An Imperative for Youth Empowerment

What is the missing element in almost all youth empowerment work today? It is an awareness of discrimination against young people.

We don’t like to hear it, but EVERY adult discriminates. While an increasing amount of people are concerned about racism, sexism, classism, or homophobia, that’s not what I’m talking about here. Today, I want you to understand that every day adults discriminate against young people – including YOU and ME.

Discrimination has many definitions, and one of them is the capability to discern difference between two or more things. It is in this way that adults constantly discriminate against young people. That’s not necessarily wrong or bad, but it is true. Adults who don’t discern the difference between them and young people generally have developmental restraints that limit their ability to discriminate. Again, discriminating against young people and being in favor of adults isn’t always bad; it simply IS. Accepting that reality is the first step to creating a more just and equitable society benefiting all people.

When adults don’t have the ability to discern the difference between young people and themselves, or when they either accidentally or intentionally blur or erase those differences, something is out-of-whack with them. Similarly, when the differences are hyper-exaggerated something is out-of-whack, too. Unfortunately, those two things are routine in our society today. 

Recognizing that reality is imperative for creating authentic youth empowerment. Otherwise, adults are simply giving lip service to young people and saying they’re equal, but acting in other ways. They are being disingenuous and inauthentic by going through the motions without any real meaning behind what they’re doing.

If you choose to see yourself or other adults as being devoid of discriminating against young people though your behavior, attitude, actions, and/or ideas, that is up to you. I choose to acknowledge that I’m discriminate against young people. Sometimes that that is a-okay, and sometimes its messed up. That’s me being honest, and this blog is meant I urge you to do the same.

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

Expanding Children’s Rights in the US

Bound up in this ongoing conversation about youth engagement is the question of who has the right to be heard. In the United States, there are two distinct conversations that happen regarding the rights of children and youth; one is protective (Children’s Defense Fund) and the other is liberatory (National Youth Rights Association).

Children’s Ombudsman Offices are independent, impartial public officials with authority and responsibility to receive, investigate or informally address complaints about government actions, and, when appropriate, make findings and recommendations, and publish reports. Their roles are almost wholly interpreted to be protective, with few reports indicating that they’ve done anything related to liberating young people.

Twenty-two states in the US have official children’s ombudsman offices that deal with children’s rights issues. Have you ever heard of these offices in Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Rhode Island, Tennessee, Washington, California, Texas, Utah, Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Nebraska, Arkansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Delaware, Maryland, Minnesota, Nevada, Montana, Ohio, South Carolina, or Virginia?

You can learn about these offices, including what they specifically do and how they operate, from this website.

I would like to see these offices, along with state-level Children’s Cabinets and local and state Youth Councils, assume leadership towards promoting youth voice, youth engagement, youth leadership, and youth empowerment across the country, and that includes children, too.

This would create relevant, meaningful opportunities for young people of all ages to engage in democracy. It would also catalyze vibrant conversations in many places where discussions about children’s rights, youth rights, and civic engagement are dead.

What is ahead? Expanding children’s rights in the United States may be the next route to take.

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

Empowerment and Engagement

Opening

My friend Lori works with youth in the Midwest. She recently asked me, “In the scheme of things, how do we motivate the youth to be empowered rather than entitled?” I’ve learned that motivation comes through our own experience and example more than anything else. We have to actively demonstrate to young people our engagement, our empowerment, and our leadership more than any attempt to motivate them.
 

When we work in high-pressure environments with young people who really, really need us to connect with them, adults who work with young people need high-efficacy approaches to engaging those young people, ways that will lead to their personal empowerment. That means that engagement happens before empowerment, and this cycle happens before engagement.

 

The Cycle of Engagement, which I originally wrote about in my booklet, The Freechild Project Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People
The Cycle of Engagement, which I originally wrote about in my booklet, The Freechild Project Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People.

 
In reflecting on my own practice with young people and after researching youth work for so long, I identified a cycle that seems to consistently work to engage young people. This cycle works in a long-range, program-wide way, but more importantly, in a direct, one-on-one approach too. The more times we go through this cycle with young people, the more it expands and the deeper the returns are. Those results include trust-building, effective communication, and empowerment.
 

Part One: Listen.

