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!

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 Signs You’re Experiencing Adultism

Here’s the new “10 Signs You’re Experiencing Adultism” poster I made for The Freechild Project. Following are the 10 signs:

  1. “You’ll understand when you get older” is your middle name.
  2. You’re forced to go to school.
  3. You aren’t allowed to choose your clothes, the people you hang out with, or the places you spend your time.
  4. You can’t make decisions about your own body without parental consent.
  5. You do the same work for less pay than adults.
  6. Adults say, “Because I said so,” to you.
  7. You have to take standardized tests in underfunded schools.
  8. Marketers sell you cool things instead of useful things.
  9. You can’t vote because you’re under a certain age.
  10. The sign says, “No two people under 18 without adult supervision.”

Other signs: Arbitrary punishments, Driving While Young, School-to-Prison Pipeline, School choice, Forced medical care, No access to banking, Access to healthcare, Standardized curriculum, Age of candidacy, Commercialization of youth culture… And So Much More!

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Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1517641233/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1517641233&linkCode=as2&tag=thefreechildp-20&linkId=43XBKODOPHWZ46XW
Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!

The Freechild Project Youth Action Guide

The Freechild Project Youth Action Guide is CommonAction’s latest publication. A 50-page publication created for our training promoting youth changing the world, this guide is FREE online right now! It’s packed with quick, easy reading that can help young people or adults think about how to find what needs to change, create programs to make that change happen, and promote Youth Action throughout our communities.
You can read the book free here.

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Contact us for any additional information by calling (360)489-9680 or emailing info@commonaction.org.

Olympia—Partners Needed for a Youth Event

Talking with a number of young people in Olympia in informal settings, I recently discovered there is a desire for a youth leadership training for them. However, without money to attend, these “nontraditionally engaged” youth don’t feel like they can do it. So I’m going to pull together a one-day youth action training here in Olympia focused on The Freechild Project Youth Action Kit.

Right now I’m calling for volunteers and partner orgs for this one day event at the end of June.
WHY
Provide nontraditional youth leaders the opportunity to build their skills and knowledge on how to change the world.
WHAT/WHEN 
In late June 2013, I am going to facilitate a one-day, nine-hour training for youth and adults focused on youth leadership in changing the world. This is a skill-building, knowledge-sharing event that will increase participants’ abilities to successfully take action for social change. The main target group is local youth of all stripes from the Thurston County area. 
This will be a hands-on, interactive, fun event that focuses on actual action to change the world. I do not talk down to youth, and I’m not a hype-man; instead, I facilitate practical, meaningful action by young people working with adults as partners. The goal of the training is to promote youth engagement in practical, powerful, and positive social change.
WHO
  • Up to 100 participants will be accepted to come individually or in groups.
  • There is no cost to participate, and there are NO requirements beyond pre-registration. 
  • Certificates can be given that designate the number of hours attended and topics covered.
  • Youth ages 12 to 19 will be invited directly.
  • Local youth-serving programs and organizations will be invited.
  • Adult allies of all kinds, including teachers, parents, youth workers, counselors, business people, elected officials, government workers, and others will be invited to attend.
WHERE 
TBD. Suggestions are welcome.
YOUR ROLE 
Freechild needs co-sponsors for this event. I am facilitating it for free and I’m 
not collecting any fees. I invite YOU and your organization to provide any of the following:
  • Participants
  • Logistical support
  • Location 
  • Event planning
  • Food
  • Promotion
  • Flip chart paper
  • Markers
  • Photocopies & printing
  • Give-aways
  • ?????
TOPICS
The topics for this training are still being determined, but will definitely cover how to organize Youth Action as I’ve written in The Freechild Project Youth Action Kit. They may also cover topics from The Freechild Project Youth Engagement Workshop Guide, which is focused on youth taking action to change the world.
QUESTIONS
  • What do I get for partnering? If you choose to partner with me for this event, I will include your logo on materials and acknowledge your org or business during the event.
  • How often will this happen? Its a one-time training.
  • How much does it cost? Its free.
  • Is there a program supporting it? This event is not program-centered.
  • What is it going to cover? This is a general skill-building and knowledge-sharing training event, and not a train-the-trainer event.
  • What are the outcomes? It may inspire participants to go out and take action in the community, and they’ll received materials to support that. It may inspire participants to change their own lives. It might just be fun for a day.
  • Are there other programs doing this? WASC, based in Oly, offers a statewide student leadership training statewide program doesn’t reach the generally disengaged youth population of the area. Voices of Youth is program-driven youth voice with a specific agenda focused on school health.
  • Why do you think you can do this? I have trained thousands of youth in hundreds of topics for more than a decade, and have developed youth leadership development programs in 50 communities nationwide. Learn more about me at my website.
  • Is there any real need for this beyond a few youths’ opinions? I love Oly’s youth programs, and have supported each of them by donating my time and money and volunteering for more. Currently, I know of no programs offered by CYS, GRuB, Together, Stonewall Youth, or the even among the city’s state agenciesthat  provide leadership development for their participants focused on general social change. Instead, they’re all topic-specific, if at all. So yes, there’s a real need, and generally speaking, local nonprofits don’t have the resources or staff to facilitate this kind of training. I’ve also done this 6 times before in Oly.
  • Why do you REALLY want to do this? Basically, I do all this work nationally and want to contribute back to the city I live in by volunteering my time, knowledge, and ability.
  • How can I get involved? Give me a call at (360) 489-9680 or email adam@freechild.org.
  • I’m not from Oly—can I still come? YES! Get in touch. 
  • How can I get this in my city? Contact me.
  • How can I get more info? Sign up for the CommonAction newsletter, the Freechild facebook page, or send me an email.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

