The REAL Youth Revolution

Ten years ago I began an international campaign to revolutionize the roles of young people throughout society. The Freechild Project was born in the steely fires of my career in local and national youth work, and I was ready to fight. For more than a decade I crisscrossed the country and traveled the world promoting youth-driven social change. Today I’m happy to report that I’ve learned that the REAL youth revolution isn’t a revolution at all- its a transformation. And it’s not just about youth- it’s about youth and children and adults and the whole world. It ain’t happening tomorrow, and it didn’t stop yesterday- its happening right now.

It turns out that as our society continues to transform through technology, young people are on the bleeding edge of what is actually happening. Where adults have long spoke of globalism and interconnectedness, children and youth growing up around the world right now are experiencing that in real time. The transformation at hand is deeper though.

Instead of just inheriting whatever stuff adults chose to hand to them, youth today are actively creating and co-creating the worlds they want to live in right now. They are not waiting for permission, education, or even laws to catch up with them- they’re just going, right now. That’s the REAL youth transformation, and luckily, it’s happening right now.

We need to get on board with what’s happening. Adults need to work with young people, unite in interdependent solidarity, and encourage and support this transformation. Check the Freechild Project website and join our Facebook page to learn more.

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

Youth Kicking Butt in 2012 (for Brad)

Across the United States there are a number of innovative youth leadership programs that excite me. I get to interact with them sometimes, and other times I merely study them, read about them, or just hear about them from my friends and colleagues in the field.

For just over a decade, I’ve been working to support an decentralized movement of young people and adults working around the world. This movement has many different guises, including youth-led activism, youth voice, youth mainstreaming, youth engagement, intergenerational partnerships, and youth empowerment. All of them include youth leadership, in all its myriad forms. Another thing they do is center on transforming the roles of young people throughout society, and that has been my main interest, action that actively evolves society.

One of my favorite organizations for early 2012 is the Pennsylvania Student Equality Coalition. PESC is an entirely youth-led and youth-run organization. They work statewide on issues affecting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer youth. Comprised of leaders from youth-led LGBTQ organizations across Pennsylvania, PESC works in schools and nonprofits to raise LGBTQ young people on the radar. Learn more about them at http://pennsec.org.

Another is School Girls Unite. Wendy Lesko is one of my favorite people in the world. After a long career focused on national advocacy for youth action, she began actively supporting a group of young women in her city in Maryland. School Girls Unite was formed as an organization of students and young women leaders in the United States and in Mali. They quickly became focused on working to advance the U.N. Millennium Development Goals related to gender equality and universal basic education, as well as child marriage prevention and other human rights issues. In late 2011, they succeeded in getting the United Nations to declare that October 11, 2012 will be the first International Day of the Girl Child. Learn more about them at http://dayofthegirl.org.

Catalyst Miami came storming onto Miami’s youth leadership scene this year with the launch of the SoundOut Youth Action Curriculum. I have provided more than 35 hours of training for facilitators of this program, which works in a diverse high school in the city to deliver the capacity-building service learning program for students. Catalyst has tied the program together with their well-established programs focused on parent leadership and children’s leadership, and is seeing excellent results. Find some information at http://commonaction.blogspot.com/2011/10/classroom-characteristics-supporting.html.

The indefatigable Joshua Gorman is behind Generation Waking Up. A global campaign to ignite a generation of young people to bring forth a thriving, just, sustainable world, the organization facilitates powerful training workshops across the country, networking thousands of young people to change the world. Learn more about them at www.generationwakingup.org.

A local organization, the Seattle Young People’s Project (SYPP) is a youth-led, adult-supported, social justice organization that empowers young people (ages 13-18) to express themselves and take action on the issues that affect their lives. They’ve always been a cutting edge model, and this year has been exemplary. Learn more at http://sypp.org.

Through 2010 and ’11, the US Department of Education ran a suave youth engagement program under the deft hand of Alberto Retana. With his guidance, the agency engaged with thousands of young people across the U.S., and actual students were positioned in places of direct consultation to the Secretary of Education and even the President. While Alberto left the agency late last year, the program is continuing on. Its best to learn about it on their Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/pages/ED-Youth-Voices/136786839692361?sk=wall.