The first thing we can do to engage young people is to listen to them. This means opening a a safe space where young people can tell the truth without fear of judgment, criticism, or rejection.

Important points about listening to children and listening to youth:
  • Not just a physical place, listening to young people requires an interpersonal connection between adults and young people where facades can soften and young people feel accepted and accepting.
  • Listening to young people requires that they feel free to share their feelings, work through conflicts, and experience that they are not alone.
  • Adults can facilitate these spaces intentionally and successfully, at home, in community programs, and at schools, and that is what is required to listen to young people.
  • If you don’t know how, learn more about nonviolent communication and compassionate listening.
  • Listening isn’t necessarily verbal, either, as young people have many ways of communicating about their lives, ideas, emotions and feelings, experiences, wisdom, power, and oppression.
  • In becoming responsive, adults learn about these expressions too. Listening is the first part of the cycle of engagement.

 

Part Two: Validate.

After we’ve listened to young people, as adults, we need to learn to validate children and youth.  You’ve heard adults say it, and you might have said it yourself: “Oh, that’s really nice.” We try to say “nice” in just the right way, but to young people it seems really insincere. We think we’re doing the “right thing” by encouraging young people move forward, but in our heads we really thinking about the time we fell flat on our face from the same approach.

Important points about validating young people:
  • Instead of actually acknowledging what they shared when we listened to them and instead of hiding our true thoughts, adults should to honestly validate what young people say or do by honestly responding to it and sharing how we sincerely feel or think about it.
  • If we think a young person’s ideas are off-base, or an initiative will fail, or that more information is needed, we should always say so.
  • Validation means disagreeing or agreeing with young people in open ways, and asking more questions when we need to.
  • This acknowledges their authentic humanity, their real selves.
  • Validation is the second part of engaging children and youth.

 

Part Three: Authorize.

After adults have listened to children and youth and validated what they’ve expressed, if we truly want to engage them we must authorize young people. Authority is a powerful word that can intimidate people who aren’t used to it.
Important points about authorizing children and youth:
  • Without authority, young people are just whispering in a loud argument.
  • Authority means giving young people the ability to tell their own story, and it happens through informal and formal education and positioning.
  • Education means building the skills of children and youth to engage in democracy.
  • Positioning means telling young people they can do a thing and giving them explicit permission.
  • Authorization builds the capacity and ability of young people with actual powerful, purposeful, and rewarding knowledge and opportunities.
  • As young people apply their new skills and knowledge to practical action, young people can make a difference in their own lives and in the lives of others.

 

Part Four: Act.

As they gain ability through authorization, the next step is revealed as youth action. Youth action is about young people creating change, either in their own life or in the lives of others. Learn about what youth can do to change the world, and how they can take action.
Important points about youth action:
  • Young people, especially those experiencing multiple depths of oppression, rarely take action in ways that help themselves or their communities for fear of failure, retribution or punishment.
  • In situations where young people are deeply oppressed and disengaged from changing their lives and changing the world, taking action for requires children, youth, and adults working together to make the space, place, and ability for young people to create change.
  • Action can – and should – look different everywhere: from identifying the challenge, researching the issue, planning for action, training for effectiveness, reflection on the process, to celebrating the outcomes, youth action is totally flexible.
  • The purpose of youth action is always to create, support, and sustain powerful, purposeful, and meaningful lives.
  • An important caution: Action is often seen as the most important step of this cycle. That’s not true, and all parts of this cycle are equally important.

 

Part Five: Reflect.

Finally, while youth action is underway and when its finished, reflect. However you reflect, the important part is that you are making meaning of what you’ve gone through by identifying what you’ve learned and suggesting how you might apply that to future activities. Learn to facilitate reflection in ways that reach diverse young peoples’ desires, expectations, and abilities in order to be effective.
 
Important points about reflection with young people:
  • Reflection is an ongoing process that can deeply, sustainably engage children and youth.
  • When young people and adults critically assess and analyze their lives together, learning becomes a vibrant, intricate, and powerful tool for personal change and community transformation.
  • Reflection activities used should be appropriate for diverse learners, and include opportunities for talking, writing, acting, creating collages, and building activities, among others.
  • Once you’ve finished reflecting, those lessons should be incorporated into the next listening activity, to support a cyclical approach to engaging young people.