The House Youth Voice Built

A lot of organizations don’t know where to begin with Youth Voice. They complain that young people don’t attend their activities, or that youth who do show up don’t have a voice. Building Youth Voice requires a deliberate strategy for action and transformation.

Eight Building Blocks For Youth Voice
The following can be a checklist. If you want to engage Youth Voice in your youth-serving program or organization, ask yourself if you have the following building blocks.

The Foundation: A champion. 

Do you have an individual in your organization who is leading youth engagement efforts? This person needs to be a champion who is knowledgeable, committed, and shares the experiences of youth you’re targeting. This is the most important step.

The Concrete: Commitment. 
Does your organization’s Board of Directors value youth engagement beyond gestures or language by having 1/3 to 2/3rds of the seats on the Board filled by people under 30?
The Walls: Connectedness. 
Are 50% of your Board members from the local neighborhood you’re serving? If you’re serving an entire city or county, do you recruit members reflecting the racial and socio-economic diversity of your area?

The Siding: Attachment. 
Have you hired local youth or young adults into relevant positions within your organization? They must have local high school experiences and direct interaction with young people, and relevant training.

The Front Door: Relevance. 
Does your organization have great programs relevant to youth in your area? They need a variety of educational, social, recreational, and other opportunities to be who they are, and to feel seen by your organization.

The Interior Design: Fun.
Do staff provide purely fun and social activities with no hidden agenda of selling them other programs or your organization’s goals? Do they fuse fun into the regular operating activities of the program?

The Yard: Broadening. 
Do your youth programs connect young people beyond just your programs for them? Do they have opportunities to learn or play with adults, participate in community conversations, or do substantive activities with diverse community members?

The Sidewalk: Building. 
No matter what your goals are, does your program seek to acknowledge the skills and knowledge young people already have and build upon them?

This is what has worked for the organizations CommonAction has worked with as we’ve founded more than 100 Youth Voice projects and programs in communities around the world.