Honorable mentions in the “2 Kewl 4 School” category PUEBLO, or People United for a Better Oakland, which conducted a powerful youth-led study of high school students in Oakland in 2011 regarding their perceptions of police. The survey is provoking serious conversations in the city about improvement. Information is at http://www.peopleunited.org/cspa/. Another is Students Speak Out, a social network working both online and offline for students influence policy conversations by co-defining public problems and co-creating solutions. They’re after my heart. You can learn more about them at http://www.citizing.org/studentsspeakout/. Also, a big shout-out to Vote 17 Lowell, a youth-led initiative to lower the voting age in Lowell, Massachusetts’s municipal elections to 17 years old. The Vote 17 campaign is unlike any similar past or current bill as it calls for the initiative to appear on Lowell’s local election ballot after full State House approval. Teen organizers are asking that the state legislature allow the voters of Lowell to decide on an issue that has already received full support from all levels of Lowell’s city government and its statehouse delegation. They made huge in 2011, and I’m looking forward to seeing them storm forward in the future. They’re online at http://vote17lowell.tumblr.com/.

Me discussing youth kicking butt wouldn’t be right if I didn’t give props to adults who are actively allying with young people to get the good work done. I want to start by giving mad respect to the Perrin Family Foundation in Connecticut. For more than a few years now they’ve been focused on providing real dollars to youth voice programs across their state that are doing cool, cool things. Check out their strategy at http://www.perrinfamilyfoundation.org/strategy.html. They’ve also been blogging about it, and getting the word out is a significant part of the work. I really like their blog, which is at http://perrinfamilyfoundation.blogspot.com/. (You may have read my recent blog, Foundations Fail Youth By Design. Perrin is completely not included in this analysis.)

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the King County Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre. Funded by the Seattle Youth Engagement Zone, I’m partnering with a coalition in Seattle called SOAR to facilitate this learning community for 22 youth engagement experts from across the county. We’re working together to share what we know, figure out what we don’t, and shore up the capability of King County to support substantive youth leadership work far into the future. It rawks.

Worth mentioning, too, is Jessica Taft’s book, Rebel Girls: Youth Activism and Social Change Across the Americas. Although it came out in 2010, it really impacted their field in 2011. It tells the powerful story of young women, uniquely positioned agents of social change.

IMPORTANT NOTE: There are literally THOUSANDS of butt-kicking examples of young people changing the world right now all across the country, not to mention the MILLIONS of youth around the world who are doing it. AND IT IS WORKING! This is only a small survey of what I remembered quickly and off the top of my head. Please respond and tell me what I have missed!

Props to all young people of color and low-income youth struggling for leadership, power, and justice across the United States and around the world. I stand with you. Much love to the adult allies who support them. I have great respect for every young person who is deeply committed to changing the world, no matter what their background is. Everyone can be engaged, and that is right. Adults working in partnership with these young people, please keep doing what you do. Finally, here’s a reminder to anyone who has read this far: Get engaged in yourself, first, and seek to engage other people after that. Never the reverse. Learn more.



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!

Service Learning versus "Activist Learning"

From the late 90s through the 2000s, I participated in a number of service learning programs across the U.S. Some were hyper-local, such as the program in Taos, New Mexico, focused on building cultural and social connections between the Taos Pueblo and youth in the neighboring town. I worked at the state level in Washington, helping administer a Learn and Serve America grant that went to dozens of subgrantees across the state. I also worked nationally with the Points of Light Foundation and the Corporation for National Service promoting service learning.

Along the way I saw patterns of educational abuse that were extremely disconcerting for me. In the worst cases, young people were being taught the missionary perspectives of the European conquistadors who believed they knew best for those they were to have been serving. Other times, students were extremely tokenized, made to seem as if their presence was all that was needed, while their actions, opinions, ideas, and knowledge was trivial or meaningless.
From that position, in 2006 I drafted an introduction to “Activist Learning”. In this intro I wrote that,

Activist Learning is an intentional strategy for creating knowledge characterized by taking action to realize just relationships that transform unequal power structures in our personal, social, political, environmental, spiritual, and economic lives.

