Recognizing Systems of Adultism

It is important to look beyond individual ways that people discriminate and are discriminated against to see that there are systems that define, support, promote, and sustain adultism. Everyone is affected by systems of adultism. The ways that adultism surfaces are so broad that it can feel overwhelming to try to name them. Systems of adultism stack up and cross other discrimination. However, when recognizing that adultism affects all people simply because of their age, it can become easier to see it. The timeline of any person’s life can be used to see the systems of adultism at work from the time they’re born until they become adults.

Before You Were Born

Before a person is born, they are subjected to the consciousness of their birth parents. Whether she is aware of it or not, the birth mother may be discriminating against her unborn child by subjecting it to what she thinks is best, rather than what science or experience says is best for the child. That can have both positive and challenging effects throughout life. The ways humans are born reflects adultism against infants, as sterile, scheduled C-section births demonstrate adults’ intentions almost as overtly as home births. As the child arrives in the world, the ways a parent treats them, talks to them, feeds them, and otherwise cares for them can demonstrate adultism, too.

When You Were Young

A parents’ child raising approach can reveal adultism against their own children in many ways. Addressing a child as “theirs” reveals a sentiment of ownership or belonging, which some people see as oppressive and purely discriminatory towards young people. Economic systems that ensure a child’s reliance on parents for their food, housing, clothes, and general well-being can be seen as adultism, as can educational systems that force parents to ensure their children attend schools. The ways power and authority are exerted within a household can demonstrate adultism, as older children exert power over their siblings or male children over females, which in turn reveals how adultism ripples beyond age and towards sexism and gender discrimination.

People Around You

As a child is growing, their neighborhoods may embody adultism. Neighbors may feel they have authority over children and youth simply because of their age. They might use this to enforce their knowledge over young people, or to secure their private property. Similarly, systems throughout a young person’s life reveal related patterns. This includes hospitals, which routinely distrust the opinions and understanding s children and youth have about their own bodies. During out-of-school time, youth workers, childcare providers, and other adults in the lives of young people often feel compelled to rationalize adultism by saying they know better. Rather than falling back on their own judgment, law enforcement professionals have the law on their side, including judges, politicians, and even the voting citizenry.

Forming Systems of Adultism

At the same time all of those elements work independently, they work together to ensure a singular experience of adultism that affects every young person individually. Adultism virtually ensures the disenfranchisement of every single child and youth, ending for some when they become adults and are expected to perpetuate it against young people. For those who don’t comply with this system, there are punishments that are so complex they look like “just the way the world works.”

The depth of this system of adultism requires further examination to really understand how these individual pieces of the puzzle work together to form a whole picture.

New Approaches to Youth Action

Description

If our goal is to engage young people in social change, there are many ways to do that. This diagram illustrates four distinct ways to engage young people: youth-driven community organizing, systemic youth involvement, situational youth voice, and service learning. It then illustrates the traditional and non-traditional approaches to doing that within these ways, as well as the overlaps that are apparent.

 

Traditional Approaches to Engage Young People in Social Change

  • May be exclusively youth-led
  • May partner with adults
  • May be led by adults
  • May include equity
  • May have explicit learning connections
  • May include adults
  • May be focused on sustained change
  • May have sustained funding
  • May position youth as “outsiders” versus “insiders”

 

New Approaches to Engage Young People in Social Change

  • Infuse youth as full members
  • Recognize mutual investment by youth and adults
  • Focus on sustained change
  • Make explicit learning goals for youth and adults
  • Focus on systemic and cultural transformation
  • Requires equity between youth and adults.

 

Explanation

In my own restlessness, I find myself craving something different these days.
I’m increasingly dissatisfied with isolated experiences of “youth-led” activity that is seeded and driven by adults. I have come to see that the majority of this work is largely disingenuous and ultimately incapacitating for the young people who participate in these activities. I say that very cautiously, as I personally know and am professionally aware of the immediate feelings of empowerment that are inherent in this type of action.

