Adults Letting Go and Taking Charge

Recently, I wrote an entry on this blog called “The Gradual Release of Authority” in response to a series of conversations I’ve been having across the country. This issue continually comes up with adults who are grappling with moving young people from being passive recipients of adult-driven programming, whether in schools, nonprofits, government agencies or other places, towards becoming active partners throughout the world they are part of. Well, apparently writing that article wasn’t enough for me, and I had to create a video, too.

So here’s my latest video called “Adults Letting Go and Taking Charge.” Hope you like it; let me know what you think in the comments section on YouTube.

Youth Engagement Equalizer

Want to identify what skills you have that are good for engaging young people? Ready to learn where you can improve?

Here’s a snapshot of my Youth Engagement Equalizer, a tool that I developed to challenge youth workers and others on how successful they can be at their jobs.

I want to share it with you for FREE! Just contact me.

Contact me for a copy of the Youth Engagement Equalizer at http://adamfletcher.net/contact-me/
The Youth Engagement Equalizer is FREE! Just contact me at http://adamfletcher.net/contact-me/

 

 

What Is Youth Engagement?

Youth engagement happens when young people have sustained connections anywhere in their life. Youth engagement can happen throughout the lives of children and youth, including within themselves, in the immediate world around them, throughout society in general, and across the entirety of the world. The sustained connections they make can be emotional, psychological, or cognitive and can happen personally and socially.

What Youth Engagement Is Not

There is a growing amount of confusion about what youth engagement is and is not. Many national nonprofits and international NGOs are promoting youth engagement as involvement by youth in social change.

However, as the definition above shows, youth engagement is not the same as youth involvement in social change. Young people can be engaged through Youth-led research, Youth service, Youth leadership, Youth decision-making, Youth philanthropy, Youth civic engagement, Youth organizing, Youth media, or any of these strategies for social change led by young people. However, those are not the only ways youth are engaged.

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

Strategies for Social Change

Following are different strategies I have identified for social change led by and with young people. These strategies can be approached individually, but are often entwined as they show different aspects of social change. Note that these are broad strategic frameworks for understanding social change; they aren’t necessarily specific activities or methodologies. I might explore those in another post.Most of these strategies reply on youth acting on issues defined by and affecting young people and their communities by meaningfully involving them in the design, implementation, and evaluation of social change.

15 Strategies for Social Change Led By and With Young People 

  1. Youth Voice is any expression of any young person anywhere, at any time. This can include expressions that are verbal, written, visual, body language, or actions; expressions that are convenient and inconvenient for adults to listen to; and intentional as well as unintentional expressions. Youth Voice does not require adult approval or acceptance. [Learn more]
  2. Youth Participation is the active attendance of young people in any mode throughout their lives or communities. Youth participation can happen through active decision-making, sports, schools, or faith communities. It can also happen in homes and among friends. Youth participation can be formal or informal; when its formal, youth may not choose to attend something, but they choose whether to participate. When its informal, youth choose to join in on something.
  3. Youth Involvement is any deliberate effort that centers on young peoples’ ongoing attendance in personal, social, institutional, cultural, and other forms of structural action throughout society. Youth involvement is generally formal, often including specific roles, education, and outcomes. [Learn more]
  4. Youth Engagement is the sustained connection young people hold towards a particular thing, whether an idea, person, activity, place or outcome. That sustained connection can be social, emotional, educational, spiritual, sentimental, or otherwise as long as its sustained. [Learn more]
  5. Youth Empowerment is the attitudinal, structural, and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority, and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults. [Learn more]
  6. Youth Leadership is the practice of young people exercising authority over themselves or others, both in informal and formal ways. There is youth leadership beyond the scope of what adults recognize, appreciate, or foster; there is also youth leadership which is guided by adults.
  7. Youth/Adult Partnerships happen when young people are fully equal with adults while they’re involved in a given activity. This is a 50/50 split of authority, obligation, and commitment. One of the realities of this is that there isn’t recognition for the specific developmental needs or representation opportunities for children and youth. [Learn more]
  8. Youth Equity is the pro-active rebalancing of relationships between youth and adults to allow for appropriately empowered roles between youth and adults. It allows for a 40/60 split of authority, while everyone involved- young people and adults- are recognized for their impact in the activity, and each has ownership of the outcomes. [Learn more]
  9. Youth Mainstreaming is a public policy strategy that acknowledges the roles youth can play and the issues affecting them across various sectors such as health, finance, economic development, housing, justice, foreign affairs, education, and agriculture. [Learn more]
  10. Youth Infusion is the active, deep, and sustained integration of youth throughout an organization or community’s structure and culture.
  11. Youth Organizing is an approach that trains young people in community organizing and advocacy, and assists them in employing these skills to alter power relations and create meaningful institutional change in their communities by employing activities such as political education and analysis, community research, campaign development, direct action and membership recruitment. [Learn more]
  12. Service Learning uses meaningful service throughout the community to help youth achieve clearly stated learning goals. [Learn more]
  13. Project-Based Learning infuses deliberately planned hands-on activities focused on teaching and learning to foster youth success. [Learn more]
  14. Experiential Learning is the process of making meaning from direct experience, which may or may not be planned and does or does not have specific learning goals. [Learn more]
  15. Community Youth Development combines the developmental instincts of young people as they naturally desire to create change in their surrounding environments by partnering youth and adults to create new opportunities for youth to serve their communities while developing their personal abilities.
Some of the specific methods for engaging young people in action include Participatory Action Research, Youth-Driven Programming, and Independent Living Skills. Here are some different roles young people can have through many of the strategies listed above.
In understanding social change, its important to recognize that none of these are competing approaches. I have also learned that they aren’t necessarily better or worse than each other. Instead, they’re appropriate terms that acknowledge different times and places where action can happen.
To learn more, check out The Freechild Project Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People that I wrote with Joe Vavrus, and as always, visit The Freechild Project website.