I was clearly reacting to the pressures of poorly implemented service learning. However, I thought it was essential to problematize the position I saw many service learning programs occupying, and provide an alternative conceptualization.
Today I know that there are many, many high quality service learning programs across the U.S. and around the world. There are a number of criteria and assessments available to young people and adults in service learning programs, and a plethora of good examples of service learning challenging the missionary perspective I was railing against. 
The problem today presents itself to me in a deeper way. Instead of poor programs, I see now that there are poor perspectives, activities perpetuated by well-meaning but ill-prepared practitioners who want to do the right thing, but are wholly incapable of that because of the assumptions and ideas they hold. It is these people who I want to target with the considerations of Activist Learning, if for no other reason than to challenge their thinking.
What do you think? What are the next steps that are necessary to develop service learning, and does a consideration need to be made for a new pedogological norm focused on “Activist Learning”?
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Youth Power in 2012

Long-ranging, deep, effective social change largely happens through communication, people talking with people. Education and entertainment are tools of manipulation as well as enlightenment, and they work to change society. 

In mainstream social change, the 1960s and 70s hippies in the U.S. relied on educating their peers and young people in order to bring more people into the ranks. They held workshops and sit-ins, classes and rallies all focused on raising individual knowledge and awareness of the social change they wanted to see. In the 1990s and 2000s conservatives in the U.S. relied on manipulating people through the media in order to spread their message and bring “believers” on board. Perhaps the most sophisticated approach to large scale social change happened from the 1920s through the 1960s, when the African American Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. staged a two-pronged approach to transforming American society. Their usage of mainstream media pulled on heartstrings while their consciousness-raising education activities effectively reached every American, and caused transformations that still ripple through society today.
In the process of the last century, youth power emerged as a startlingly effective force for communicating social change. Starting with the 1936 Declaration of the Rights of American Youth written by the American Youth Congress, young peoples’ voices are being heard with ever-greater power and impact on society. This 1936 creed resulted in the creation of the National Youth Administration, which while it was short lived, showed the power of youth when it was destroyed by Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare. The 1943 Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles showed the compelling power of Latino youth to control popular culture, and the effect when white American adults don’t like that. Their actions led to an increased awareness of the presence of Latinos throughout the U.S., and introduced the weapon of cultural awareness into the battle against discrimination.  The emergence continued in the early 1960s with the formation of Students for a Democratic Society. Their Port Huron Statement effectively set the agenda for a generation of white, middle class young people who were determined to fight for democracy. In the 1970s, the Youth Liberation Press of Ann Arbor, Michigan, began printing and mailing thousands of copies of publications written by young people, for young people- and adults. And many read these pieces, too. There are so many other ways youth power became more real than ever before, but that’s the past.
In 2012, young people are educating and manipulating society as never before. Social media, which is the predominant tool for popular culture manipulation and education, is being used by children, youth, young adults, and their adults in order to create, grow, foster, sustain, and enhance social change. There has never been a force like it before, and young people have never experienced power like this before.
Youth power is by no means limited to the Internet or computers, either. I predict we will see a surge in the development of participatory technologies throughout society that allow, encourage, and build social action in all corners of our community and world over the next 20 years. We will see more effective democratic voting platforms, more engaging community group activism, more substantive usage of social media. All of these tools are being built to engage; more importantly, they are going to enhance and grow. 
Communication is power, and that power belongs to young people today.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

Engaging Children In Activism


A lifetime of teaching children, youth, and adults about social change has taught me that all young people have innate and unique voices that want to be expressed in action. My experience as a parent and adult ally has shown me that children can be a valuable activists. Young people and adults have taught me that involving younger and older children is a great way to create an ethic of action that can last a lifetime.

Here are a few tips to tap into children’s energy, enthusiasm, ability to think outside the box and create new ideas.

Don’t tokenize children.
Children should not be decorations or tokens in your activist campaign. Rather than simply making them walk in front of your march, engage children in sharing their ideas, creating dynamic promotional materials, teaching adults about the issue, and engaging adults.


Foster child/adult partnerships.
Interdependence of children and adults is a key to successful social change. Engage children and adults in meaningful action that is designed to foster positive relationships between them. Encourage intergenerational mentoring by introducing this concept to children and adults and create safe spaces for mutual teaching, critical thinking, and support.

Focus on historically disengaged children.
Children of color, low-income children, students with low grades, foster children, homeless children, children with disabilities, children of parents in the justice system, and other disconnected children are historically disengaged from activism opportunities in their communities. Focus on engaging these children in your activism campaigns to create vibrant, vigorous social change.

Challenge Adultism.
When adults’ views are favored over those of children, it is adultism. While this is appropriate in a variety of circumstances, it’s important to acknowledge that children have important ideas and knowledge, and can take action to affect their own lives, as well as the lives of those around them. Challenge adultism by engaging children in your activism, teaching them about adultism, and by training adults to accept children as partners.

