- Dynamic actors rather than static audience (They DO things instead of just watch them);
- Socially responsive instead of culturally deviant (They’re making a better world instead of a worse one);
- Highly effective creators instead of ineffectually passive consumers (Preaching doesn’t working- making does.)
The tides of discrimination wash back and forth over the bones of justice. Whitewashing reality happens every day, as people conveniently forget what they do not want to remember, and coincidentally recall the most minute details at the perfect moment in time. Keeping these things in mind helps recall how some become the oppressors, and how others reinforce their power.
When considering the roles of young people of all ages throughout society it is easy to deny the truth. This morning I was speaking at a local summit called “Voices of Youth” in which a group of young people from local high schools were gathered to discuss young peoples’ health and well-being. I was quickly reminded that adults, despite having the best intentions, often have it in for youth.
Rather than turning the floor over to young people to identify, develop, lead, and reflect on substantive social change we oftentimes regale them with our knowledge, hammer them over the heads with our capabilities, and expect young people to be passive recipients of whatever we’re giving them. I AM GUILTY of doing this. As a public speaker I feel a twang of irresponsibility when I approach an opportunity in this “sit n’ git” fashion. It pains me some days. But I do it anyway.
Where do adults establish their supremacy?
Recently I talked with a group of adults- parents and organizational leaders and others- who boiled it down to the statement that “Adults have intellectual and moral capacity that youth do not, and that enables us to make decisions for them that they should not make for themselves.”
However, “intellectual capacity” and “moral capacity” are both subjective perspectives that are determined a variety of factors. Reflecting on my own professional experience, I find that adults generally attribute all variable components of a young person- of any age- to their so-called “developmental ability”, which in itself is a subjective variable dependent on concrete influences. Allowing for all those variables to reasonably influence policy and programs affecting children and youth would encourage much more efficacy in how we educate, socialize, and otherwise engender the experience of being young throughout our society.
Today I’m curious whether there are boundaries to the intellectual and moral capacity of young people. What do YOU think?
There are a lot of reasons to support youth engagement, including it’s affects on young people and the larger communities they’re part of. Today I want to share an excellent opportunity to find out how youth engagement affects adults and to support them in the process.
Kyla Lackie of Seattle’s SOAR (http://www.childrenandyouth.org/) and I are co-facilitating a brand-new Youth Engagement Practitioners Cadre starting next month. We are working together with Seattle Public Schools’ Youth Engagement Zone to build a genuine learning community among Seattle’s professionals who work with youth to engage youth. In the process we’re going to cultivate the wisdom of the area, identifying what we know and what we want to learn. We’re going to collaborate on community-building activities and promote real co-learning among different organizations.
This is an exciting project for me, and I want to encourage anyone in my Seattle network to consider applying today. We’re offering good scholarships, and we’re appealing only to experienced folks to join in.
Let me know if you have any questions, or of you’d be interested in hosting me facilitating a cadre in your city. I’m leading Student Voice Cadre in Pasco, Washington, and a Cadre in Miami. Now is time to maturate our approaches, and deepen our senses of belonging. The Youth Engagement Practitioner Cadre is one way to do that!
More than ever before, young people are surging ahead in our society, creating great new realities that are vastly different from those of their parents and all the generations before them. This is happening right now. More youth are actively engaging in creating, fostering, nurturing, and sustaining substantive social change than ever before. More than ever before, there are young women, young people of color, low income children and youth, and more immigrants than ever seen before who are actively leading, teaching, evaluating, researching, decision-making, advocating, and organizing throughout our society. These are the new roles that The Freechild Project and SoundOut advocate for. Children and youth are addressing radically diverse issues and demanding and creating drastically different realities. This are the rapidly changing times we live in right now. This is what I elaborate, amplify, and celebrate every single day.
Young people are solving poverty right now.
Young people are reinventing education right now.
Young people are reinvigorating spirituality right now.
Young people are energizing democracy right now.
Young people are the future- right now.
In the meantime, adults are living in a negative trance that is disallowing us from seeing exactly what is happening. We’re getting scanned at airports, sucked into cynical television, drum beaten by opportunistic politicians, consumed by parasitic corporations, and thwarted by our own subconscious shackles that keep us in very narrow perspectives of young people. Our own limited views are causing us to see and treat children and youth apathetically, pitifully, and sympathetically, and worst still, sometimes even with antipathy. We enjoy our perspectives of young people, even while they’re trying to teach us otherwise.
The world will thrive because of young people today. The stop gap solutions of adults will not continue to serve us. The excuses we have relied on will be proven wrong. The barriers we have relied on to withhold a powerful new future will evaporate at the hands of kids and teens today. Adults play a vital role in the lives of all young people, and that is a simple truth. Luckily though, they’re not waiting for us before they get to work.
These brand new youth are with us right now. This is the present right now.
