the second viewpoint, keeping focused on how compulsory education is a foundation of American democratic involvement. A lot of younger educators have lost this perspective and don’t see the connection between requiring schools for 6 to 16 year olds and civic engagement, e.g. voting, protesting, running for office or lobbying lawmakers.
 
I believe this disconnection has been taught to students inadvertently and intentionally, and has fostered a new generation of active antipathy towards public schools. Ergo, any argument in favor of compulsory education is inherently an argument against personal freedom and ultimately, against youth rights.
 
What isn’t said is that public education was made compulsory in order to ensure movements like youth rights would exist. The tension in this discussion reflects the best outcome of that intention, where two sides can make highly literate, logical arguments. That can only be the product of a democratic society that ensures free access to public education for every member of society.
 
I find it hard to believe that I have to say this, but I will: Without compulsory education laws, many parents would keep their children home from school, but not for the romantic vision of many unschoolers. Instead, they’d be forced to work or do domestic work. Parents who couldn’t afford childcare or to stay at home with their children would be forced to let their children (including youth) be alone at home during the day. In neighborhoods without protective supports like caring neighbors and community facilities young people want to be at and are allowed to be at, many young people would become involved in anti-social behavior.
 
Until there is a plausible alternative, compulsory education is the only worthwhile option for ensuring educated democrats (lowercase “d”) and providing for structured, safe and supportive learning environments for all students is the minimum that can be done to make sure democracy continues. Unschooling for all young people everywhere is simply not a responsible option, and does nothing to secure a good future for this nation or the world. Homeschooling isn’t either. They should both be alternatives that are given room to exist, but shouldn’t be the only options on the table for people.
 
And that’s why I am from the second category I mentioned above, and not the first.

Reflecting on Brazil

In November 2014, the Centro de Estudos e Pesquisas em Educação, Cultura e Ação Comunitária (Center for Studies and Research in Education, Culture and Community Action), or CENPEC, hosted me for a weeklong visit to São Paulo, Brazil. As a longtime consultant focused on youth engagement, I have become accustomed to touring across the North America to teach, speak and work with all kinds of diverse communities. However, nothing I have ever done paralleled this trip. Over the course of eight days, I spoke to eight different groups, workshopped with more than 300 youth and adults, was interviewed by several newspapers and television stations, and met with countless educators, activists and policymakers from across Brazil.

CENPEC is a nonprofit organization based in Brazil. Its main goal is to develop initiatives towards improving the quality of public education and promoting civic participation. Focused on public schools, public educational spaces in general and public policymaking, CENPEC challenges inequality and promotes social inclusion. Much of its work focuses on assisting the Brazilian government to build innovative policies for youth, in and out of school. Lilian Kelian, who works with CENPEC, found me from my writing. Here is a little more of that story.

Brazil 3
My learning began as I left Seattle, with Lilian as a kind and patient teacher for the rest of my journey.

During my appearances in São Paulo, I shared experiences and lessons I have learned through the course of my career. I facilitated workshops on youth/adult partnerships for young people and adults there with Programa Jovens Urbanos, a cultural program working in three cities across Brazil. Using interactive activities and working with an excellent translator, I found it challenging to explore the concepts of equity and equality between children, youth and adults. However, the enthusiasm of the youth and adult participants carried me and we had more than a few breakthroughs. The young people shared experiences from their own lives that sounded similar to what I’ve heard in my work across the United States and Canada: Whether inadvertently or on purpose, adults consistently use demeaning language, act in discriminatory ways, and generally treat children and youth in demeaning ways throughout our communities. These participants taught me that the effects of this are felt in schools, at cultural centers, throughout communities, and across Brazilian society.