 

Today, I’m coming to understand that we need approaches to this work that more deeply situate young people as full members of currently existent society. That way they can be partners in what already exists and transform situations in deeply sustainable, deeply transformative ways.This has to happen by working with the institutions we already have in place. It has to happen with the attitudes we already have at work. This is where my writing on meaningful student involvement comes from: Students working in the places they already occupy with people who are already committed to working with them. There are attitudes, cultures, structures, and connections to transform, but those are sustained changes that won’t go away with passing generations.
This article is meant to illustrate what the difference I see looks like visually. Respond and let me know what you think about a new approach to youth action – I’d love to hear what you think!

GO TEAM YOUTH! Towards a Future Beyond Boosterism

This morning I read a story about a 14-year-old named Jacob Barnett who might be smarter than Einstein. As I watched it, I had the thought of sharing his story with others.

However, I’m generally reluctant to do that. As I’ve written in the past about Michelle Obama and Taylor Wilson, I think adults who are trying to engage young people in changing the world need to aim higher than the boosterism and jingoism for these high-achieving young people that so often undermines the “Every Youth” who attends our schools and programs everyday.

However, in media environment that routinely thwarts the good deeds of children and youth who are making actual positive differences all the time by over-reporting violence and disparities among young people, maybe boosterism has an important role.

What would a project that highlighted the good things young people do look like?

These are all good things – being smart, inventing things, doing stuff, making things, creating, coalescing, developing, teaching, writing, speaking, all that.

Would it have to be gross boosterism that [blindly] highlights positivity, or would there be a higher course of analysis that could be made explicit, i.e. “Popular conceptions about young people are all wrong, and here is a great amount of evidence to the contrary”?

Similar to my Freechild Project, there is a bit out there that attempts to take steps to that effect, like What Kids Can DoPro-Youth Pages, . There are other sites that try to program-itize youth action to change the world, and in their need for funding they claim the work of young people as their own. These groups include Do Something, Youth Venture, and Youth Service America. All of these groups- mine included- explicitly tell stories about young people who are changing the world.

There are re-activists among the sources that promote young people, too. The National Youth Rights Association has been fighting negative perceptions of youth for more than a decade, and Mike Males youthfacts.org is a great fighter of status quo attitudes towards young people. Academics like my mentor, Henry Giroux, and others like Alfie Kohn and Jonathan Kozol have been fighting askew perceptions of young people for decades, while advocates like including Marianne Wright Edleman have claimed to advocate on behalf of young people while promoting the problems they face ahead of their capacities to deal with those problems.


But there’s something missing in all that work. The needle hasn’t really moved in the way mainstream society sees young people! The choir is getting preached to and the good ideas are rolling around out there in the fields of Young America, but USA Today, The New York Times, almost all the mainstream and cable news shows, and even the so-called progressive Left media sources routinely and loudly disparage children and youth. When they do mention the good work of young people today, they routinely dismiss or tokenize it.

5 Essential Elements of Go Team Youth (A Future Beyond Boosterism)

  1. Popular appeal
  2. Bold + direct language and concepts
  3. Focused on youth changing the world
  4. Clearly addresses discrimination against young people
  5. Makes next steps plain

We need a popular, loud, and explicit analysis that makes plain the challenges facing young people and their ability to be solutions in facing those problems. Critical thinking, cultural acknowledgment, and systems change must be inherent in any solutioneering that is proposed.

What could “Go Team Youth!” engine look like? That’s the future I’m most interested in right now.

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

Youth Voice EVERYWHERE!

As any expression of any young person about anything, anywhere, at any time, Youth Voice happens in countless places in every community every day. This includes schools, businesses, alleys, sidewalks, libraries, city halls, government agencies, afterschool programs, summer camps, foundations, nonprofits, community centers, at home, on the streets, and in parks. Youth Voice happens in these places; whether its heard is another question altogether.

Each of these places has a special assignment for children and youth:

  • In schools, young people are assigned to be students
  • In businesses, youth are assigned youth to be shoppers
  • In libraries, young people are assigned to be readers
  • In alleys, youth are assigned to be vandals, thieves, or street artists
  • In summer camps, youth are assigned to be campers
  • On the streets, young people are assigned to be innocent, gang members, or bad drivers
  • And so on…

All of these expectations are not inherently bad; they show that young people are seen. The issue may be that they aren’t seen fairly, or justly, or accurately, or according to their own self-identification. Instead, they’re assigned roles by adults that generally benefit adults.