 

Closing

When this cycle is done as a whole, these parts of youth engagement lead to youth empowerment. The parts can be done with individual young people in single interactions, or with groups of young people over the course of a program year. Ultimately, they lead to children and youth discovering the positive, powerful relationships they can form with adults, and create intentional youth/adult partnerships that can change lives, and ultimately change the world.

Rethinking Youth Empowerment

So many adults say they want to empower youth. When they say this to me, I’ve learned to simply hear them, because its usually those adults who most want to be empowered. So, before you strive to empower a young person, I want you to consider that you might want to be empowered yourself. Right now, take a moment and think about what that means for you. That’s not a value judgment statement or a condemnation; its just an opportunity for you to think about it.

When I write the phrase “youth empowerment”, I’m talking about young people of all ages, including very young children and very old teenagers.

A long time ago, I wrote a definition of youth empowerment: “Youth empowerment is an attitudinal, structural, and cultural process whereby young people gain the ability, authority, and agency to make decisions and implement change in their own lives and the lives of other people, including youth and adults.”

However, if you work professionally with young people, I want you to understand that there is not one single definition of youth empowerment.  There’s no single power that all adults can give all youth. Its not simply ability, authority, and agency, because there’s both more and less to it than that.

The simple fact is that all children and youth are endowed with an innate power that they alone possess, and they alone can own. There are no proper words to express what this power is or how it acts. Youth power is literally larger than words.

As adults, every single one of us needs to acknowledge that we can and frequently do oppress youth power. However, none of us can restore it. We can open doorways that help young people reclaim their power, and those doorways can become gateways to lifetimes of empowerment; but adults cannot reclaim youth power for young people.

I have come to understand that decision-making opportunities are doorways to youth empowerment. So are leadership, teaching, and other activities that position young people in places of genuine and appropriate authority over their own lives, and influence in the lives of other people. However, its also a place of authentic personal understanding: one part motivation to three parts ability, youth empowerment is a personal awareness of the intrinsic nature lying within all people to change the world and change themselves.

Because of the depth of this reality, “youth empowerment” is often misunderstood, misconstrued, and ill-implemented. Many adults simply put young people into positions of authority without ever attending to that authentic personal understanding that needs to be intact. Well-meaning parents give their kids the keys to the house without locking the liquor cabinet, while well-meaning youth workers form youth councils without facilitating training about leadership or self-awareness for youth participants.

Remembering that there’s no one single way that all adults can empower all young people, its also true that all youth empowerment is subjective. That means that what works in one community won’t work in the next, and what works with one teen in a family may not work with younger children in the same family. All young people have their own oppressions that need to be overcome, and if youth empowerment is meant to help overcome those oppressions, adults need to cater to their realities.

There are many, many ways that adults can oppress all young people; oppression is an objective fact. This is true of the youngest among us, as well as the oldest youth in our lives. All young people are discriminated against because of their age, and that is an unquestionable fact. Parenting, schooling, governing, and many more functions of society serve to oppress people whom they’re designed for; whether by intention or coincidence doesn’t matter.

If young people come to believe that their oppression is fair, or that their oppression is their own fault, then they won’t think of themselves as oppressed. Adults routinely work to convince young people that their oppression is the result of biological fact, social norms, or cultural customs, rather than the fault of individual adults whose actions and choices oppress children and youth.

Finally, if you’re concerned with action, here’s a last thought for now: The only way to really, really understand the relationship between youth empowerment and oppression is to observe it directly in your own life. Begin your looking directly from where you stand right now and observe how you oppress young people, children, youth, teens, kids, tots, infants, babies, any or all of them – because we all do. Adults oppress young people as parents, teachers, youth workers, neighbors, aunts and uncles, counselors, all these roles. When you’ve acknowledged that, dig further into your own life and look at your teenage years. Acknowledge how you were oppressed as a youth, then name your oppression as a child. Name each instance and type you can think of. This is hard work, but the first step to uncovering your role as the oppressor and the oppressed.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

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!

