- Readily-accessible technology, including cell phones, laptops and the Internet
- Interactive Internet, including collaborative, distributive and generative activities
- Increasing socially estute teaching in schools, at home and throughout the community
- Vested adults who are concerned about adultism, youth rights and youth inclusion
- Powerful young people who are acting more assertively, pro-actively and consciously than all previous generations
“We are now faced with the fact, my friends, that tomorrow is today. We are
confronted with the fierce urgency of now. In this unfolding conundrum of life
and history, there is such a thing as being too late. Procrastination is still
the thief of time. Life often leaves us standing bare, naked, and dejected with
a lost opportunity. The tide in the affairs of men does not remain at flood-it
ebbs. We may cry out desperately for time to pause in her passage, but time is
adamant to every plea and rushes on. Over the bleached bones and jumbled
residues of numerous civilizations are written the pathetic words, ‘Too late.’
There is an invisible book of life that faithfully records our vigilance or our
neglect.” – Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr in 1967.
Wars, a sunken economy, increasing homelessness, fewer educational dollars, sicker people and worse crime than seen in a generation are making our world a perilous place to live these days. Yet I want to suggest that there is a problem more pressing than any of those, and that problem is one that, like the others, is ultimately solvable. That problem is one of age segregation.
This is an age of engagement, when more than ever before young people have the opportunity to become engaged with themselves and their peers. Different from ever before they are growing up in peer networks and using forums for conversations that adults never before. They are exchanging stories and sharing insights and swapping advice and telling the truth in ways that previous generations never have – and never have been able to. Consequently adults are backing further and further away, letting children and youth to their own technological devices. And young people are showing this, friending in the 1000s, sharing music and clothing and culture online more than ever before. Simaltaneously, young people are still suffering the heinous indifference of adults towards the practical challenges they face right now: health care, education, afterschool programs, employment and recreation programs are the first getting cut in state Legislatures around the country. And the chasm built to enforce age-based segregation in our society grows, too, as more spaces are created to warehouse children and youth than ever before. This wholesale disconnection from adults comes as classroom sizes explode around the nation, as youth program staff are cut from already meager attempts, and as one organization is merged with another with the intention of cost-cutting, but the reality of lost outreach. When young people can’t find belonging in those places they seek it elsewhere, in the comfort of video games, basketball courts, girlfriends’ houses and the mall. Pity the community without those spaces, too, as youth will keep seeking to connect with their peers no matter what.
In my workshop here at the CDC DASH annual meeting yesterday I began on this new note, one that is starting to elaborate on a newfound pulse that is coursing through me. I am an adult who is consciously committed to not standing aside while the world passes me by, bemoaning what is wrong. This is a moral and ethical awareness that I have felt lingering in me for years, but couldn’t put words to until now. Dr. King’s words have never felt more honest, more relevant and more vibrant to me, as I am no longer afraid or even hesitant to see the utter power, the phenomenom and the courage of the new relationships that are changing our world. These relationships are founded in the awareness of adultism, the acknowledgment of rights, and the power of deliberative engagement.
Never again should a person be crammed into a cattle car classroom that is underfunded, overburdened and poorly staffed. Never again should a person be faced with the grim prospect of not finding work simply because they are young. Never again should a person not be allowed to shop with friends becuase they are young. Never again should a police officer incarcerate a youth for truancy. The kid unable to find a place to hang out, the young woman who can’t find a contraceptive after she looked, the boy forced to tag light poles because there is no safe space to express his art, the young person turned away at the voting station, the candidate whose campaign is instantly dismissed because she’s young, and all of this injustice is based on no discrimination more than AGE. And simply put, I will not accept anymore of it.
Today I call on YOU, my comrades in thought and action, to step forward. Let your stance be known, and do not hold back. If you work in this everyday, change your actions. If you write about this everyday, change your words. If you dream about this every night, change your visions. I can no longer settle for half-baked, half-driven, half-done youth involvement ideas. From here out I stand for nothing less than complete equity between young people and adults, and even more: We are dealing with today’s young people, for whom the future is not just a possibility – its a reality. Me and you, maybe not so much. We maybe well aware that our actions will affect another seven generations, but my daughter, the youth in your program, that student in your seat… these people are going to be alive in that future, and many more. We cannot continue to fail them.
Join me in moving forward and facing what that fierce urgency of now – the world can no longer wait.
In his last book Buckminster Fuller began by saying, “Dear reader, traditional human power structures and their reign of darkness are about to be rendered obsolete.” That time is now. I am convinced that our society is on course to complete nothing less than a complete re-envisioning of the roles of young people. The conundrum of relying on children and youth to be complacent, apathetic, and relegated recipients of adult problems is about to be solved. The time of insisting “young people are the future” and naming them the “torchbearers” of society is going to end. I honestly hope that young people today do not bear the torch apparent in the suffering of our world today. The crisis of purpose and possibility that I have seen apparent in institutions throughout our communities, with their uniquely oppressive relationships to young people, is about to be solved.
For several years I have been beating around the bush about what this change looks like. When I first designed The Freechild Project I intended to upset the service learning and youth service communities by standing their efforts next to those of youth activists across the countries. I saw the different practices forming a seemless continuum of imperfect yet hopeful possibilities for youth engagement. Afterwards I took aim at the education system, working to re-envision opportunities for students en masse through SoundOut. These two projects, combined with my trainings and speaking engagements and consulting opportunities, have allowed me a great deal of access to real-life examples where the roles of young people are actually in evolution throughout our society.
My analysis is beginning to crystalize, and I no longer have the need or want to marinate on it any longer. After this week I am ready to begin to speak words to truth. I have to thank Melia, Dana, Jonah, Elizabeth, Scott, Jake, Chris, Shawn, Fred, Melissa, Greg, Wendy, Thaddeus and Mishaela. And for you, dear reader, get ready – here I come.
“The Things to do are: the things that need doing, that you see need to be
done, and that no one else seems to see need to be done. Then you will conceive
your own way of doing that which needs to be done — that no one else has told
you to do or how to do it. This will bring out the real you that often gets
buried inside a character that has acquired a superficial array of behaviors
induced or imposed by others on the individual.” – Buckminster Fuller
I do not believe that a student of human reality may be ethically neutral. The
sole choice we face is one between loyalty to the humiliated and to beauty, and
indifference to both. It is like any other choice a moral being confronts:
between taking and refusing to take responsibility for one’s responsibility. –
Just returning from a retreat with 10 of today’s leaders in Democratic Education in the US, I am struck by how similar all of these conversations tend to be. Not only in terms of their overlapping concerns (e.g. social justice, youth engagement, meaningfulness) or methodologies (e.g. service learning, nonviolent communication, student/adult partnerships), but in terms of their limited scope: We all seem to have accepted that we can only tweak the system. I don’t know if its because of compounded challenges/failures, collective defeatism, or pragmattic realism, but honestly its starting to wear on me.
I feel like I am constantly expected to calm down my rhetoric, to relax my critical lenses simply because it makes others uncomfortable or makes me less desirable. This sort of slight is not new to me; instead, I have received these types of criticisms for years. The strongest relationships in my life are those where my allies, colleagues and friends have learned to listen to my perspective, however critical or “unacceptable” they may be for any given conversation. Today I am beginning to understand that my concerns aren’t just that we are failing at implementing any sustainable change or long term solutions to engaging young people; rather, I believe that we have to re-envision and recreate the relationships, cultures and structures we live in in order to fully realize the potential of human engagement, inclusive of children, youth, adults and seniors. We’ve got to rebuild this thing.
I’ll write more later.