But they do offer an opportunity to identify where Youth Voice can happen. There are other places where young people never go, but that affect them every day. Adults don’t often consider it, but these sorts of places are all over:

  • City halls makes decisions about laws, regulations, planning, and programs affecting young people
  • School district offices make decisions about classes, budgets, and curriculum for students
  • Hospitals focus their services on young patients
  • Community centers and neighborhood associations are for young people
  • Businesses choose what young people will like and sell them on wanting it

Again, these places are not bad, only under-informed.

Youth Voice Is For Living

Youth Voice can—and does—happen throughout our society, in the places where young people belong and the places that affect them. That includes large geographic areas; small learning communities; outdoors in nature, and in homes, hospitals, hospices, and hallways in our neighborhoods, schools, halls, legislatures, and across the state.

Youth Voice happens in different types of institutions, organizations, and communities across our communities, too. Following are several different types, as well as considerations for those Youth Voice activities.

  • Youth Voice Where Young People Live: Youth Voice begins at home. There are a lot of ways that young people can contribute to decision-making that directly affects them every single day. This can include helping plan meals and decorating their own bedrooms, as well as decisions that affect the whole family, like whether moving across town is a good idea, or when its time to buy a new couch, comparing buying a new one versus a used one. Youth Voice at home is encouraged by having children advocate for their own needs (with consideration to others’ needs), speak up for themselves to adults, and by adults advocating for their children when needed. Where Youth Voice happens has to do with where young people actually live. Young people who live in suburban areas have different circumstances to consider than those who live in large cities, rural towns, or island communities. Those differences are significant, and they matter when trying to engage children and youth. 
  • Youth Voice is for Suburban Communities: On the outskirts of cities around the world, suburban communities face unique challenges engaging young people. These sometimes include trying to connect with families who are new to the area. Suburban youth may feel they lack a focus or reason to making Youth Voice real, as they may see many of their needs already met. It can be difficult to physically involve young people who are physically disconnected from each other by lack of roads or public transportation. Suburban communities may also have high numbers of young people who are at home alone after school and who lack parental support for participating in Youth Voice programs. It is also difficult to incubate Youth Voice in communities that lack a physical center or downtown. Belonging is central to Youth Voice.
  • Youth Voice is for Rural Communities: Small towns and remote areas share some issues in common with suburban communities. They both have challenges with transportation, and getting to any central geographic “hub” can be tough. These communities face other challenges as well, including what some people call “brain drain.” This phrase usually summarizes the loss rural communities feel when large percentages of young people move away because of a lack of opportunities. Young people who stay in the area may feel like they live in a “black hole” where their voices, their dreams, and their lives never escape. Small, local economies suffer when there is a blow to the area, such as the loss of an important industry or lack of highway access. The resulting poverty can make it difficult for young people to feel hopeful, as if they don’t have any ability to create change in their lives or the lives of their communities. Hope is central to Youth Voice.
  • Youth Voice is for Urban Communities: Inner-city areas rely on hope. The experience of many urban youth shows that urban neglect, a common issue in inner-city neighborhoods across the state, can steal hope. For many young people it is hard to feel hopeful when you don’t have food on the table. Safe schools, glaring financial inequities, and negative relationships between youth and police are a sampling of the issues urban youth face. Other communities where there are particular challenges and rewards of engaging young people. They include isolated communities in extremely rural areas, Native American reservation communities where culture and heritage is strong, and military base communities with largely transient populations.

Youth Voice Is For Learning
Learning in classrooms, after-school programs, at home, or around the community provides excellent opportunities to engage young people. Children and youth can share responsibility for planning what they want to learn, how they want to learn it, and where they learn. They can work with adults to create realistic, tangible learning goals; when finished, young people can evaluate their accomplishments, learning experiences, and learning environments. In schools and community centers, young people can help teachers discover which teaching strategies are most effective and what methods work best. Youth Voice can help education administrators make student-centered decisions, and policy-makers create more effective laws and regulations that govern schools. young people are also engaged when students lead classes, research learning, plan new schools, and advocate for education.