Radical Transparency with Children and Youth

How To Be Radically Transparent With Children and Youth
  1. Start when they’re young. While young people are still young, that’s the time to make be radically transparent with them. Having a transparent conversation with a 17 or 18 year old can be difficult, if only because they’re conditioned to accept adults obfuscating. By starting early, you weave into your relationships with young people your own ability to be honest, and show your expectation that your relationships with children and youth are motivated by fully mutual accountability.
  2. Take issues one at a time. When creating a radically transparent relationship with young people, go in steps. Being completely open and honest all at once can be really difficult and daunting. Every time you would typically keep information to yourself, ask yourself, “Why can’t I share this with young people?” Unless you come up with a strong argument against it, opt for openness. But in increments.
  3. Make time to explain your logic. As a radically transparent adult ally, you must be honest and fair. Young people need to understand how you came to your decisions and why. Be ready to spend a huge amount of time with children and youth explaining everything. The extra time will pay off, when ultimately, your effort will inspire trust and respect.
  4. Clearly outline the steps for action. Radically transparent organizations need clear ways for young people to take action. You might set specific goals or show young people which skills and outcomes they can be developing. Being fair in this process prevents you from expecting any young people to do something beyond their abilities. Make sure your organization is focused on process more than product, and let young people know that’s the case.
  5. Question your own discomfort. Making traditionally adult-only information available to young people naturally stirs up discomfort. A lot of the time its uncomfortable because it’s never been done before. Whenever you hesitates, ask yourself if sharing that information would help or engage the young people you’re working with. If it would, do it. Once it’s out in the open, discomfort quickly fades. If it doesn’t, its trying to show you more.

There is no such thing as genuinely non-coercive relationships with young people. The best writing about that topic is full of coercion and attempts to get kids to do things, but from particularly obtuse or obfuscated angles. There’s are political causes behind everything- not party politik, but philosophical politics.


Those philosophical politics inform all our ways of being, including and especially our relationships with young people. Its from this place that philosopher/theorists like Freire, Illich, and even Neill become so relevant. However, they represent different perspectives, and as a critical theorist I hang my hat closest to Freire.
It is from this perspective that I find myself wondering lately about the notion of radical transparency with children and youth. Growing up in the mire of post-naive capitalism, I have grown to deeply appreciate attempts to reveal the political considerations of the systems and society I occupy and participate in. The dark forces of gross consumerism routinely pile up cheap plastic crap around us in piles so big we can’t see what’s going on around us. 
Those piles are formed of the detritus of our lifestyles, including the stuff we buy and the places we attend. However, they’re also made from the shady forces of popular culture which seek to block us from seeing why things around us happen the ways they do. 
Given an opportunity to identify clearly what they see in the world around them, I believe young people have the innate capacity to discover and examine why things are the way they are. They can also identify how things operate, and how they can be transformed. With consistent and relevant exposure throughout their lives, all children and youth could gradually, purposefully, and truly become operative democrats—that is, fully engaged citizens in a democracy—at much younger ages than we afford people now.

The believe that there’s a static experience of childhood that should be preserved through ignorance and limited exposure to the world is idyllic and has been proven misguided, if only because we know that for all intents and purposes, that experience is limited to so few young people. Right now it seems as if the domineering modus operandi in society is to “throw them to the wolves” of pop culture consumerism that defines their identities for them. I want young people to be able to choose their identities, connections, and engagements, rather than allowing corporations to choose for them.

I don’t think transparency equals full access or authority. It may lend itself to that, and when it’s appropriate it will. But I’m not inclined to hand over the keys to the house and invite everyone in, as it were. If a young person wanted more of an institution at will and of there own volition, that’s something different. But rather than foist everything upon every young person all at once, I wonder of there’s a need for degrees of transparency. Is transparency only necessary/appropriate when young people request it? If that choice isn’t radical transparency, then what is? Cynicism is popular in some communities, while in most others there’s gross apathy. What other options are there?


Writing about this, I think it’s important to clarify that I’m thinking mostly about social institutions like families, schools, policing, the economy, government, nonprofits, religions. What if Toto ran up and pulled back the curtain on any of those institutions? What would young people themselves see? Can we be that revelatory and transparent?

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

Questions About Youth Empowerment

Today I read a great article by a thought leader in New Hampshire’s democratic education community, Peter Berg. Peter does some cool work including coaching for young people themselves, and I really like his blog. Cool guy. His article, “Empowering Youth to Take Charge of Their Health“, got my brain running this afternoon, as his writing often does.