Create Opportunities for Children to be Involved in Planning and Leadership.
Genuine leadership activities can include project planning, team facilitation, teaching others, and meaningful evaluation. Allowing children to take on genuine leadership activities helps them to develop lifelong skills and creates goodwill towards your community. Also, engage children and adults in meaningful and fun activities designed to foster positive relationships between them.

Accept Children for Who They Are and Meet Them Where They Are.
To foster positive relationships between children and adults, avoid dismissing technology, insulting children’s culture, or criticizing what children know. Instead, challenge adults to accept children as partners. Engage children in the communities where they live, learn, and work every day. Involve organizations that children participate in and, where possible, connect their activism to learning. Help children identify resources that exist in their own communities and build social capital among neighbors by showing the positive force children can be in their own communities and throughout their lives.

Acknowledge Disparities.
All communities are not equal, and it is important to acknowledge that with children. For children, serving in neighborhoods where they do not live can help build understanding. Especially for historically disconnected children, serving where they do not live can help them recognize how they can become key to creating healthier, safer communities.

Sustain Children’s Engagement.
Don’t limit outreach to children to one day a year. Instead, use community activism as a launching point for children’s engagement by involving them in activities throughout your community all year long. Children can provide vital energy, creative thinking and critical reflection in a variety of ways that can benefit your activist campaign or entire community! Always ask, “What’s Next?”

Make Action Meaningful Through Reflection.
Children can become easily disenchanted without meaningful opportunities to reflect on their involvement. Challenge children to make meaning from their activism and encourage them to think critically about their involvement.

Build Knowledge Among Children.
Don’t expect children to be fully knowledgeable about your issue or the purpose of activism. Instead, ask them to share what they know and teach each other as well as the adults who are participating.

These are some basic steps to take when engaging children in activism. What would you add?

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

Classroom Characteristics Supporting Youth Voice

This week I’m working with Catalyst Miami training facilitators to use my SoundOut Youth Action Curriculum. In Miami they’re delivering the curriculum in 22 sessions. It is focused on engaging youth voice in action throughout the community, including schools, nonprofits, and other places. Catalyst Miami will be working with dozens of youth throughout the school year to teach the curriculum in their Youth Leadership Training Institute. It is revolutionary for many reasons.

The SoundOut Youth Action Curriculum engages learners in intentional roles that provide deep hands-on opportunities to develop sophisticated approaches to social change. A service learning program at heart, SoundOut uses real-world applications to encourage youth to continue in real world scenarios after the curriculum is completed.

In order to be successful in implementing an effective youth voice classroom, today I taught the facilitators about creating nontraditional learning environments within a school. Meeting in a teacher’s lounge or principal’s conference room is good; meeting in an open classroom or activity area is great. However, the space is not as important as the climate of the classroom.

The characteristics of a learning space supporting youth voice are…

  • Focus – Instead of meandering through purposeless activities and focus-less personal activities, every lesson is designed to be a concise, deliberative engagement of multiple intelligences, broad perspectives, and varying experiences. Youth voice remains the central issue throughout the curriculum, and is the focus of every activity.
  • Supportive – Youth and adults alike are committed to working together without fear of retribution or alienation. All youth are partners with each other and adults in the lessons, and work together for the common cause of engaging youth voice.
  • Engaging – The experiences, knowledge, ideas, and opinions of youth are validated and substantiated with meaningful learning experiences that infuse youth interest with a new capacity to visualize, analyze, create, and engage youth voice.
  • Critical – As co-learners within a community of learners, youth provide vital insight in the learning and teaching process for their peers and facilitators. These democratic interactions are actively encouraged and supported by all members.
  • Transparent – There should be no mysteries about what the purpose of the SoundOut Youth Voice Curriculum is, or what the outcomes of the lesson will be. The curriculum offers numerous ways to make goals, outcomes, and activities fully understandable to youth.
  • Decentralized – SoundOut Youth Voice Curriculum emphasizes the common experience of all participants as learners, and empowers youth to engage fully throughout the learning process.

These characteristics combine to create a powerful climate for learning about and engaging youth voice. What do you think?

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

Favoring Adults By Dismissing Young People

Recently, I rewrote the Freechild Project webpage on adultism to add a short essay at the beginning of the page. This is going to be the new pattern for Freechild.org’s content pages, with unique essays by me featuring information not available anywhere else on the web. I’m going to give you a preview here.