Are you ready for the future, today?
Antipathy is extreme dislike or hate.
Antipathy toward youth is spreading wider throughout our society than ever before. Often cloaked in cynicism, antipathy is a dangerously current phenomenon. Politicians mocks young people, teachers eschew their jobs, and even parents share a kind of pathetic “buyers remorse” for the people they brought into the world.
There are all kinds of reasons that are expressed and underexpressed for this. Sociologist Mike Males has long contended that the ephebiphobia– extreme fear of youth- that rips up our society is the product of racism, and the reality that America is becoming predominately people of color. I believe antipathy has those exact same roots, with an extension beyond obvious skin color and towards the cultures that young people are influenced by, the education that young people are receiving, and the beliefs that young people express.
There is always a fear of the unknown, especially when they’re knocking at your door or living under the same roof. The question is whether we are ready to become familiar with that which we don’t know, or if we’re going to shun, reject, deny, and punish that which we don’t know.
The Chinese Communists apparently have this same struggle. In the face of the aging Party leadership, they are struggling to instill and maintain the interest of young people in Communism, and not simply because they don’t know how. Apparently, there is a deep-seeded antipathy toward youth in China, with party leaders long criticizing and demeaning young people. They demanded a kind of social conformity and enforced a rigidity designed to malign the inherently progressive nature of young people while reinforcing the conservativism of their brand of socialism.
The dilemmas of antipathy toward youth are innumerable. Political antipathy toward youth is critically irresponsible, and is echoed across the aisle. During his campaign for president early this year former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich proposed legislated hatred, suggesting that, “It wouldn’t be bad to have a test for young Americans before they start voting,” making a comparison to the citizenship test new immigrants are required to take. This is a thinly veiled antipathy, suggesting that Gingrich believes all youth are suspect criminals who have to “earn” citizenship rights in addition to the qualification of age. It’s one or the other, not both. It’s bad enough that the political infrastructure of the U.S. reinforces second-tiered citizenship for American children and youth; Gingrich seems to believe that adding injury upon insult is more apt. That’s hatred at it’s best.
At it’s worse, antipathy towards youth gets very ugly, very fast. The War On Youth has been raging in this country for at least 30 years; some would suggest it goes back to the beginning of the Commercial Age. It is definitely the grand reinforcer of discrimination against youth, and certainly calls for a radical redefinition of values in this country if we are to defeat it. Recently we’ve seen antipathy toward youth take the form of defunding public education and healthcare for children; the criminalization of youth through curfews, dress codes, and raised driving ages; and myriad more examples. It’s mildly sickening, mostly because we know the outcomes from this type of rage. The 1960s didn’t happen by accident.
And ultimately, that is my concern: We are fomenting revolution in the U.S. today. Young people here aren’t going to sit idly by and watch the youth of the Middle East demand democracy while they suffer authoritarianism at it’s worst. Antipathy toward youth is enforced through authoritarianism towards young people, and both of those phenomena are on the rise.
Something must be done differently. Learn how.
- I Hate Young People – “I Hate Young People is a website for those of us who are out of our cavity-prone years and tired of feeling marginalized by a generation capable of little more than whining, tweeting and playing “Grand Theft Auto.””
- “Why I Hate Young People” – A blog entry that includes, “Young people can be very annoying, and everyone knows this – even children…”
- “Why Older People Hate Gen Y” – Australia’s Daily Telegraph published this jewel of an article back in 2008. “The gist is this: Old people frothing about how young people don’t work hard enough, have entitlement issues, are too goddamn optimistic and wear their pants too low.”
- “I Hate Young People” – An 18-year-old shares his disdain for popular culture, which he masks as antipathy for his own generation. And hipster mag McSweeney’s gave him an award for it.
- “Do Adults Really Hate Young People?” – New Zealand’s Green Party wonders if its true, then lists all the ways it is, and still has the gall to ask if its so at the end.
- I Hate Young People – Another website all about antipathy for youth, this one focused on pitching a tv show! “We want you to create a video of yourself explaining what you hate the most about young people. It’s your chance to rant and rave and vent about the younger generation.”
Discrimination Against Youth
I believe young people are capable of doing absolutely anything, right now.
The roles of young people are actively changing right now throughout society. Today there are young people with jobs as city planners, volunteering as nonprofit board directors, and voting as members of public commissions. Other young people are actively creating film productions, developing high-end websites, and controlling other media.
There are youth starting businesses, developing civic campaigns, and creating strategies for engaging their friends and peers throughout their communities. None of this work is actively being done to throw off the shackles of oppressive adult control, or to wrest the torch of authority from adults—or at least very, very little of it is.
Society WANTS to Be Changed
Instead, it’s being done because more than ever young people are facing a convergence of personal will and social aptitude: Young people are changing society at a point when society wants to be changed!