To say that São Paulo is an enormous city doesn’t quite do it justice. There are 20,000,000 residents of the city, which makes it 2.5 times the size of New York City. Descending into the city, the skyscrapers seem to roll on and on in a never-ending quest for space. After a rushed beginning to my time there, midweek my life slowed down when I was taken on a tour. We went to a low-income suburb on the outskirts called Campo Limpo. The first organization I was introduced to was at the Casa da Mulher da Criança, which houses União Popular Mulheres. Built in a small house, I was shown an education center, a drop-in center for children, a textile center for women in the community, a professional kitchen, a computer lab in partnership with the Agencia Popular Solano Trindade, and a small office for a community bank called Union Sampaio. All of this was crammed into a humble space, and as it was carefully explained to me, it was all driven by the local community—not by government mandate or driven by government funding. I was astonished to meet a community center that was actually driven by the community it served! I also got to explore another cultural center, this one packed with active programming for young people that was happening while I was there. It included a program styled after Theatre of the Oppressed, capoeira and a few other activities. While I was at this second organization, I got to meet a group of youth who worked as program staff in this center. Harkening back to my own experience as a young person, it was energizing to find resonance with young people doing similar work more than 20 years later halfway around the world.

I met many organizations during the week. One of the most impactful experiences I had was learning about The Tree School. The Tree School is one of the most dynamic, engaging educational projects I have ever learned about. Focused on decolonizing knowledge, The Tree School was founded by two organizations: Campus in Camps, an experimental educational program based in Bethlehem’s Dheisheh refugee camp in Palestine, and Brazilian-based art collective Contrafilé. As I learned about this school, I learned the history of the baobob tree in Brazil and the potential for fully consensual schools that are based on non-hierarchical relationships between adults, children and youth. This will definitely expand my work in school transformation that I began with SoundOut. You can learn more about The Tree School from this pdf.

Brazil 1
My last presentation was at the Seminário Internacional: Educação + Participação = Educação Integral. In this session I was credited with introducing the nation of Brazil to the concept of adultism, which is bias towards adults. Expanding on the ways adultism happens throughout society, I drilled in on schools and youth work directly, exposing some of the ugly assumptions that underlie our well-meaning but poorly informed intentions to teach children and youth. I was paired for this session with Marcus Faustini, an education activist and community organizer from Rio de Janeiro. Talking in-depth about his passionate work with youth in Rio’s flavelas, the audience laughed, gasped and clapped in both of our talks, but for different reasons. I quickly understood that Marcus and I were brothers following different roads towards a common goal, and I admired him, too.

At this same event, I was reminded by one of my hosts about the other time I’d visited Brazil. In 2004, I was invited to present at a conference focused on developing youth polices across the country, on the local, state and federal levels. She explained to me that I had left an impression then as my reports on North American youth policy had been used nationwide to inform the creation of youth involvement policies. I was told that because of my work a decade ago, youth councils, youth voice training programs and other activities are now the norm in several large cities, and they are expanding in more rural areas now. As a consultant, I am used to posing questions and challenging norms to which I don’t get to see outcomes. Suddenly, I was confronted by stories that what I had done a decade earlier made a difference. If that weren’t rewarding enough, the conference moderator announced at the end of the Seminário Internacional that what I shared this time would inform policy and practice for at least another decade. More than gratifying, that it was humbling to think that a philanthropic foundation would invest in me to travel 8,000 miles to teach my philosophies and practices in another language in hopes I would inform work to improve a nation’s educational practices. But to have that investment affirmed at the end of my work there was wholly empowering for me, personally and professionally.

The whole trip affected me this deeply. I felt a deep political affinity to many of the people I met there, an affinity that restored some of the faith I’d lost in the concept of Community. The self-defeating anarchism and alienating capitalistic tendencies I am surrounded by and part of here in the Pacific Northwest frequently exhaust me. In my consulting practice I take great pleasure at working in different parts of the US and Canada, if only because I meet people equally committed to democracy building and genuine social transformation. However, in Brazil that went to a whole different level where I felt a political communion with peers that I haven’t felt in a long time. Restorative experiences are good for anyone’s soul, and mine felt at home.

Learning about some of the radical political action in Brazil re-centered my viewpoint on what people within communities can do to improve conditions for themselves and others. The real meaning of social change soaked through the stories of the cultural centers I visited, the activist art I saw, and the evolutionary practices I saw underway with children, youth and communities. Mostly though, the whole trip reminded me that I am skilled, knowledgeable and valuable to people and communities. I had to travel halfway around the world to see that, and to have that affect me deeply. I am still learning right now, and estimate that I will for a long while.
Instead of another run-of-the-mill jaunt to help summon change across the country, this trip took me to South America in order to take me deeper inside myself. At this point in my career, I can’t imagine a more powerful, positive and restorative experience. Now to get back to work and make something of myself!