 

Thinking about youth empowerment

When I think about the ability of young people to access what they want throughout their lives according to their own volition, my red flags come flaring out. They do whenever any talk that is libertarian in nature comes out. The reason why is summed up by what Henry Giroux wrote more than a decade ago:

“The freedom and human capacities of individuals must be developed to their maximum but individual powers must be linked to democracy in the sense that social betterment must be the necessary consequence of individual flourishing.”

This connectivity between youth empowerment and democracy is absolutely essential. We have to make explicit the reasons why young people should have access and authority in relationship to the social good. Peter asserts this in a subversive sense in his article, and I like that. I think too often youth empowerment practitioners don’t examine that.

Similarly, we don’t examine why and how youth empowerment is important to anyone beyond youth themselves. This was apparent through most of the 2000s research on youth involvement, youth activism, and youth engagement, as many sociologists and educationalists were looking to those activities merely for their benefits on the individual youth who participated.

 

Research connections matter

The most important studies done since 2000, including work by Michelle Fine, Taj James, Shep Zeldin, and Shawn Ginwright, contextualized the changes of the young people participating in youth empowerment activities in relationship to their affect on democracy and social change as a whole. This vital bridge demonstrates the interdependence between young people and communities, empowerment and social transformations.

While these cross-life links were made, others became obvious too, including connections between mental/physical/emotional well-being and academic/recreational/social goals. Increasing young peoples’ abilities to participate in empowering activities was almost definitively shown to be an avenue for improving all peoples’ lifestyles.

However, all of this left me wondering a few questions.

 

Basic questions

When considering youth empowerment, I think about some elemental themes and questions that arise.

  • Choice: At what point should children and youth have access to options adults deem as unhealthy and disempowering?
  • Determination: Should adults withhold the choice by eliminating unhealthy and disempowering options from the lives of young people?
  • Options: Should young people be presented with side-by-side, binary choices everywhere, all the time, or should gradient thinking be introduced?
  • Capacity: How does the ability of young people to make decisions in any and all areas of their lives relate to their overall empowerment?
  • Limitations: Are there ever times when limiting young peoples’ choices or removing their choices actually empowers them?
  • Control: What control does a parent have over their children? What control should they have?
  • Power: What responsibilities does a school administrator have for their students? What control should they have?
  • Process: Is there a point where limiting or increasing the abilities of young people to access unhealthy and/or disempowering things actually becomes empowering?

When we begin to peel back the different layers of the onion, more questions arise.

 

Advanced questions

I think the larger question pertains to how adults view young people. As responsible adults or parents or teachers or public health workers or healthcare professionals, etc., do adults treat youth as:

  • Simple passive recipients of food/activities/schools/family/culture/society who indiscretionably ingest whatever is served to them?
  • Advanced active buyers of food/activities/schools/family/culture/society who discern choices with intention and awareness?
  • Potential positive creators within the food/activities/schools/family/culture/society cycle who could fashion/distribute/barter/co-create the things they partake in daily right now?
  • Inevitable future inheritors of a democratic society actively fueled by active citizen awareness-building and mobilization?

In any of these roles, what is the relationship young people have to the manufacturers, sellers, purchasers, and consumers of the food/activities/schools/family/culture/society we all co-occupy?

I frequently finding myself asking questions when I get done with great reading about youth empowerment. Peter’s article definitely fueled this set.

What do YOU think?

 

 

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Banner for Student Voice Revolution by Adam Fletcher

33 Steps to Youth Voice

Creativity, government, schools, empowerment, community development… As the banner of youth voice is unfurled around the world, we see more young people standing up in unprecedented numbers than ever before. They’re demanding what is rightfully theirs: High-quality living, hopeful lives, and democratic realities. We’re just see this movement emerge like never before, and must keep pushing for it to grow.

Youth voice is any expression of any young person, anywhere, about anything. For a long time, people got that wrong by defining it only as things adults wanted to hear from young people. Youth were wrangled into adult-driven, adult-centered communities and were only asked about things that adults are concerned with. We heard youth opinions about topics like philanthropy, youth service, volunteering, and youth services in the name of youth voice for a long time.