Special thanks to Roslyn Kagy for a conversation that inspired this article! Woohoo!


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

Ways Young People Change The World

There are many roles in democracy-building by youth. Following are several different opportunities for young people to take action.

23 Ways Young People Can Change the World

  1. Children and Youth as Facilitators. Knowledge comes from study, experience, and reflection. Engaging young people as teachers helps reinforce their commitment to learning and the subject they are teaching; it also engages both young and older learners in exciting ways.
  2. Children and Youth as Researchers. Identifying issues, surveying interests, analyzing findings, and developing projects in response are all powerful avenues for Youth Voice. 
  3. Children and Youth as Planners. Planning includes program design, event planning, curriculum development, and hiring staff. Youth planning activities can lend validity, creativity, and applicability to abstract concepts and broad outcomes.
  4. Children and Youth as Organizers. Community organizing happens when leaders bring together everyone in a community in a role that fosters social change. Youth community organizers focus on issues that affect themselves and their communities; they rally their peers, families, and community members for action.
  5. Children and Youth as Decision-Makers. Making rules in classrooms is not the only way to engage young people in decision-making. Committees, board membership, and other forms of representation and leadership reinforce the significance of Youth Voice throughout communities.
  6. Children and Youth as Advocates. When young people stand for their beliefs and understand the impact of their voices, they can represent their families and communities with pride, courage, and ability.
  7. Children and Youth as Evaluators. Assessing and evaluating the effects of programs, classes, activities, and projects can promote Youth Voice in powerful ways. Young people can learn that their opinions are important, and their experiences are valid indicators of success.
  8. Children and Youth as Specialists. Envisioning roles for youth to teach youth is relatively easy; seeing new roles for youth to teach adults is more challenging. Youth specialists bring expert knowledge about particular subjects to programs and organizations, enriching everyone’s ability to be more effective.
  9. Children and Youth as Advisors. When youth advise adults they provide genuine knowledge, wisdom, and ideas to each other, adults, organizations, institutions, communities, and other locations and activities that affect them and their world at large.
  10. Children and Youth as Designers. Youth participate in creating intentional, strategic plans for an array of activities, including curriculum, building construction, youth and community programs, and more.
  11. Children and Youth as Teachers. Facilitating learning for themselves, other youth, adults, or children, youth can be teachers of small and large groups in all kinds of topics.
  12. Children and Youth as Grant-makers. Youth in philanthropy identify funding, distribute grants, evaluate effectiveness, and conduct other parts of the process involved in grant-making.
  13. Children and Youth as Planners. When planning programs, operations, activities, and other events and activities, youth can benefit nonprofits, schools, their homes, and any other institution throughout society.
  14. Children and Youth as Lobbyists. Influencing policy-makers, legislators, politicians, and the people who work for them are among the activities for youth as lobbyists.
  15. Children and Youth as Trainers. When they train adults, youth, children, and others, youth can share their wisdom, ideas, knowledge, attitudes, actions, and processes in order to guide programs, nurture organization and community cultures, and change the world.
  16. Children and Youth as Politicians. Running for political office at the community, city, county, or state levels, youth as politicians can run for a variety of positions.
  17. Children and Youth as Recruiters. Youth building excitement, sharing motivation, or otherwise helping their communities or people to get involved, create change, or make all sorts of things happen can happen through youth as recruiters.
  18. Children and Youth as Social entrepreneurs. When youth recognize a social problem, they can use entrepreneurial principles to organize, create, and manage a venture to make social change.
  19. Children and Youth as Paid staff. When organizations, businesses, agencies, and other groups hire youth, they can be staff members in programs for adults, other youth, children, or for the community at large. They can fulfill many roles on this list in paid positions.
  20. Children and Youth as Mentors. Mentoring is a non-hierarchical relationship between youth and adults, adults and youth, or among youth themselves, that helps facilitate learning and guidance for each participant. 
  21. Children and Youth as Decision makers. Participating in formal and informal decision-making, youth can be board members, committee members, and in many different roles.
  22. Children and Youth as Activity Leaders. As activity leaders in nonprofits, community organizations, and other areas, youth can facilitate, teach, guide, direct, and otherwise lead youth, adults, and children in a variety of ways.
  23. Children and Youth as Policy-makers. When they research, plan, write, and evaluate rules, regulations, laws, and other policies, youth as policy-makers can enrich, substantiate, enliven, and impact the outcomes of policies in many ways.
You can find more information in my 2006 publication, The Freechild Project Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People.