This is the new text to the page called, “Adultism: Favoring Adults by Dismissing Young People“.

 
Introduction to Adultism
 
Adultism is favoring adults by dismissing young people. Adultism is also the addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults. Adultism promotes the discrimination of children and youth, and bias towards adults. 
 
It is a major factor in how society is organized: By assuming children and youth do not have anything of substance or value to add to the majority of social activities, adults keep their power intact. Adultism happens in government, education, social services, religious communities, and families. It is present in our laws, legal practices, economic activities, and the ways we share our cultures.
 
There is value to adultism, as adults sometimes act more responsibly and capably than young people. However, adults often act as if children and youth are never responsible and never capable. That is the problem.
 
Adultism ignores, silences, neglects, and punishes children and youth simply because they are not adults. Every young person experiences adultism from the day they are born until the day the world around them recognizes them as an adult. Every adult in our society today has experienced adultism.

Because of this unconscious sharing of the same experiences, adults often perpetuate adultism without knowing it. In some cases, young people themselves perpetuate adultism.
 
The result of adultism is severe. Seeing and treating young people as weak, helpless and less intelligent than adults impresses inability in the hearts and minds of youth into adulthood. Adultism often makes verbal, physical, and emotional abuse towards young people seem “okay”. Further, adultism can make other negative opinions about people seem okay, so that young people see racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination being “okay”.
 
There are children, youth, and adult allies who are working to challenge adultism right now. Find resources on our website at http://freechild.org/adultism.htm

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

History of Youth Action: 1930s to 1970s

As I continue studying the roles of young people throughout society, I find more places where the roots of youth voice, youth action, youth-led organizing, and civic youth engagement were growing a long time ago. After showing how these roots extend all the way into the Victorian Era, today I want to start in the 1930s when a different type of youth-led community organizing began to rise.

Suddenly, basic welfare and human rights were not enough. Instead, these youth were focused on political power. It was as if they knew Eduardo Galeano was going to write,

“I don’t believe in charity. I believe in solidarity. Charity is vertical, so it’s humiliating. It goes from the top to the bottom. Solidarity is horizontal. It respects the other and learns from the other. I have a lot to learn from other people.”

 

Rising Within the Depression

It was the Great Depression, and the American Youth Congress produced the Declaration of Rights of American Youth, which they presented in front of the U.S. Congress. This group succeeded in getting a concise youth-focused agenda in front of elected officials, if not nominating youth suffrage or other rights. Their approach led to the creation of the National Youth Administration.

However, they didn’t represent all youth: The educational and economic rights of Southern black young people were ignored; American Indian children were being actively ripped from their families to be “assimilated” into “American culture”; other young people of color were routinely discriminated against; and poor young people throughout the country were subject to the oppressive machinations of middle class American values, which insisted on gentrification.

 

Challenging White Supremacy

In addition to this age-based tension, racial awareness among young people was rising. The Zoot Suit Riots during World War II were led by youth. The Civil Rights Movement included a lot of brash leadership by young people. Claudette Colvin was 15 when she refused to give up her seat for a white woman, 9 months before Rosa Parks’ famous launch of the modern movement.

The students at the Greensboro Sit-ins were 18 and 19 years old, only in their first year of college, and their actions informed the creation of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The Birmingham Campaign, focused on challenging the cultural, political, economic, educational, and social discrimination blacks faced in that Alabama city, was most successful when organizers from the SCLC actively engaged child protesters. It was during these times that Dr. King wrote,

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

This was true of young people in these times, as it continues on through history. During this same era, working class and middle class white youth were creating new identities through Beat generation lifestyles and rock and roll, both of which relied on the appropriation and blending of cultural norms to redefine popular culture.

 

You Can’t Blame The Youth

The tension took shape with the creation of the Students for a Democratic Society, which challenged the very belief Americans held about the impetus for their nation’s existence. With the writing of the Port Huron Statement in 1962, young people took new ownership over their own roles throughout society. They emerged as a political force, and within a decade had succeeded in amending the U.S. Constitution with the passage of the 26th Amendment, lowering the voting age across the country to the age of 18 in 1971.

The entrenched radicalization of youth became widespread at this point, supporting the creation of the Youth Liberation Press, based of Ann Arbor, Michigan, which printed materials for youth activists across the country. Youth ran for school board seats, and activities were sponsored by the U.S. government to further entrench young people’s participation throughout society, including the National Commission on Resources for Youth. These were largely successful efforts for their times, and led to further growth over the next 30 years.