What doesn’t work is using the same thinking that created the problem of youth disengagement to try to engage Youth Voice in your program or organization. Everything you’re doing is surely a necessary part of positive youth development, but just continuing on that pathway isn’t enough. Youth programs and youth-serving organizations cannot just be about any one issue anymore, and everyone has to focus on youth engagement. Engaging Youth Voice is a prime avenue to youth engagement. However, without these building blocks in place, young people will not be with you.

Finally, lead by example. Young people are watching everything you do right now, no matter who you are or what you do within your organization, community, or throughout your life. If you’re an aloof executive director who doesn’t make time to connect with youth in your organization’s programs, youth in your program will be that way too. If you’re a hyper-busy program worker with too much on their plate and little support, young people in your program will know that. So check yourself and lead by example.

Every program and organization can successfully engage Youth Voice, and its our ethical responsibility to do that. What are you gonna do today?!?

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

Issues Addressed by Student Voice

Planning the winter dance, setting the price for Valentine’s Day candies, and deciding the new school colors are decisions some schools allow student voice to influence or even drive. However, Meaningful Student Involvement amplifies student voice much further than this. There are literally countless issues throughout the education system where engaging students as partners can be crucial for success, and yet rarely happens.

There are countless issues that schools are facing and that are being discussed by people working in schools as well as those working for school change from outside schools, including politicians, community groups, and the media. Focused exclusively on school transformation, Meaningful Student Involvement catalyzes student/adult partnerships for education change. Students can be partners with adults to address these issues and many more through both convenient and inconvenient student voice. The following list is just a beginning of what can happen though.

Goals of Education and Student Success. Defining the purpose of schools focuses the direction of schools, teachers, and students. While some originally intended for public education to provide basic learning for successful democratic citizenship, others saw schools mainly as a way to support the economic workforce. Today, educational goals and “success” have become defined by student performance on standardized tests, in addition to measures like student attendance and graduation rates. While these might be part of the purpose of education, many school reformers are seeking ways to broaden the goals of education to include students’ social, emotional, and intellectual development, as well as helping students gain the skills needed to build a better and more democratic world. 

Voice and Engagement. The question of who has control and authority in schools has long been answered with “leave it to the professionals,” meaning administrators and policy-makers. However, as more people push for participatory structures throughout the government, there are also efforts toward more participation throughout the educational system. Creating opportunities for meaningful involvement for students, teachers, and parents is growing in many communities, while the federal government is increasingly asking how and where nontraditional voices can be engaged in decision-making. Businesses, community organizations, mayors, and others want roles, too.  This is a topic that many people can rally around. 

Curriculum. The question of who decides the curriculum in schools has a big impact on what goes on in schools. With influences ranging from textbook companies to politicians, and from school boards to businesses and more, schools and teachers somehow have to sort this out and provide a meaningful learning experience for students.  The federal government, along with a coalition of private organizations, is supporting the concept of “Common Core State Standards” that would create the same standards throughout the country, and many governors have urged their states to follow them.  

Time in School. The length of the school day has been a popular topic for decades, and particularly in recent years. Recent brain research has shown youth have different sleep needs than adults, while it’s been popular to say that students in the US have less “seat time” than students around the world (as a matter of fact, this is incorrect: while students in some countries have more days of school than the US, most of those countries have shorter school days that actually results in less seat time). The length of the school year is also a consideration, as some advocates are determined to add more seat time by replacing traditional summer breaks with more frequent shorter breaks throughout the year. The amount of years a student needs to attend school is also an issue, as more public education leaders consider a “P16” system essential: pre-kindergarten through college graduation.

Schedule. The schedule of a school often drives the learning and curriculum in the school.  The traditional 45-minute period of high schools, for instance, means that projects and activities are harder to do and fit within that time, as is traveling outside of the school for field trips or connecting with the community.  Block schedules often have 1.5 or 2 hour blocks of time for classes, which provides some of these opportunities.  Other schools provide classes for part of the time and give students self-directed learning time to pursue projects that earn them credit.  