 

 

A Brazilian Interview

In the aftermath of my recent visit to Brazil I have been fielding a few online interviews. Following are my thoughts in reply to a reporter’s questions today. What do you think?

 

1 – What do you think about the idea of having a more open national curriculum for that age (15-17) so that each school could work with what’s interesting for their specific public?

In order to ensure a minimal ability to participate in democratic societies, it is important for there to be a consistent basic experience of learning, teaching and leadership through open public education for all students within a nation. However, it is also vital to allow for localization in every community and personalization for all students. Notice that I am saying all students and not just 15-17 year old students. Local communities should have the capacity to make effective, meaningful decisions about education for all students, and all students, regardless of their age, should have appropriate, meaningful opportunities to make decisions about their own learning. National curriculum standards should be made that facilitate that local decision-making and personal decision-making, along with policies that sustain long-term infrastructure, fiscal support, professional development for educators, and additional training as its needed.

 

2 – What needs to change in schools so that it is more interesting to young people and help reduce evasion?

All education should be made consensual between students and adults. Before undertaking learning, teaching and leadership, all people who are involved should understand what they are committing to. Students and adults should know what the alternatives are, because there are always alternatives. And everyone involved- young and older- should be able to say “yes” while retaining the power to say “no”. The time of forcing students to attend schools has been overshadowed by the era of choice that we live in today. With the unfettered ability to make consumeristic and social choices throughout their lives, young people need schools that support their abilities rather than repress them. Consensual education is the key to keeping schools relevant and meaningful into the future.

3 – In Brazil, teachers in the public educational system are very underpaid. It seems unreal to engage students when you cannot even engage teachers. How do you see this issue and the alternatives to tackle it?

Teacher pay is a real problem in North America, too. Undervalued for their contributions, teachers face many injustices in our imbalanced economies. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” In the United States and Canada, the death of the human spirit is made worse by consumerist pressures and the grinding inequities faced by low-income people and people of color. That said, money alone does not prevent teachers from engaging with their jobs, schools, communities, or the students they teach. Using economics as an enabling device can support further oppression and disengagement, as teachers can use it to rationalize their indifference, inability, or adultism. Adultism, which is bias towards adults and against young people, is apparent anytime adults work to fulfill our own agendas without considering or by dismissing the agenda of young people. Students in schools face adultism constantly, whether its teachers setting the school calendar, government officials creating curricula, or voters determining which political party rules the education system in the current election cycle. Engaging students throughout the education system can begin to challenge these disparities between students and adults, and teachers can be key partners in that effort regardless of how much money they get paid.

What questions do YOU have about my visit to Brazil or the things you’ve read here? Please comment on my blog!

Reflecting on Rebellion

When I was young, I saw the rebellion of youth on TV and students in my various college classes and national service programs as being a privilege of the wealthy. At that point, I literally thought I couldn’t afford to rebel. Everyone wore the right t-shirts, joined in on doing the right activities and generally had the same affect towards the world.

By the time I began to feel a sense of rebelliousness in me I was in my mid-twenties. As a teen and young adult, I didn’t rebel at my parents or the structures that I knew growing up. Instead, as a newly married young professional I felt I had to rebel against the middle class socio-economic structure that I was rapidly surrounded by and part of. Struggling and confused, I felt alone and separated from my partner and friends. I was going through an experience my parents and siblings couldn’t relate to, as we’d all chosen different life paths. So I went alone.

I knew if I did it mindlessly my trajectory would inevitably moving towards a life of complacency and ease. When I became aware of that momentum, I rebelled against it. I sought to find work that challenged me and the people who I worked with. I asked my partner to read and listen to the authors and philosophies I was exploring and navigating. I started walking a pathway without signage.

Living this life of rebellion in my own way, you might not recognize what I’m talking about. But for me it rings true. Sometimes I’ve gotten it right, and often I’ve fallen flat on my face. Writing books is an act of rebellion for me. Facilitating these workshops and giving these talks is an act of rebellion for me. Struggling and striving to address injustice for others and working to transform systems of oppression are acts of rebellion for me. But mostly, I’m rebelling against my self.

This lifestyle has cost me a lot at times, including job security, long term relationships and other luxuries. I don’t have the big family and nifty house I’ve always wanted, and my truck is looking more raggedy than ever before. My bills are demanding and sometimes I can’t get the book I wanted.