  • Youth Voice is for Classrooms: The pressure is on schools to improve teaching and learning. As educators struggle to encourage achievement from kindergarten to twelfth-grade, they are discovering Youth Voice makes a difference.
  • Youth Voice throughout Schools: Students are also working to change schools in other ways. Out-of-school programs provide young people with safe, supportive environments to expand their learning in healthy, constructive ways. However, these programs share the responsibility schools have by needing to actively strive to engage young people in meaningful learning. Youth Voice can be a source for those experiences.
  • Youth Voice is for Community Centers: Youth Voice doesn’t happen in a vacuum. By involving young people in recreational activities with adults and seniors, our communities grow stronger and stay together longer. Dances, game nights, and block parties encourage youth to mix with adults in safe places; classes and training opportunities that bring adults and young people together help them learn from each other and see each other as partners, not enemies. Youth can also make good staff at community centers when they’re engaged in leading and growing programs.
  • Youth Voice is for Parks and Recreation Programs : Green spaces, play places, and nature are important to everyone—especially children and youth. Who better to help plan and grow outdoor areas than those who use them? Young people can learn through service projects in parks about biology, ecology, and neighborhood design; and park staff can discover what works best in parks. Youth Voice can also activate in parks leadership, advisory councils, advocacy campaigns for better parks, program evaluation and park redesign.
  • Youth Voice is for Libraries: Public libraries can bring together communities by making knowledge accessible to young people and adults. Young people are encouraged by youth-friendly spaces that are designed with young people. Featuring a section to the interests of young people, like popular culture and youth action, and hiring youth as staff, are both positive strategies. Youth have also served as full members on library guidance committees.
  • Youth Voice is for After-School Programs: Programs that affect young people most can engage young people most effectively, purposefully, and deliberately. After school programs for children and youth can focus on Youth Voice, responding to what young people see as their most pressing needs and fulfilling their grandest dreams. Rather than adults designing programs from their imaginations, program coordinators are looking to youth for inspiration, guidance, support, and leadership. Many programs have engaged young people as program planners, project leaders, and as program evaluators.

Youth Voice Is For Government

While youth programs and schools are logical places where Youth Voice happens, there are more public places where it is increasingly essential to infuse children and youth as partners with adults.

  • Youth Voice is for City Hall: Local governments are in the unique position of being able to foster and support Youth Voice as a benefit the whole community. Many towns and cities have created youth advisory councils where Youth Voice measures the impact of regulations and laws affecting youth. Other municipalities have actually created positions for young people on existing committees including parks and recreation, libraries, and community planning.
  • Youth Voice is for Government Agencies: Young people can be effectively engaged by local and state government administrators who are committed to serving communities. Research, program planning, budget decisions, and other activities have each been completed by children and youth serving on special committees, advisory boards, action councils, and in youth staff positions.
  • Youth Voice is for the State Legislature: A growing number of politicians, lobbyists, and state government officials are relying on Youth Voice to make their policy decisions more effective, responsive, and inclusive of their constituents.

Critical Questions

  • How often do young people actually think about, share, and act on their ideas, knowledge, opinions, and experiences in these places?
  • Where should Youth Voice be that it is not right now? 
  • Are the differences between types of communities important enough to note? 
  • How does Youth Voice need to change for your communities? 
  • What communities are missing from the Youth Voice conversation in general?

Want more resources? Visit The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolkit!

Change the World through Wikipedia

It’s a quiet night in the middle of winter when you surf Wikipedia over to your favorite subject. Lately you’ve been obsessed. Reading the regular “blah, blah, blah” you’d expect in an encyclopedia, suddenly your eyes come across something you know is wrong, and you want to fix it.

Stumbling through the clunky interface of the world’s largest online collaboration, you manage to edit one of the website’s 4,000,000 English language articles. With renewed vigor, you start reading again when you notice there isn’t a link to someone you know is really, really important for your subject. Using the poor search engine on the site, you figure out there’s nothing for this person. Suddenly, you decide that you will write the article that Wikipedia is missing. Wikipedia wants you to.