However, a lot of my writing, research, and training has focused on listening to youth voice that didn’t fit that description. I’ve found the most vibrant action is happening outside that old spectrum. So I redefined youth voice, expanded it, and showed how we’re seeing the breadth and depth of youth voice that is happening specifically from youth perspectives, in a wide-open, all views welcome way.

All this voice shows how youth need new roles throughout our communities. Instead of being passive recipients of adult-driven community programs, all young people need to be active partners in our homes, nonprofits, faith places, parks, government agencies, and all places throughout our communities. This can happen in a lot of ways, and here are a few!

33 Steps to Youth Voice

  1. BE—Go to where youth are, and stop insisting they come to where you’re at.
  2. TEACH—Teach youth about your community in the broadest ways, including culture, geography, economics, history, and more.
  3. BUILD—Help youth understand different ways of seeing community issues.
  4. TRAIN—Train adult providers about the difference between Youth as Recipients and Youth as Partners, and why that’s an important distinction.
  5. EDUCATE—Increase the understanding youth have of democracy and government, including what it is, how it operates, who is in it, where it fails and when it succeeds.
  6. LISTEN—Develop opportunities for youth to share their unfettered concerns about their communities with adults.
  7. POSITION—Create formal positions for youth to occupy throughout your community.
  8. CREATE—Create programs with youth as partners in identifying, planning, facilitating, evaluating, and critiquing throughout.
  9. PARTNER—Co-design community engagement plans with every youth in your program.
  10. MENTOR—Assign all youth a youth mentor to introduce them to the culture and traditions of your community; mutual mentoring matters.
  11. PLAN—Help youth plan, advocate, and enact yearlong program calendars for organizations that affect them and others.
  12. DESIGN—Engage youth in designing and redesigning programs that serve them and their communities.
  13. STEP ASIDE—Encourage nontraditional youth leaders to co-facilitate regular programs with adults.
  14. SPEND—Invest fully in youth programming and allow youth to become active partners in organizational budgeting.
  15. HIRE—Give youth positions to become regular, paid youth program assistants and leaders.
  16. FACILITATE—Partner together youth to form facilitation teams that lead programs.
  17. SEE—Acknowledge youth teaching younger youth in lower age groups with program credit and other acknowledgment.
  18. SUBSTANTIATE—Co-create professional development with youth for adult staff about issues that matter to them.
  19. EVALUATE—Assign youth to create meaningful program evaluations of themselves.
  20. SYSTEMITIZE—Partner with youth to create evaluations of programs, curriculum, facilitation styles, organizations, and communities.
  21. EMPOWER—Train youth how to evaluate adult facilitator performance.
  22. LEAD—Create opportunities for youth to lead community events.
  23. GUIDE—Create positions for youth to participate in nonprofit boards, neighborhood communities, and other systemic activities.
  24. AUTHORIZE—Give youth on nonprofit boards full-voting positions and equal numbers of positions with adults.
  25. EQUATE—Create enough positions for youth to be equally represented in every neighborhood committee and meeting.
  26. MEET—Facilitate all neighborhood activities in ways that are engaging for all participants, including youth.
  27. RULE—Help youth create and enforce activity policies throughout the community.
  28. DECIDE—Partner with youth in nonprofit personnel decisions.
  29. ORGANIZE—Work with youth to organize public campaigns for neighborhood improvement.
  30. INTEGRATE—Create opportunities for youth to join all existing neighborhood committees as equal members.
  31. DETERMINE—Present youth data and information so they understand why and how neighborhoods can and should change.
  32. EQUIP—Position youth to educate adults throughout your community, including parents, leaders, policymakers and others, about challenges that matter to them.
  33. INFUSE—Encourage youth with formal and informal opportunities to present their concerns.

The very best thing about all this? Its all backed up by research and practice from across the United States and around the world! For more than a decade I’ve been finding examples, collecting tools, and sharing best practices and findings from researchers, teachers, and students. I share it all free on this blog and in The Freechild Project Youth Voice Toolbox, free.

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

Students Can POWERFULLY Change Schools!

The SoundOut Student Voice Curriculum: Teaching Students to Change Schools transforms learning, teaching, and leadership throughout schools! For the first time, its available on Amazon.com for YOU to order now! Find it right now here.

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

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!