Out of School Time. Offering activities after school, in the evenings, on the weekends, and throughout the summer are common in some schools, while other schools do not provide them at all. Tutoring and mentoring, sports and extracurricular clubs, and other learning or social experiences are out of the norm for many students, as their families or their schools are fiscally incapable of participating. Schools and communities could come together to devise creative ways to offer these opportunities to all students, regardless of income.  

Charter Schools. In most states that have them, charter schools are schools that are publicly funded and privately operated (outside of the typical school district), and which students and parents can choose to attend instead of the local public school. Charter schools are all different, some are experimental and innovative, while others are very traditional but with longer hours.  Studies are mixed about the benefit of charters, but the issue is becoming one that dominates education today.  Many political leaders are supporting the creation of more and more charter schools, while those opposed believe charter schools take the most engaged parents and students, leaving the least engaged to stay in the regular public schools.

Class and School Size. The number of students to teachers, called “student/teacher ratios,” has been shown to affect how well students learn.  Many advocates call for smaller class size, while others claim size makes little difference.  School consolidation, where small schools in local communities are merged into a single large school for a large surrounding area, has been happening since the 1940s. Now many of those larger schools are being closed, such as in New York City, to create smaller schools.  

Teacher Development. Thinking about what teachers learn and how they learn it is important to making schools work better. The idea is that more and better opportunities for support, mentorship, and professional development for teachers will lead to better teaching and improved teacher quality.  In some countries, teachers have far less teaching time than in the U.S., and have more time to plan with other teachers and observe the teaching of others.  Half of all teachers leave teaching within their first 5 years, and new teachers have a steep learning curve.  

Teacher Quality. Teacher quality is one of the biggest issues being discussed now by teachers unions, politicians, and teachers themselves.  Many are saying that we need to determine who is a good teacher and who is a bad teacher.  What some are saying is that when students are not succeeding in schools at sufficient rates, it must be the teachers’ fault. While teachers certainly have impact on their students, outside factors are also a big issue, including poverty, home life, and the outside community.  Getting rid of teacher tenure (which gives teachers extra support from being fired) and firing low-performing teachers based on student test scores is the new approach taken by districts around the country.

Technology in Schools. The issue of schools maintaining their relevance in the face of technological developments isn’t new. In the 1950s the US became engulfed with the Cold War, and schools were forced to innovate their educational goals with the supposed purpose of keeping America competitive with the Soviet Union. Today the issue of how to teach about technology in schools continues, as some schools limit access to the Internet, raising concerns about free speech, while other schools are increasing their use of technology in the classroom.  Virtual schools and online classes are becoming more and more common, and many educators believe the future of education is found in technology.  

Special Education. The questions facing special education include the labeling of students, funding the support services that special education students receive, and “mainstreaming” special education students throughout the school population. There are concerns about disproportionate representation of males and students of color as special education students, as well as equal access to support for such learners.  Charter schools and other schools of choice are sometimes criticized for weeding out special education students since they have more leeway in which students they accept.  

Funding Priorities. Traditionally funded by taxpayer dollars at the local, state, and (at a smaller level) federal level, in recent decades schools have actively sought funding from corporations, philanthropic foundations, and private donors as well. Funding basic education is an increasing issue in times when government support is waning, and as a result teaching materials and school buildings are becoming neglected or worn out. Teachers often purchase supplies out of their own pockets, or simply go without in communities where schools are underfunded. In affluent school districts students generally have access to better materials and teachers get paid high salaries, affording those students better educations. In turn, this reinforces the “academic achievement gap” that separates many students.  Calls for equitable funding are frequent, and have found mixed success.

These are some of the issues students can address in schools as you consider what to change and how to work with adults. By learning more about these issues and taking firm stands, young people can contribute to the conversation and take action in sophisticated, relevant ways that make you a partner in working with adults to improve your school. Visit the SoundOut website for more information on issues addressed through student voice and Meaningful Student Involvement.

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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!