This was my story almost ten years ago. Since then, I have created more than 500 articles on “the free encyclopedia”, volunteering thousands of hours of my life to improve this virtual database of human knowledge. I was a younger hellraiser then, bent on sharing what I’d learned through my career as a consultant for government agencies and nonprofits. Looking specifically at youth engagement, I found a gaping hole in the fields of youth development and education, and began writing rampantly.

However, despite trying to write articles that sounded like they knew it all, I immediately got smacked down. Beautifully grandiose pieces that I knew should’ve won Pulitzer prizes were deleted, and on the back channels of Wikipedia other editors said mean things about me.

Being determined, it wasn’t long before I learned the form. I started reading good articles about topics I wasn’t interested in just tvolcanoo figure out what to do, and studied my detractors’ comments for insights I might need. Most importantly, I learned how to find sources to support the new topics I was introducing to Wikipedia.

I grew comfortable with the site. After a while, I began writing about anything that interested me. In the waning hours between being a fulltime dad and running my own business, I studied and wrote about the histories of New Mexico, Washington, New York, and Alberta; I plumbed the depths of the micro-history of North Omaha, Nebraska , the neighborhood that I grew up in; and I contributed to other topics I cared most about then.

Since then, I have gained a reputation for writing about topics that are controversial, apparently inconsequential, or otherwise chagrined by other editors, and because of that I keep going. It feels good to stand up for the underdog, online and in the real world. This is how I change the world, sometimes.

Here are a few important things I’ve learned about Wikipedia.

5 Tips to Change the World through Wikipedia

  1. Don’t volunteer on Wikipedia for the recognition. On its surface, a large part about Wikipedia is the anonymity. Because of that, there isn’t a lot of recognition for hard work. While editors can give each other badges and access, there’s no explicit volunteer recognition program, awards, or ceremonies. Don’t expect anyone to wave your flag for spending days on in at the website.
  2. Editing feels like dog-eat-dog sometimes. Because of the anonymity and the nature of the Internet, editing can get cutthroat sometimes. Editors aren’t generally warm and fuzzy, or particularly supportive towards newbies and topics they don’t know about. I even experienced many to be suspicious. Stay strong and committed and your work will make it through.
  3. Wikipedia successfully raises the general public’s knowledge about topics. After working in my field for more than two decades, the topics we address are more known than ever before. That’s in no small part the fault of Wikipedia, and I’m confident that my contributions there have helped that.
  4. I had to lose some of my ego to be a successful editor. Hidden in the harsh editing climate of Wikipedia is a desire to build a substantial contribution to the world’s knowledge. Grammar, style, citations, and reputation are invaluable for that, and I may not be the absolute hottest writer to ever contribute to the project. I have learned to accept feedback and even criticism so that I can write better. 
  5. Learn to work the system. Wikipedia wants to be spectacular, and in so doing has its doors wide open. Learning to work the system—including the guidelines, editing environment, and processes—can allow you to influence the world, if you work it right.

There’s more than a million ways to start. Ready to do it? The biggest advice I can share is to start anywhere and go anywhere. There are a million entry points for contributing to Wikipedia, including editing existing content, creating articles, adding citations, checking verifiability, working with topic-based projects, and many other ways. The most important thing is to simply start.

As my story shows, anyone can add to Wikipedia. I really think that if you want to change the world, the website is a great place to go to do some good work. There are so many opportunities there, and your contributions can have a real impact on other people, no matter how small or insignificant they might feel.

Instead of spending more time reviewing the site, I would suggest that you stop reading this and start editing. Look me up on the site if you want, and happy editing!

Learn more about my editing and contact me on Wikipedia at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Freechild

NOTE: This article was originally published by The Weekly Volcano.

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

A Disimagination Machine

People who remember court madness through pain, the pain of the perpetually recurring death of their innocence; people who forget court another kind of madness, the madness of the denial of pain and the hatred of innocence.