Throughout my career, I have never felt like I had a choice over how much money I made. I have not had this job offer or that one that forced me to choose a wealthy corporate job over impoverished social work, and I’ve never made a dichotomy out of making money or helping the world. I have always known that since I knew my life’s mission is my livelihood, and I would have to make money doing it. I have never felt qualified or wanted in the world of money making. Instead, I have constantly an awareness that my work is work for the society, the work of working with others in order to make a living. My rebellion from this work happens the days when I come to the place where I don’t want to help others anymore. My rebellion is to stop doing the work and making money on those days.

As time goes on, the rebellious spirit in me has calmed, too. I have grown more quiet and contemplative. My rebelliousness has led me to embrace more of my eccentricities and differences, too, as I inject my goofy humor into personal interactions and professional engagements, or tell more of my own stories in the context of the social change and educational transformation work I do to make a living.

Another major part of my rebelliousness is my unabashed love for my daughter. You may have heard my stories about Hannah before, but I’ll guarantee you she is closer to the heart of my work than ever before. I live in a society that actively supports fathers to disengage from the lives of their daughters, and while I bless everyone around me, many of my people release me from my bond with her too. I rebel every time I engage deeply in her life.

So, reflecting on rebelliousness, I see how I strive to live it rather than talk about it. How are you living today?

This post was inspired by this conversation at PopTech between Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin focused on rebellion.

Interviews about Freechild and Social Justice

Today, I answered a pair of interviews from students studying Freechild. The first came from Sopheak Va at Arizona State University, and follows here.

1. What exactly do you do at  The Freechild Project? 
Freechild provides training, tools and technical assistance to young people and adults working together to change the world. Our trainings are for K-12 schools and nonprofit organizations, and focus on youth-led social change, youth-driven programming, youth involvement in decision-making, and adultism. Our tools include our website and more than 50 publications, including free ebooks and books for sale on Amazon.com. Our technical assistance happens online and in-person, and highlights everything mentioned so far.

2. What is The Freechild Project about and what do they bring to the community? The mission of The Freechild Project is to advocate, inform, and celebrate social change led by and with young people around the world, especially those who have been historically denied the right to participate. We do this by facilitating training and workshops, and through our website.

3. What is your motivation and how to you stay motivated doing what you do? 
I grew up as a poor, white Canadian undocumented immigrant in a low-income African American neighborhood in the Midwestern United States. While I was growing up, my family volunteered a lot throughout our community. My parents believed that we should always give back whatever we can, so we gave our time and energy. I still do that through Freechild, and I teach others

4. What are some obstacles or difficulties have you encountered while trying to raise awareness? Adultism is the most oppressive force facing young people today. This bias towards adults leads to youth discrimination everyday, and it is single-handedly destroying families, communities and the fabric of society. You can learn more about it in the book I wrote.
5. What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment(s) for the organization and personally? Our tremendous reach has served as an indication of our success. Since 2001, Freechild has partnered with more than 500 organizations to serve 1,000,000 young people and adults in 750 communities. Our trainers have taught thousands of hours of classes, and our free ebooks have been downloaded more than 10,000,000 times. Our materials are cited more than 1,500 times in a variety of publications both online and offline. However, I think the greatest accomplishment for me personally is having individual youth in struggling communities across the US reach out to us for assistance. It feels great to be of use.

The second interview comes from Michael Andrew Burkeitt from Temple University.

1. Do you think cases of social injustice are happening more frequently?

Social injustice is an inherent function of societies that place material value before human value, and because of this its been present throughout the course of humanity. As a culture, we’re learning to see social injustice, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been around before. If anything, our consciousness is helping elevate our society towards eliminating injustice – but we’re still a long, long ways away.
 

2. Why is this? are we examining with much more scrutiny?Yes. What some people call “political correctness” today is a heightened awareness of social injustices on the individual level. However, many people have been aware of social injustice for a long time, whether it was Abraham Lincoln in the 1850s or Augustus in the Roman Empire. Social justice is not new.

 

3. Do you feel that policing measures and tactics are a cause of the increase? Absolutely not. Policing is merely a symptom, and not the cause. Today, the cause is American capitalism, which has spread like a virus around the world and infected societies worldwide. But even American capitalism is just the modern incarnation of the injustice machine. Anytime anyone values any THING before people, there will be injustice.