This is a wonderful reality that really, truly signals the possibility of a grand future that I only imagined as a 17-year-old starting a youth council in my neighborhood, one that is limited only by the imaginations of young people and their adult allies, and those imaginations are limitless.
It’s because of my knowledge of these realities that I firmly believe any presuppositions about age-oriented developmental psychology theory are based on age bias and discrimination.
Adultism is a Malignant Tumor
Today, after studying developmental psychology and education as an undergraduate and spending 22 years as a professional community educator, I maintain that youth development as we know it is a psycho-philosophical mis-orientation, a malignant tumor on the heart of society today. I believe that this bias towards adults and discrimination against youth—which is called adultism—is a society-wide construct that permeates our legal, political, cultural, economic, environmental, educational, and familial institutions.
There are those who would suggest that young peoples’ motivations for engaging in social change is a psycho-chemical reaction that is responsive to their age. However, after these years of field study and practice, I have found that rather than any time-based orientation, the motivations of children and youth to change the world come from their socio-economic backgrounds, class consciousness, and political world views. Yes, that’s correct: young people have political world views.
Capable if Not Able
In my belief, age is irrelevant; rather, it is exposure, critical engagement, and conscious reflection that drives the desires of young people to want to form, reform, challenge, critique, examine, deconstruct, and otherwise identify the imbalances of the world around them. All children and youth do not want to change the world; however, all are capable of engaging in social change, and that capability is not contingent on their age.
Social conditioning—including familial backgrounds, socio-economic grouping, and education—is the single greatest factor in determining a young person’s desire to change the world.
That is to say that I believe developmental psychology is generally bunkus when it comes to explaining social engagement. With regards to physiology, I don’t believe that chemical reactions in the brains of an average young person make them incapable of empathizing with others; they merely make teachers, parents, and mentors more responsible for doing their jobs capably.
That said, it can easy for adults to agree with all that, and still make the assumption that age is still the predominant factor for engagement in social change, if only because age is assumed to be the great accumulator of experience.
The thought is that the longer a person lives, the more they’ve done, and the more a person has done, the more they’ll desire to change the world, and the more knowledge they’ll have in order to change the world. None of this is true.
Age isn’t determinant of experiential accumulation, if only because the breadth and depth of experience is due to cultural stimulation rather than age. In the same way that a lot of teens have more political education than a lot of adults, not because of age, but because of interest, it holds true that there are young children who may be more engaged than youth in work designed to change the world.
However, that isn’t because of interest, alone. Rather, it’s because of their experiences, and this, in turn, reinforces my statement at the beginning of this paragraph. Children can have a great deal of experience with discrimination, oppression, disparity, and inequity, even at young ages. Whether they relate because of their race, socio-economic status, compassion for the Earth, or other factors, all young people of all ages have the ability to empathize, and that is what determines their aptitude for engaging in social change.
Again, this reinforces my belief that age isn’t generally relevant, insomuch as their empathetic background. Let me say that I do believe that young children may not have the capability to determine when to run from a burning building. However, I do not believe that every situation is analogous to a burning building.
Unfortunately, many adults treat almost every situation that way because we’re conditioned to. That conditioning, which is adultism, unfortunately rears it’s ugly head in a lot of ways.
There is a philosophical reasoning behind re-imagining the roles of young people throughout society and there is movement towards this, we have not overcome the broad acceptance of adultism. The next steps in this effort are to address the cultural and attitudinal effects of adultism.
While continued action by children and youth is essential for doing this, I believe that it’s absolutely imperative that as adults we re-examine our assumptions, beliefs, and actions throughout society towards young people. Only then will we be able to go to the next step. Only then will be have the radically effective democratic society millenia of people saw as possible. Only then will we actually become fully powerful as individuals, communities, and societies to become the world we have always dreamed of becoming.
Youth can do anything, and will continue doing as much as they can. It’s up to us to create the scaffolding, opportunities, and sustainability needed to expand and deepen what anything means, and as long as we’re not doing that, we’re part of the problem—not the solution.
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Yesterday I introduced “youth mainstreaming” as the deliberate movement to increase the awareness and participation of young people throughout society. While UNESCO and European government literature increasingly focuses on this phenomenon, it is not a popular term in North America.
However, after reading about it and having conversations with colleagues I have come to understand that while it is true that the concept of youth mainstreaming could provide an important model for considering all the places and people throughout society who could benefit from active youth engagement, it is also important to recognize the inherent limits to “mainstreaming.” I want to suggest that youth mainstreaming is equivalent to racial desegregation; Youth mainstreaming is simply ending the routine separation of young people from society, including integrating youth voice and action throughout the structures and institutions that affect them most; Racial desegregation is simply ending legalized segregation. However, neither of those approaches addresses the challenges of the entrenched fear that drives racial or age discrimination.