– James Baldwin

When I was 23, I started writing about my career. Studying at The Evergreen State College, I took a program there called Prior Learning From Experience. In that course, I was convinced that since I started working with youth professionally when I was 14, my decade-long career gave me something worth reflecting on. So I wrote and wrote, reflecting on the writing of John Dewey, Paulo Freire, Michael Carrera, Grace Llewellyn, Kurt Hahn, Peter McLaren, bell hooks, and many of the authors my mentors suggested throughout my work.

This image illustrates the connection between dreams and memories.
A scene from the classic Wim Wenders film “Until the End of the World” explores the role of memories in dreams.

As I wrote, I found that my memories of youth work went back much further than my work life. I found stories in my memory of hanging a sign outside a hotel room for my advertising business; getting trapped in a tent at summer camp by an angry mob of boys from my neighborhood; campaigning for senior class president as an unpopular kid; and much more. This wasn’t youth work, so much as it was simply about growing up.

Claiming our memories is essential for reclaiming democracy and promoting nonviolence, as Henry Giroux shows in his latest article. My work is my attempt at doing exactly that, on many levels: critically reflecting on my own work allows me to ignite my imagination and enlivens my soul, while engaging others in doing the same allows me to fight what Giroux poetically calls the “disimagination machine”. We all have this creative capacity and responsibility.

Somewhere within this growing awareness comes the understanding of Bauman’s conception of “liquid society,” this fluid construction of identities, purposes, belonging and control that form all of our beliefs, knowledge and ideas. Basically, it means that everything moves, change is constant, and the only absolutes in our world are human constructs, and that they are more in flux than anything else.

Today, I recognize that I live in a space that’s made of my past and my future, both living in perfect tension right now. And that everything changes. Seeing this has helped me know that my future is undetermined and that my past is constantly and consistently wide open for examination. I will know this all my life, and live this for the rest of my days. Or maybe not.

You?

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Does Every Youth Ask “Why Is The World So Mean?”

Sitting in a circle after our activity, an eighth grader asks me bluntly, “Why is the world so mean?”

After a game, I was facilitating a conversation with a group. I’d asked the students to brainstorm different problems they saw around them, and name some of the ways they were affected by them. Someone said homelessness, and talked about an uncle who was living on the streets; someone else talked about their family going to the food bank. They were an honest group, and after a few missteps, my effort to create safe space was rewarded.

After ten minutes of questions, this young woman summed it all up very succinctly. She wasn’t mad and she wasn’t pitiful. Instead, she was simply sharing a startlingly clear worldview that came into focus during an activity. The challenge is that her worldview isn’t uncommon. Instead, its predominant—and always has been.

The author with students from Santa Barbara, California, in 2011.

It’s A Mean World

 From 2Pac rapping that, “”It’s a mean world n—a; you strapped, or be a throwaway” in his song “Late Night” to BB King singing about, “It’s a Mean Old World“; from the cognitive bias towards violence called Mean World Syndrome to James Whitcomb Riley‘s 1897 poem describing our mean old world, our society generally agrees with the eighth grader I mentioned.

Before the United States, there’s little evidence to show that any society refuted the perception of the mean world. Europe’s Middle Ages, which lasted from the 5th to the 15th centuries, were appropriately called “The Dark Ages”, while Asian cultures lived through a similar “Dark Ages” about 2,000 years prior to the Europeans. There have been predictions about apocalypses for thousands of years,  and believing the world is going to end seems like a firm part of the human story.

However, this perception is not wrong or bad, and may actually incite something much greater.

As I talked more with this eighth grader and her peers, I discovered something that bubbled through in this group. In the midst of being able to talk about the cold, hard realities they faced in a non-cynical, but truly aware and justly angry way, I heard glimpses of hopefulness. After carving out some more space for that conversation, I suddenly got floods of it.

“We Gotta Be The Ones Changing Things”

When they had the room to talk in a different way, suddenly they did.

“I’m doing my homework every day so I can get into college.”
“That’s why I play ball so much, so I can use real skills to get a scholarship to go to college.”
“I work at my dad’s shop on the weekends to fix cars, and I like that.”