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

Generation Waking Up

I heavily, highly, and wholly support the work of my friends with Generation Waking Up. Their outstanding work to engage young people across the United States and around the world is transformative, revealing, and genuinely empowering.

Their new video is inspiring:

  

 Learn more about Generation Waking Up from their website, and please, please take action.

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

Stop Attacking Youth!

Another day, another article slamming young people for not being activists. This one comes from the Left, effectively making its author a fremeny to youth activists today. (He joins these hallowed ranks with Todd Gitlin, among others.)

This well-meaning, but poorly informed narrative generally leaves readers with the following points:

  • There isn’t any/enough youth activism today.
  • The world is hard.
  • Young people are held down by the world.
  • There are logical reasons why they’re held down.
  • Things will never be as good as they were in the past.
  • Youth today will never be as good as they were in the past.

Its that last point that sounds so familiar. Given the long shadow cast by false generational analysis over the last 20 years (thank you Strauss and Howe), its no wonder why the Left attacks young people in equal measure to the Right. People who are progressive or liberal must must depart from this bad ideology and find consensus in post-modern analyses focused on socio-economic realities, instead of arbitrary age markers.


Realize this: Young people are working to change America like they never have before, using effective, sustainable ways that take time, energy, and commitment. Anti-democratic and uneffective roguish rock-throwing and police harassing only ever goes so far, and that’s why there’s very little left of the 60s and 70s youth movement. Today’s youth movement is a lot more sophisticated and is creating long-lasting change. Bad analyses, like the one cited at the beginning of this entry, mislead people into believing otherwise. However, there’s plenty going on right now.

The reason why we need to see what’s really going on is that it’s mostly young people of color and low-income youth who are deeply activating and making change happen. Mainstream media and mainstream academia isn’t going to promote what’s actually happening because they’re deeply invested in sustaining the status quo. Portraying youth in a true light, including their inspired organizing and powerful outcomes, challenges that status quo.

By comparing generations, conservative news sources and neoliberal academics effectively perpetuate disingenuous support of the past by lionizing those activists, while demonizing and demoralizing young people today. The vast majority of these authors don’t see the level of efficacy, depth of action, and breadth of engagement that’s going on out there.

Calling for the rallying of masses of young people, these authors are perpetuating a disillusion myth about the past. The masses of youth were never truly activists in any social movement, particularly in the 1960s and 70s. For every young person on the front lines holding picket signs and teach ins, how many others were mere moochers on the movement who joined in so-called “love-ins” and smoked pot in order to enjoy the escapism those activities offered? True adult supporters of youth activists shouldn’t be concerned with those masses of youth. Well-positioned upper class and middle class kids get all the coverage in the media and from many of the world-changing youth programs they want. They don’t need our interest or support, because they have very little authentic motivation to change anything. They do it for reasons that I don’t personally connect with, and that I don’t think are fair to the world we live in today.

Its the young people who don’t have any choice but to change the world, who will be swallowed up by the abyss of consumeristic self-interest, those are the ones I’m most interested in. Those are the ones the Left should really keep an eye on, because while they’re the ones most in need of social change right now, luckily, they are the fighters who are most deeply engaged in the struggle right now.

In order to see these youth activists, the Left has to stop framing young people and making their disengagement the issue. Doing this the Left perpetuating the horribly minimalistic and defeatist misconception that’s been popular in mainstream media and academia over the last 15+ years. The reality that’s been waiting to be seen is that young people are changing the world right now in positive, powerful ways. They could really use the support of the Left in all its myriad forms.

Here’s what’s really happening right now:

  • There is a lot of youth activism happening today.
  • The world is changing for the better, right now.
  • Young people are partially responsible for the positive, powerful change happening.
  • Youth activists today are not recognized for the hard won successes happening.
  • A new world is possible, and young people are ushering that world in.
  • Youth today stand in solidarity with the past, while ushering in the future.
  • They could use adult support. All youth can.


Let’s look at the whole picture instead of hen-pecking according to popular assumptions and projections. Let’s support young people, for real.

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

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!

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!