Barack Wins the Under-18 Vote

Well, I’m no fan of mock voting, and as a matter of fact I stand firmly in opposition to it. However, I do appreciate that at the very least it raises the visibility of Youth Voice. It seems that the preliminary estimates from the National Mock Election, held last week across the United States, show Presidential candidate Barack Obama winning 46 states.

Mock elections, mock voting and mock parliaments are an apparatus of ignorance that forces young people to internalize their powerlessness in the political process of the United States. Mock elections grind into young peoples’ heads that their political voice is not worthy of full consideration until they are 18, at which point their minds will become suddenly capable of understanding politics and their votes will suddenly matter. Oh, and you’d better become politically active when you’re 18 for fear of being a pariah. (Ever wonder why the voting rates for 18-25 year-olds weren’t high after the national voting age was lowered in the 1972? Because youth were continuing to react to generations of systemic disenfranchisement. Young people are just beginning to emerge as significant political players, and as they begin to recognize their individual and collective power we are only going to see increased ephebiphobia throughout society.) A complicit component in these mock elections is the emphasis on the so-called “youth vote”, which generally when spoken of by the mainstream media refers to actual voting by 18 to 25 year olds. What does that tell young people under 18? That they aren’t youth and that they are still children. And since we, as a society, have infantalized children to the point of worthlessness to society, no one wants to be a kid.

All told, this situation makes the mock affairs nothing more than exercises in futility that frame children and youths’ opinions as not worthy of real consideration. Further complicating the scenario are the well-meaning adults who propagate these activities in schools and youth-serving organizations. We mean to engage young people, we mean to hear their opinions, we mean to validate them by at least acknowledging what they think. These adults aren’t bad people, and honestly I have been a promoter in the past. However, it ended for me the day a group of teens at a youth center scoffed at me when I suggested they participate. I asked them to tell me why, and they did, and now, well…

Now I see a different route to promoting civic engagement among young people. Rather than continue to perpetuate this egregious and immoral violation of citizenship and human rights, the United States should completely abolish the voting age. Germany has considered this as a serious legislative agenda, and we must follow this mode. Only then can we move from openly and unabashedly mocking Youth Voice to actually engaging, sustaining and integrating young people throughout society.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Democracy Building in the United States

The institutions, culture and public policy that drive our society needs to be transformed so that adults and young people share roles more equitably within government, communities, workplaces, and families. With that assumption firmly intact, the development of new cultural and structural avenues to foster the active participation of children and youth takes a firm light. Such avenues might include the following:

Horizontal, non-authoritarian attitudes between young people and adults. This takes the form of stopping the discrimination against children and youth inherent in adultism. Dismantling oppressive cultures and structures that discriminate against young people is no small charge, with the systematic disenfranchisement facing children and youth thoroughly entrenched in all corners.

Fully-democratic positions for young people throughout society. The institutions we rely on to support and sustain democracy must be made completely accommodating towards children and youth. This extends beyond government, and includes schools, hospitals, nonprofits, policing, etc.

Restructuring of educational opportunities. The introduction, infusion, deepening, reflection and critical examination of democracy is a taught thing that must be reinforced throughout the schooling, working, out-of-school, and other activities all people are engaged in.

These are three massive ideas that have to be thoroughly examined, and unfortunately this little blog isn’t the best place for that to happen. The evolution of young people is simultaneously motivated by and motivating of the advancement of technology throughout society. Wikipedia, videocams, Facebook, cell phones and other sorts of developments are encouraging the development of democracy that is more than participatory; instead, it is owned. An owned democracy – and not one that is owned by corporate overlords, either, although its a slippery slope between popular ownership and corporate ownership. Walking that slippery slope is essential, the nature of our society requires walking that thin line constantly: democracy in an evolving society cannot be enshrined. In that same way, neither are young people static. More than ever, they refuse to sit still or wait. Instead, they’re rapidly moving forward at a pace that we must strive to stay caught up to. Deliberate democracy building must be geared towards youth engagement.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Sustainability Education and MSI

In 2005 I completed a booklet called the Meaningful Student Involvement Guide to Students as Partners in School Change. After working with a dozen schools over the previous three years, studying hundreds of examples from literature and in schools across the U.S. and talking with students and educators about engaging student voice, I wanted to pull it all together. In that publication I wrote that,

“Meaningful student involvement is the process of engaging students in every facet of the educational process for the purpose of strengthening their commitment to education, community and democracy.”

For the last few weeks I have been beginning my work here in New York in conjunction with Learner-Centered Initiatives/Communities for Learning, and the Cloud Institute for Sustainability Education. It has been exhilarating traveling across the city and getting out into the suburbs and learning about other peoples’ interpretations of meaningful student involvement and engagement of student voice – there really is a grassroots movement among educators and administrators here!

Today we are here in Morristown, New Jersey and I with Jaimie Cloud meeting with teachers and the principal from a K-8 charter school here, learning about some good examples of MSI in action. Jaimie’s expertise is focused on sustainability education and systems thinking. Jaimie has a spectacularly complex and broad perspective that I definitely have a lot to learn from.

I love this exposure. As my own analyses are deepening I am discovering that meaningful student involvement sinks in throughout the learning environment. I believe there are deep connections between meaningful student involvement and sustainability education, and I look forward to the combination of those. So deep. Send me your thoughts about where and how meaningful student involvement should happen throughout the educational system, including which places within the educational system should be treated as learning environments that are not currently.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!