The students went on like this, almost uninhibitedly, for ten minutes. When they were done, I asked why they wanted to do any of that. “Why do that if the things around you are so rough?”

“We gotta be the ones changing things,” a young man said, going on about his family and friends and everything that mattered to him. “Things might be hard, but this is our life, and we’re responsible for it.” His friends cheered him on, he got a “Preach!” from the group, and I clapped too. This encouraged him.

“I’m mad , and what is going on around me isn’t okay. I’m going to make things different.”

I beamed. This was the most brilliant thing I’d heard in a long time, and I had to write it down so I could write this piece later. I am glad I did that.

Driving Change

In his last book, the renowned Brazilian critical educator Paulo Freire wrote, “We have the right to be angry and to express that anger, to hold it as our motivation to fight, just as we have the right to love and to express our love for the world, to hold it as our motivation to fight, because while historical beings, we live history as a time of possibility, not predetermination.”

These students didn’t experience their history as a prison sentence, and they didn’t see themselves as incapable of changing the world they are part of. Instead, they named themselves as change agents who could see the challenges facing them, identify their place in respect to those problems, and from that position they could create new visions and take new action to change the situations.

This is the highest place social work can take young people, from being the passive recipients of adult-driven society, to becoming active partners throughout society. The homes, schools, communities, organizations, and other spaces where these students grew up were succeeding, and counter to what history says, they are ready for a positive, powerful future for themselves, their families, and all of us. Phew!

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

No Ms. Smith, There’s No Such Thing As Troubled Youth

Dear Ms. Smith,

I recently read your blog the other day about “troubled youth”, and felt compelled to respond.

I know you meant well, but the way you framed the problem was diminutive and belittling of the teens you are talking about. Unfortunately, most writers do it this way, because that’s the way mainstream society frames the argument.

I take umbrage with this, because there isn’t a youth on this planet who is “troubled”. There are a lot of incapable adults who are ignorant of how to reach young people of all kinds. I’m not saying those as mean words either, but as accurate descriptors.

These adults are parents who don’t know how to parent, teachers who don’t know how to teach, a society that doesn’t know how to be a community.

That doesn’t make the situations they’re in the fault of these so-called troubled youth, but of the society we share. It’s our problem. We’re the troubled ones, especially the voters who allow services to go unfunded and the politicians who are beholden to the prisons where “those kids” get sent off to, or the service industry jobs they end up in for a lifetime of indentured servitude.

They aren’t troubled youth; we’re a troubled society. We need to accept that responsibility. As Jiddu Krishnamurti wrote, “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”

These young people could be canaries in a cave, as it were. What are they telling us?

Sincerely,

 – Adam

Post Script: It was just announced that George Zimmerman is not guilty of six charges in the murder of Trayvon Martin. I will let this post stand as my tribute to that situation, and will write more at a later date.

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

Adultism and Classism

After getting prompted to expand on it in the “I Fight Adultism!” group on facebook, tonight I’m thinking about the inseparable connection between adultism and classism.

 

Definitions

Adultism is bias towards adults. Classism is discrimination against someone because of their social class. Class is the grouping of people according to their social, economic, or educational status.

Stratification

When the middle class was built up in the 19th century, Western cultures designated 18 as the wholly arbitrary marker for admission to the new class. At 18, you could suddenly vote, sign contracts, drink alcohol, and so much more. The most important part though was access to money.

Instead of how it’d been for a thousand years earlier, class stratification made it suddenly wrong for children to earn money, and increasingly wrong to bond children of Western European descent into indentured servitude. Note that it was completely different for African American, Eastern European, and Native American children.

Mobilization

This new fiscal empowerment proved to mobilize whole families by showing kids can be in largely docile childcare and schooling rather than volatile work environments, showing the effects of ecology on children and youth. The stabilization of a middle class culture allowed for trickle down upper class attitudes, such as “children are better to be seen and not heard” and so on. This became the fetishization of childhood, and in modern times, the infantalization of youth.

