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!

10 Steps To Youth Integration

Challenging youth segregation can be tricky.


Anyone who advocates for youth involvement, youth engagement, youth voice, youth empowerment, or youth rights is ultimately calling for the same this: the integration of young people in our society. As it stands, young people are routinely segregated from a lot of places. This includes the institutions that serve them directly, such as schools, nonprofits, governments, and faith-based communities. It also includes their homes, as well as places where they should be treated without bias but aren’t, including businesses. Ultimately, youth integration has to happen in all relationships between young people and adults.

This work has been underway for more than two decades, and needs to unite now. It starts with re-envisioning the roles of young people throughout society. In the last decade, I’ve worked in more than 200 communities across the US to help them re-envision their work with young people. Its been successful in some ways, challenging in others.

Through my efforts with The Freechild Project, along with similar programs across the country, a generation of young people and their adult allies have come to believe that our society can do more than simply do things to young people. Instead, we can co-create the world together. This notion reflects the wisdom, “Nothing about me without me is for me.”
Studying my own work and the vast library of literature I’ve collected focusing on this approach, I’ve devised some key points for integrating youth throughout society.
10 Steps to Youth Integration
  1. Think Sustainable—Identify practical ways to ensure youth keep being integrated after an initial planning period. Begin by sitting down with a group of adults young people together and talk about the world today, their specific lives, and what they think needs to change. From the beginning, infuse youth in facilitation, evaluation, research, decision-making, and advocacy right into the culture of your group. If you must involve children and youth in a one-shot activity, let them know of real opportunities for them to be integrated with adults in their lives outside your group.
  2. Clear Purpose—Name a clear purpose for integrating young people in your community. Come up with a mission statement. Let youth and adults, organization leaders, parents, community members, and local schools know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. Clarity of purpose is often missing from young people’s lives, as school is done to them, family is done to them, and stores are done to them. Anywhere in society looking to actually integrate young people needs to let young people know the world be done with them, and they should know why that’s important.
  3. Integrate The Non-Traditionally Engaged—Create space and help children and youth who haven’t been especially engaged in your community to become integrated. Actively integrating both traditionally involved young people and non-traditionally involved young people can radically transform your community in all sorts of ways. If you don’t know how to do this, get trained; if you need a reason, read this.
  4. Real Connections—When young people see themselves in your program, real connections are happening. When real connections happen, children and youth become engaged. While they may have obvious expertise or interests in a specific topic, its important for your group to help young people discover what they know right now, and to see what they know inside what you’re doing.
  5. Equity, Not Equality—Develop equitable roles between young people and adults.  This means that groups don’t pretend all things between children, youth, and adults are 50/50 split equally, because in our adult-centered society that is simply never true. Equity allows young people and adults to enter into responsible relationships that acknowledge what each other knows and doesn’t know, and to work from that place instead of assuming everyone has equal ability and capacity. We’re all different; let’s not pretend otherwise.
  6. Grow Their Capacity—Grow the existing capacity of children and youth to become involved in planning. Both young people and adults can learn from training about work styles, assumptions, skills, and more. 
  7. Make A Clear Plan—Having a specific pathway for young people to see how their integration will change their community. Are they contributing to an existing program? Opening a brand-new course of action and learning? Working with the same adults in new ways, or partnering with new adults? Its important to remember that creating a youth integration plan is not the culmination of work, but the starting point of a group’s efforts to create a more democratic society. A clear plan should include: 1) Practical next steps; 2) Roles and responsibilities for youth and adults; 3) an integration structure for your community; 4) group member evaluation opportunities. Setting priorities, using timelines with dates, and developing clear benchmarks for measuring success in each area can also enhance your community.
  8. Get SystemicEncourage youth integration beyond your group. Young people can be engaged in researching their community, school, nonprofit program, or anything through PAR. They can facilitate, teach, and mentor peers, younger people, and adult. They can evaluate themselves, their organizations and communities, workplaces and businesses, and other places. They can participate in organizational, family, community, or other decision-making. They can advocate for what they care about. Ultimately, they can be engaged throughout society in every way you can imagine.
  9. Connect The DotsEstablish deep youth/adult partnerships wherever possible. Collaborations that reinforce learning will deepen any effort to integrate youth. The partnerships established in this process can deepen efforts through the future, and mutually support youth and adults throughout your community.
  10. Eyes Wide OpenOpen the doors to critical examination. Use critical lenses to examine your assumptions and effects in your group. Identifying strengths and weaknesses allow groups and communities to improve the overall integration of youth, especially through your particular effort. Make space by giving young people permission and skills they need to be partners in mutual accountability with adults. In your group, set clear benchmarks and agree on celebrations when they’re met and consequences that young people can see for when those benchmarks are not met.

Aside from ethical considerations for youth integration, there is a practical basis to integrate youth throughout society. A variety of recent research demonstrates that there may be no parallel to making schools, youth programs, government agencies, and even families more effective. The most intuitive outcome is true: Integrating young people throughout society changes young people who experience integration. 


Less obvious are the effects that youth integration has on adults throughout our communities. When they’re actively infused throughout the broader community, young people can actually affect the broad community beyond your group in a variety of ways over the short and long term. The effects include lifelong civic engagement, and developing strong and sustained connections to the educational, economic, and cultural values of their neighborhoods and cities. Youth integration can dream no higher goals. (See here, here, and here for some studies.)


More importantly though, this pathway shows that youth integration is feasible. What are you doing to get it going in your community?
 

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

The LIVE ENGAGED Manifesto

Last night I announced my new LIVE ENGAGED Manifesto on Facebook. This manifesto is meant to summarize my beliefs about where this work is going and
what it should be doing. Let me know what you think!