 

4. Finally, where do we go from here? How can we best prevent social injustice from occurring moving forward. We need to radically re-envision society and work towards the new world that is possible, every single one of us. That begins with young people are goes towards everyone else in the world. Everyone, everywhere, all the time needs to be involved in critically examining what currently exists, re-envisioning what can be, and creating the new world. Everyone, everywhere, all the time. Moving forward, anyone who works with any other person anywhere at anytime can begin sparking these conversations, facilitate these conversations, and participate in these conversations as often as possible for whatever reason. Only from there will we begin to move the bar of injustice that’s suffocating so many people today.

Selling Ourselves

Tonight on Facebook, my friend Lilian Kelian shared her sadness about people who relate to each other through interpersonal hegemony. I thought about it a while… Is the growing phenomenon of interpersonal hegemony the deep impact of neoliberalism on our personal and collective psyche?

The word hegemony means dominance; interpersonal hegemony is when we try to dominate others with our selves, our sense of what makes us us. 

The word hegemony is mostly used to talk about cultures, economics, educational practices, and social relationships. But the idea of interpersonal hegemony sticks in my craw, mostly because I see it and practice it myself!

 

It’s as if we are all trying to sell ourselves to each other, including our ways of being, feeling and experiencing the world. We do this inadvertently, pitching our ideas and sharing our problems and rallying our celebrations all through social media and in person and with family, friends, colleagues, and sometimes anyone who will listen. This heightened egotism reflects our own insecurities, showing others how, in order to feel better about ourselves, we have to make others see our superiority and power.

I think we do this as a mere echo of the dominate cultural hegemony all around us, all the time. There’s a reason why companies use logos, why restaurants use the same designs in their construction, and why all magazines are laid out the same. They do it because we crave familiarity and likeness. We do the same thing by surrounding ourselves with people who are like us and do the same activities, listen to the same music, and follow the same trends we’ve always followed.

Our practices of interpersonal hegemony make others look at our ways of being and doing and feeling and thinking, and want to do the same. It is like we’re selling ourselves to each other, instead of having genuine human interactions.

Adults do this all the time with youth – and I say that from experience! Giving a youth I worked with a CD of my music was pure interpersonal hegemony, as I tried to get them to like the things I liked. When young people start showing up wearing the style of clothes we wear; when they use the phrases we use; and when they talk the ways we talk its not just flattery. Its interpersonal hegemony and the worse kind of dominance, intentionally or otherwise.

Hegemony does not have to be explicitly forceful, either. The most well-meaning, kind and intentional people can be accidentally hegemonical. The question rises of how to defeat it, and that I cannot answer well right now. The answer surely lies in a pedagogy of freedom, and the need to learn, teach and lead in freedom.

Thanks again, Lilian.

 

My Questions

  • Where does suggestion become dominance?
  • How can we promote personal freedom in our relationships with others?
  • With the dominance of hegemony throughout our lives, is there anyway to escape perpetuating it?

 

Follow REAL Leaders!

 

Is your business struggling? Are you having a hard time getting a job? Can’t figure out which way to go or what to do? Follow the leaders!

Sure, you think you’ve seen leaders piping up on tv or smathered across the Internet: Richard Branson, Maureen Dowd, Malcolm Gladwell, Sir Ken Robinson, Paul Krugman, Arianna Huffington… I don’t want to take away anything from these people, but the challenge is that they are opinion leaders, and not real actors who are making practical change happen today. They may have led by example in the past, but they aren’t right now.

We need to follow real leaders. Here are three examples.