Discrimination

I think these two phenomenon led to the amelioration and eventual glamorization of the image of white, middle class youth in America. Held on a pedestal, the image of Alex P. Keaton became the standard against which all others were measured. Too black or brown? Forget about it. Too poor? Nadda chance. Too gay? No way. If you weren’t a heterosexual, middle class, educated white male you weren’t worth a toot according to adults, and in many cases it’s still this way. There’s a reason why upper management in most major businesses, along with most politicians and the vast majority of lawyers, doctors, and others in the middle class are heterosexual, middle class, educated white male – and that reason is the intersection of adultism and classism.

Adultism

Adultism is a tool of classism used to ensure the stagnation of social class status. The bias toward adults is always colored with perception of who the adults are; how the adults should behave, act, think, or feel; where the young people and adults are located; why they are there; and whether there are alternative social classes present.

Whether at home, in school, out of school, in community programs, through government, by the law and legal systems, or through cultural activities, young people of all ages are routinely made sure they stay in their social classes according to adults’ standards. In the U.S. and increasingly around the world, this is ensured through a system of commercialization which has ensured social class conformity. The way they’ve done this? Adultism. Marketers routinely and deftly mask classism in a cloak of adultism, often coupled with racism and sexism, in order to make sure young people “act right”.

This demonstrates why and how adultism and classism are inextricably linked. More complicated are the relationships between young people and adults that ensure they stay that way, if only because adultism is pervasive throughout all social classes – but for different reasons. Next time…

 

Our Hope Is Students on Fire!

The world is on fire right now!

As I sat at my computer at my dining room table in Olympia, Washington, in the Cascadia region of North America, I read about the new round of protests erupt around the world. In one day, there were reports of students in Chile, the working class masses of Brazil, the dissatisfied citizens of Egypt, and angry protests against the American president’s visit in South Africa.

These proverbial fires have been burning for a while now. Countries around the world have been attempting to quell mass protest since before the World Trade Organization eruption in nearby Seattle back in 1999. In the decade-plus since then, more people have risen up than ever before.

Fed excuses by mainstream media and convenient politicians worldwide, the public is told these fires burn because of political dissatisfaction, totalitarian rule, and economic upheaval. However, smart people across the planet know these are broad generalizations that don’t generally answer the question at hand: What fuels these fires?

I believe that from their uncomfortable positions as the passive recipients of adult-driven education systems, students around the world are at the heart of the social upheaval facing almost every nation today. Faced with stark incongruities between the highly-interactive, diverse, socially-driven, media-saturated environment they live in every single day and the now-anomalous, anti-collaborative, homogeneous, inherently disengaging schools they’re compelled to attend by law throughout the school year, it is absolutely no wonder why the fires are burning tonight.

However, many are taking these movements so far as to demand the dismantling of society as we know it today, instead advocating a kind of anarchistic autonomy. They have essentially given up hope and are reaching for something completely different.

For just over a decade, I’ve been working with schools across Canada and the United States to develop a new understanding of democracy. Centered in a partnership-oriented transformational approach to school improvement, I initially called the frameworks I developed “meaningful student involvement.” Research-driven and experience-proven, I was proud to facilitate learning experiences with educators of all ages focused on this approach. Since 2002, I have consulted on more than 50 projects in a wide range of diverse schools serving low-income students, minority communities, and other places labelled “hard-to-serve” through government assessments. I still believe democracy requires public schools.

However, I see now that whatever I’ve been trying to do is falling short.

Tonight, young teenagers are leading and rallying on the frontlines of the more than 800,000 people participating in Santiago and other cities across Chile.

These are the types students I want to reach, the ones who are starting the protests. They are on fire, and they are our hope. I want them to learn the ins and out of the education systems and government agencies that make decisions on their behalves everyday. I want them to not fight for new governments or reformed schools, but transformed learning environments. I want them to understand that democratic societies require free, engaging, inclusive, and comprehensive education, and that schools right now are capable of meeting these demands—if only students themselves know what to demand.

As they continue to burn, I hope to reach students where they are and show them where they can go, in positive, powerful, and proactive ways that can benefit everyone in society. They are our only hope, and we can reach them, because ultimately, they are us.

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