Share your thoughts about the LIVE ENGAGED Manifesto on my website!

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

Tall Pedestals for Old People

There’s a tricky space for adults as we grow up in our community work.

Spending all these years working with children and youth, I’m treated with more respect than ever before. Young people quiet when I speak, and older people lean in to listen. My peers recognize the experience I have and the knowledge I’ve accumulated, and my friends turn to me for advice. I’m a truly blessed man.

Getting my first job in this field of human engagement at the age of 14, I practically grew up in my career. I learned and grew along so many different pathways with so many different teachers and mentors who I will always stand indebted to. They were kind and harsh in equal measure, often working to make sure I didn’t grow up egotistical, other times letting me fall flat on my face when necessary. Always attentive, each in their own way. In the same way, my young people have taught me too. They’ve listened at times, learned other times, and let go occasionally.

This is how I’ve come to stare at this tall pedestal. Its about a million feet sometimes, and stands next to others’ tall pedestals. That’s the myth older people like me tell ourselves, anyway. We believe that since we’ve had all this experience and learned all this stuff we’re due some kind of innate respect and access that others aren’t.

However, I have learned that time owes us nothing, and none of us are due anything because of our age. Respect must be earned by subsequent generations and for all sorts of reasons. Age is an arbitrary distinguishing marker relied on by the lazy and privileged. The privilege of growing old doesn’t automatically anyone anything beyond wrinkles and Social Security, and even the latter is in question these days.

This doesn’t mean that young people should not be taught to value their elders, or that respect should only be afforded to those who demonstrate their worthiness. Instead, it means that the people who are in power right now- middle age adults- should set about teaching young people and each other that they can form substantive relationships between generations in order to foster meaningful interactions, which in turn allows older people opportunities to earn younger peoples’ respect. In turn, this allows elders to respect young people.

I read recently that youth and old age are the two mystical bookends of a lifetime. One end is occupied by visions and action, while the other is filled with reflections and ease. I believe that. But let’s acknowledge that tall pedestals for old people get nobody anywhere fast. Instead, let’s create a level playing field we can all benefit from.

CommonAction is available to train, speak, and share about this topic and many others. Contact me to talk about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360)489-9680.


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

When Will Adults Grow Up?

Today, The New York Times employed the opinions of Laurence Steinberg to answer the question, “When do kids become adults?” My question is about this article is, “When will adults grow up?”

The “reality” of age-based segregation is eroding every day as since continuously shows that both childhood and adulthood are simply made-up constructs that have no practical place in developmental, psychological, or educational practices. Instead, they are political and economic devices used to manipulate the marketplace and governance of our society. Adults need to grow up and see the truth.

I have been conducting a study with The Freechild Project since 2001. My research has centered on my hypothesis that the roles of young people are rapidly transforming throughout society and in turn, the impact of young people is greater than ever before. This is happening because of many things, despite the popular adult conception of youth as incapable. The majority of adults in American society cannot see this because we are too immature, as witnessed in comments in The New York Times article and the vast majority traditional youth studies.

The majority of Steinberg’s argument relies on the tiredly predictable tenets of subjective neurological theorizing. However, he gets to the point when he proclaims, “Alas, age boundaries are drawn for mainly political reasons, not scientific ones.” This is the premise behind much of my teaching about youth engagement. Our political positioning- not in terms of parties or theories, but practices and purposes- determines how we relate to young people.


This is why I teach about convenient and inconvenient youth voice. This is why I teach about traditional and nontraditional youth engagement. Relying on predictability, we chomp at the bit to make sense of the young people we face in our community programs and classrooms every day. Our politics allow us to do this.

However, these same personal politics and shared cultural politics also disallow us from seeing the reality of young people today, let alone the potential of children and youth throughout society. Wanting to make a more subjective case, I have hurled tons of evidence at my students, both young people and adults, over the years. I have waved flags and shared case studies, called out quantitative research and elaborated on findings. None of this has worked.

Steinberg is on the side of expanding our understanding of youth at least. Today, the Times has brought along a group of madhouse advocates and opponents to joust about this question. Joining Steinberg are Kevin Noble Maillard from the Syracuse University College Of Law; Jenny Diamond Cheng, a lecturer at Vanderbilt Law School; John M. Mccardell, who is the president at the University Of The South; Jamie Kitman from Automobile Magazine; Barbara Hofer, who is a professor of psychology at Middlebury College; and Michael Thompson, who is the author of a book called “Homesick And Happy”. (Apparently, absolutely no youth of any kind were available to write on this topic.)

This crew proceeds to push around the question of whether the roles of young people should change in American society. They talk about drinking, driving, and other typical topics that should make the National Youth Rights Association happy. However, never once in a half dozen articles do they consider that the premise of their argument is flawed: The role of young people shouldn’t change because adults want it to, it should be recognized as changing because it already is. We, as adults, are behind the eight ball on this one, just as we’ve been since the political construct of youth was invented in the 1930s and reinforced by marketers starting in the 50s.

We need to join the rest of the world, which increasingly sees youth as the cultural phenomenon it is: A made-up social construct designed to restrain and subjugate people according to their age in order to secure the social, political, cultural, and political roles of people older than them. When we begin to understand this as reality, we can begin to see the roles of youth for exactly what they can be today and in the future. Until then, we’re lost in a construct that actually fails to benefit us as adults, as well as young people themselves.



CommonAction is available to train, coach, speak, and write about this topic across the US and Canada. Contact Adam to learn about the possibilities by emailing adam@commonaction.org or calling (360) 489-9680.

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