Candace Neveau started a business called Thunderbird Rock in her small Ontario town to promote educational eco/culture tours and activities. Focusing on her tribal culture and historical elements of Sault Ste. Marie, as well as the ecosystem around Whitefish Island. Her tours specialize in history, craft making, nature walks and traditional teachings. She employs young people from her community, and teaches others too. Speaking about changing the world through entrepreneurship, Candace says, “There is a shift, an awakening, and entrepreneurs are people who are doing work and creating their own jobs because they see how broken things are and they’re not going to sit there and live with that. They have to change it. They can’t do anything else but change it. There are people out there and it burns inside them.” (LinkedIn profile)

Kaniela Ing is a state senator in the 11th House District of the Hawaii State House of Representatives. He was elected in 2012, and since then he has focused on policies that encourage sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation. Ing believes in restoring public trust in the government and instituting election reform policies. He has also made education and economic development a focus of his time in office. Ing has strong opinions about a number of issues. For instance, when recently talking about a new voter registration law, he commented, “We need to modernize our archaic election processes and make voting as easy and simple as possible.” (LinkedIn profile)

Leanna Archer used a recipe from her great-grandmother to bottle and sell her own hair pomade to her friends. Today, she has an entire line of all-natural products, including hair cleansers, conditioners and treatments. As the CEO of her own company, Archer works constantly and manages to maintain successful profit margins. In her spare time(!), she operates a philanthropic foundation to help build schools and safe learning environments for underprivileged children in Haiti. Leanna chips out wisdom like, “When you want something done, you have to do it yourself,” and “Dreams are wild, but they’re wild enough to come true.” (LinkedIn profile)

Each of these REAL leaders has practical, powerful wisdom to share right now. Each one is stepping out in big ways, past expectations and towards success on their own terms. We can learn things from these people and many others who are doing the work right now.

Here are three reasons why we need to follow REAL leaders:

Reason 1. [R]ealism: They Are Doing Tangible Things Right Now. REAL leaders are doing tangible things right now. They show realism because the scale they are working on and the impact they are having can be observed, and there are practical things we can all learn from them in real time. Since they’re operating right now, lessons and learning from REAL leaders are applicable to the real time situations we are facing right now.

Reason 2. [E]mpowerment: They know they’ve got something going. When people are entrenched in the work, they aren’t worried with praise or being lavished with accolades and awards because they are busy. They know they’ve got something going. When REAL leaders aren’t being praised all the time, they are either working or thinking about work. Their lack of awards makes their knowledge powerful because they aren’t trying to earn more awards or get more attention. REAL leaders are busy working.

Reason 3. [A]ction: People See Them Leading Everyday. The challenge of armchair leaders is that you can’t see them lead – you just have to take their word for it. People see REAL leaders working every day, because that’s what makes their leadership real. They aren’t sharing abstract concepts or theoretical frameworks; they’re doing real work.

Reason 4: [L]earning: They Are Learning All The Time. No matter who is at the front or how its happening, REAL leaders are learning all the time. For instance, each example above is from a young person who is under 25 years old, and successfully challenging apathy, disregard and cynicism from their own communities, and from society at large. They learn all the time, and so can you.

These four reasons make REAL leaders today: Realism, Empowerment, Action, and Learning. Follow REAL leaders!

The thing about REAL leaders though? They aren’t exceptional. Instead, they are the rule, more frequently than ever. Every person can be a REAL leader.

Here are 10 ways to follow REAL leaders in the world today:

  1. Make friends. Youth and young adults don’t bite. Offer a genuine hand of friendship to learn from them.
  2. Offer your time. Young people who are REAL leaders are busy all the time! Between school, young families, and hustling to make a difference, they are busy and could use a hand.
  3. Be a mentor. Offer your wisdom, and learn in turn. Many young leaders are yearning for adults to learn from, and you could be one of them.
  4. Challenge your beliefs. Think youth are apathetic and lazy? Stop. Think you don’t have time? You’re wrong. Believe you have nothing to learn? Get real.
  5. Go to where they are. If you want to learn from REAL leaders, go to where they are and quit insisting they come to you.
  6. Shop from them. Hire them, vote for them, and do practical things that benefit REAL leaders. Learn their lessons while you’re doing that.
  7. Form partnerships. Do you have something to offer youth entrepreneurs, young politicians, or youth social change agents? Work with them to learn from them.
  8. Challenge others. If you want to learn from REAL leaders, challenge the biases and negative opinions of other adults. That will force you to learn.
  9. Believe. Many young people are trapped in the cynical and demeaning news cycles that portray them as super indifferent or super violent. Believe in youth.
  10. Speak up. However, wherever and whenever you can, speak up for REAL leaders and promote them and their work.

Following REAL leaders can lead your business, your community, and yourself to a successful, bright and powerful future. They can do that because they’re on the edge, they’re sacrificing for success, and they are all making a difference.