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History of Youth Action: 1400 to 1880

Through my ongoing study of the roles of young people throughout society, including youth action, youth voice, youth involvement, and youth engagement, I have learned that we have seen children in a charitable light since the Victorian era, when they were first placed on a particular pedestal by the upper class.

In this position, children were seen as sub-human, incomplete and undeveloped, in need of protection and yearning for safety. Simultaneously, lower class children were seen as miniature adults, incapable of working as hard as adults, but still responsible for taking care of themselves and their families.

 

Youth As Adults

During the four centuries between 1400 and 1800, teenage youth weren’t particularly identified as such: Young women were married off as young as 12 years old, and young men routinely joined the military, struck out on their own, or (rarely) went to college at the age of 14. They were apprentices in the trades who were growing into professionals, and frequently they occupied the same roles in society as people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. They attended town hall meetings, served in capacities as teachers and ministers, and even ran for elected offices.

There was discrimination against age, though, and it was rampant. In arguing against the popular vote, future President John Adams wrote in 1776,

“Depend upon it, Sir, it is dangerous to open so fruitful a source of controversy and altercation as would be opened by attempting to alter the qualifications of voters; there will be no end to it. New claims will arise; women will demand the vote; lads from 12 to 21 will think their rights not enough attended to; and every man who has not a farthing, will demand an equal voice with any other, in all acts of state. It tends to confound and destroy all distinctions, and prostrate all ranks to one common level.”

Now, it’s important to see that Adams was contextualizing youth discrimination with gender discrimination and discrimination against poor people (he didn’t even fathom the prospect of people of color voting). This actually shows what was happening in America, and throughout the Western World, at that crucial turning point in civilization. This turning point was the beginning of the Industrial Age, which in turn collided with the colonization of western North America. Immediately after the U.S. Civil War, in which the U.S. and the confederates regularly enlisted child soldiers, adults began to change their minds about how to treat children and youth.

 

Values-Driven Youth

The values of life in the North America quickly changed to accommodate newfound prospect of getting rich. With adult immigrants suddenly flooding their countries, the U.S. and Canada forced assistance into the lives of children and youth, and subjugated them as never before. Poor kids who copied adult behaviors were pitied; slave children were disallowed from being educated for fear of their desire to have better lives.

This was a crucial turning point for the roles of young people throughout society: Where before poor children and youth were left to fend for themselves, suddenly there were advocates and activists rallying to place them in orphanages and rectories across the hemisphere. Instead of having to rely on kids to work in factories and mines in the East, suddenly there were schools and movements to get students into those schools (John Gatto has written extensively about this).

Rather than letting teens get married, there were suddenly social norms and laws preventing early marriage, as well as getting them off farms and into high schools. Instead of being able to hold office, lead families, make a living and manage their own money, children and youth were suddenly relegated to sub-human treatment and almost fully incapacitated from making decisions on their own, and incapable of affecting change in the world around them.

 

Charity Cases?

From this place, a charitable attitude towards young people arouse. The Children’s Aid Society started it in the 1850s. It took further form by way of schools and the Big 7 youth organizations, all of which grew popular in the early 1900s, in addition to the Children’s Rights Movement, which held that there were basic . This consciousness continued to grip America through the 1970s, when organizations like Children’s Defense Fund and other groups began “crusading” on behalf of children and youth in North America and around the world.

They worked to feed hungry kids, stop child labor, get students into schools, provide healthcare for poor kids, and stop child abuse. These advances, though, marked the end of progress on behalf of children in many ways. However, as Saint Augustine wrote, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.”

I first found an awareness of injustice caused by age emerge among young people in the 1880s. Starting in that decade, children working for the newspaper empires in the American East began seeing that the adults they worked for didn’t have their best interests in mind. These 8-12 year olds, called newsboys, protested in 15 major cities, managing to shut down the distribution of several major newspapers.

They continued random efforts for more than 50 years after, forming a longstanding campaign for youth justice. For the first time in I can find in recorded history, young people were organizing for the benefit of young people.

This is the beginning of the movement for youth voice, youth involvement, youth-led activism, youth organizing… and the place from where our society planted the roots that have become a global phenomenon that is re-envisioning the roles of young people throughout society.

 


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