Youth integration calls for more. It demands that systematic efforts be made to create equitable opportunities for all people with respect to their age, including the development of a culture that draws on diverse perspectives, rather than merely representing age minority in adult culture.
Part of the assumption of youth mainstreaming is revealed in the goals of UNESCO, which, while important and laudable, fall short of ensuring the social change necessary to engage young people as full members of society. Calling for the presence of young women and men in UNESCO bodies, workshops, meetings and conferences fosters the illusion of inclusion; however, it does nothing to ensure the lives of everyday young people are affected by the world’s largest social change engine (the United Nations).
All of this gets at the heart of an issue I have been uncovering recently. Without calling it youth mainstreaming, many organizations in the United States and Canada have been making strides in the last decade towards moving young people into the structures of their operations. I have been engaged in this work, assisting schools, government agencies, and nonprofits in developing these approaches. However, recently I’ve begun recognizing the inherent limitations of focusing on structural changes, not the least of which being that policies change when leadership changes, and when leadership changes children and youth are susceptible to being neglected or otherwise left behind.
Instead of continuing to rely on broken machinations focused on changing the places where we seek to engage children and youth, I want to start working to change the hearts and minds of the adults who serve young people, including parents and teachers and youth workers and detention officers and counselors… That seems to be the heart of youth integration and why it is important to move beyond youth mainstreaming – we need more than token youth engagement; it needs to wholly re-envision the roles of young people throughout society. That is what youth integration can lead us towards; anything less is selling out.
“Youth mainstreaming” is a deliberate movement to increase the awareness and participation of young people throughout society. It’s a term I’ve run across in European youth literature, and one of several terms UNESCO uses that aren’t popular in the U.S. Youth mainstreaming seems to be an emerging idea whose time is coming. There is a fairly sophisticated body of work out there that we can learn from…
I think that the concept of youth mainstreaming could provide an important model for considering all the places and people throughout society who could benefit from active youth engagement. When I consider these places, I’m thinking about home, school, business, government, nonprofit organizations, places of worship, etc. Even within these institutions we can use the concept of youth mainstreaming to guide conversations deeper. The people who can benefit from considering youth mainstreaming include elected officials, teachers, youth workers, parents, ministers, etc., and of course, young people themselves.
As I revisit the language of youth engagement, I’m concerned by the apparent lack of sophistication many American youth programs have when they’re considering this work. That’s why we should think about youth mainstreaming a little more.
Yesterday I had the opportunity to talk with a colleague whose youth involvement program is being devastated by funding cuts. In addition to forcing her to leave her job, this is also going to directly affect the dozens of young people she works with and the community they serve through their youth involvement activities.
This forces me to think about the reciprocal effects of youth involvement: Involved in a prevention/intervention program for at least a year now, these young people serve as social network hubs who, in addition to reducing or eliminating the impacts of drugs and alcohol on their own lives, are working to promote increased awareness among their peers through media campaigns, training, and direct interactions with young people their own age. They are learning the skills of youth involvement along the way.
Without this activity these same young people, who generally come from homes that are highly impacted by addictive behaviors, loose their connections to the safe, supportive and empowering environments they’ve come to expect through this youth involvement activity. Their positive connection with the larger social message of impacting their peers and helping society is severed. The meaning-making they participated in constantly with powerful adult allies is unfortunately negated, as they are turned back towards the society they sought to assist with the hyper-exaggerated message that, “Whatever you were doing wasn’t valuable enough to us to continue.”
All of this speaks nothing of the actual impact the program itself had on the larger community, where impact assessments had shown substantive change in these behaviors over the previous ten years the program had been operating. All this speaks nothing of the impact of the program on the host organization, which has been forced to face the adultism inherent in it’s everyday operations because of the significant impact this program had on overall agency culture and the staff’s commitment to addressing adultism.
Now, in the face of budget cuts at the local, state, and federal levels, we are seeing the brutal elimination of funding for youth involvement programs of all kinds. Simultaneously, we’re seeing the broad divestment of foundations from youth involvement initiatives, as well. Surely these aren’t targeted at youth involvement specifically; instead, the active disengagement of young people is a bi-product of cuts that have to be made. Unfortunately, the limited vision of the decision-makers involved and the inability of funding advocates to clearly iterate the crucial necessity of youth involvement specifically is going to impact far more than a few well-meaning, but overly ambitious efforts here and there. Instead, these cuts are laying a foundation for the future of civic, cultural, and social engagement throughout the U.S. and around the world. Without programs that deliberately set about changing the dominant paradigm of adultcentrism our society is going to continue on its negative patterns of disconnection, cynicism, and utter disabling of young peoples’ interest and ability to affect the families, communities, cultures, and societies they belong to.
We need more than money for youth involvement. We need to tell our story better. We need to tell the truth more often. We need to get real.