What are you doing today? If you’re not making a difference, follow these young people and many, many others. Then go out and change the world.

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

 

I have seen three primary ways adults relate to youth, no matter whether the relationship is parenting, teaching, or policing. The first way is over-permissiveness; the second is responsible; and over-restrictive. Before I explain these, its important to remind you that I’m an adult and these are my opinions; a young person and other adults surely will see things differently.

Over-permissive relationships between children, youth and adults allow young people to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever and however they want. Disregarding the longer term effects of how young people relate to adults, over-permissiveness can incapacitate young peoples’ ability to successfully relate to the broader society around them. By allowing too much freedom, these relationships give children and youth “just enough rope to hang themselves” by extinguishing their inherent away their sense of purpose and belonging throughout the larger society in which we all belong. Based in a well-meaning notion of equality between young people and adults, these relationships conveniently relieve adults of the burden of responsibility in parts or all throughout the lives of young people. They often happen to encourage freedom.

Over-restrictive relationships between young people and adults override the decision-making capabilities of children and youth and disable their inherent creativity in order to assure adults’ sense of authority, protection, and ultimately, ownership over young people. By discouraging young people from experiencing the freedom and ability they need in their natural learning process as well as throughout their social and familial worlds, these relationships can take away enthusiasm and unfettered joy, only to replace it with rigidity and structure. Over-restrictive relationships enforce inequality between children and youth, and occur by adults enforcing their power with heavy-handed education, tight schedules and severe rules, and harsh punishment. They often happen to encourage safety.

Responsible relationships between children, youth and adults are based on trust, mutual respect, communication, and meaningful interactions. Positioning each person as an evolving member of a broader society, they identify roles, opportunities and outcomes that benefit every person in uniquely appropriate ways while holding the greater good ahead of individualism. These relationships occur when adults consciously decide to foster equity throughout the lives of young people by intentionally acknowledging each others’ according abilities, fostering deliberate opportunities and continually embracing the evolving capacities of children and youth throughout their lives, starting when they are infants. Responsible relationships nurture appropriate attachment and encourage interdependence between young people and adults. They often happen to foster democratic sensibilities.

I have not met one adult who is constantly and consistently one of these ways with all young people all of the time. This isn’t meant to provide a puzzle for people to fit together the individual pieces, either. Instead, by showing a spectrum I meant to show that each of us can be any of these at many points throughout our lives.

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Why Does Adultism Exist?

adultismLately I’ve been thinking about why adultism exists. Unfortunately, there’s no easy reason. However, its easy to say that at the end of the day its all about power, and our relationship to power. However, there are deeply layers inside of that to examine.

Adultism exists because the cultural effects of discrimination against young people are long lasting. As I continue to learn more about adultism, I continue to discover more ways that we perpetuate adultism. As I explore in my book, discrimination against young people permeates almost all workplaces, homes, schools, and politics despite the most well-intended awareness-building campaigns, professional development, and anti-adultism projects. To say the least, unraveling hundreds of years of enshrined social norms is a slow process that will take more than a generation of work.

The reason for that is that the socialization of adults throughout Western society routinely encourages us to extinguish our memories of our own youth. So many people have traumatic experiences when they are young simply because they are young. Never dealing with those experiences, the bias, exclusion, disbelief, alienation, demonization, and otherwise feeling discriminated against in so many ways becomes normalized and feels rational.

In the absence of critical conscious awareness that allows them to deal with those feelings, all adults end up unconsciously perpetuating and propagating adultism.

In order to truly END discrimination against young people, we have to have a 3-prong program that addresses adultism in all of its forms:

  • Attitudinal Adultism: Personal feelings, assumptions, and beliefs that form a person’s attitudes about young people.
  • Cultural Adultism: The shared attitudes, including beliefs and customs, promoting the assumption that adults are superior to anyone who isn’t identified as an adult, simply because of their age. This is also called social adultism.
  • Structural Adultism: The normalization and legitimization of historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal dynamics – that routinely advantage adults while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for young people. This is also referred to as institutional adultism.

When we address those systems of discrimination, we’ll begin to move all of our society forward. When we understand power and our relationship to power between youth and adults, only then can we end discrimination against young people once and for all.