Expanding Youth Participation

A group in the United Kingdom just put out a useful PDF documenting a “pathway to participation.” YoMo is a “community interest company” that is committed to youth participation. Their work across the UK looks great, and I am enjoying reading their website and blog, and looking forward to reading their materials soon.

In the meantime, I have dug into their PDF and the blog entry about it and have decided that they are on the way to discovering something powerful. The author talks about creating this “pathway”:

The ‘pathway’ is the ‘journey’ that young people are able to take through the organisation – its how young people are able to progress from their initial involvement and then on to whatever positions of responsibility/involvement the organisation can offer them.

The challenge for me here is the linear thinking represented by the imagery of a “pathway.” One thing experience has shown me is that youth participation – in all of its vibrant, divergent and chaordic ways – is not linear. That means that in no way can – or should – young people and adults working together in partnership be expected move from “here” to “there” in a predictable way, no matter what adults want. There are rhythms to their involvement, patterns that emerge and submerge that can be sussed out and made obvious. But as for a pathway, I think it may be too elusive, to say nothing of confining, to predict.

Hart’s Ladder of Children’s Participation is predicated on this notion of linear involvement. The dilemma inherent in that popular tool is that sometimes it may appropriate for young people to merely participate as consultants rather than full partners – just as the opposite is true, too. We have to move past this kind of oversimplification and recognize that if the building is burning down we don’t need to build consensus – we just need to get outta here. The same is true at different times in different parts of our communities, and these types of models just don’t evidence that reality.

My most concentrated attempt thus far is the Freechild Measure for Social Change By and With Young People. In this piece I simply reinterpeted Hart’s rungs and laid them out in a spiral form. When I originally laid this out in 2005 I thought it was fine, but now I see that there is a lack of elegance and applicability in it, and perhaps that what draws me back to Hart’s Ladder itself. Its also why I can appreciate YoMo’s thinking, because frankly, I have tried to say the same thing myself.

We need new dreams, new visions for how to move this movement forward, instead of spinning our individual and collective heals, no matter which side of the world we’re on.

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

Expanding Youth Participation

A group in the United Kingdom just put out a useful PDF documenting a “pathway to participation.” YoMo is a “community interest company” that is committed to youth participation. Their work across the UK looks great, and I am enjoying reading their website and blog, and looking forward to reading their materials soon.

In the meantime, I have dug into their PDF and the blog entry about it and have decided that they are on the way to discovering something powerful. The author talks about creating this “pathway”:

The ‘pathway’ is the ‘journey’ that young people are able to take through the organisation – its how young people are able to progress from their initial involvement and then on to whatever positions of responsibility/involvement the organisation can offer them.

The challenge for me here is the linear thinking represented by the imagery of a “pathway.” One thing experience has shown me is that youth participation – in all of its vibrant, divergent and chaordic ways – is not linear. That means that in no way can – or should – young people and adults working together in partnership be expected move from “here” to “there” in a predictable way, no matter what adults want. There are rhythms to their involvement, patterns that emerge and submerge that can be sussed out and made obvious. But as for a pathway, I think it may be too elusive, to say nothing of confining, to predict.

Hart’s Ladder of Children’s Participation is predicated on this notion of linear involvement. The dilemma inherent in that popular tool is that sometimes it may appropriate for young people to merely participate as consultants rather than full partners – just as the opposite is true, too. We have to move past this kind of oversimplification and recognize that if the building is burning down we don’t need to build consensus – we just need to get outta here. The same is true at different times in different parts of our communities, and these types of models just don’t evidence that reality.

My most concentrated attempt thus far is the Freechild Measure for Social Change By and With Young People. In this piece I simply reinterpeted Hart’s rungs and laid them out in a spiral form. When I originally laid this out in 2005 I thought it was fine, but now I see that there is a lack of elegance and applicability in it, and perhaps that what draws me back to Hart’s Ladder itself. Its also why I can appreciate YoMo’s thinking, because frankly, I have tried to say the same thing myself.

We need new dreams, new visions for how to move this movement forward, instead of spinning our individual and collective heals, no matter which side of the world we’re on.

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

Youth are Segregated

Adam’s note: If you’re a subscriber, sorry about filling up your inbox. I’m cleaning out half-finished blog entries and want to make sure the ones from today hit the streets. Notice the dates; a lot are from January 2008. Hope you enjoy!
The underlying assumption behind all youth involvement programs is that youth are segregated. American society has relied on the ongoing and consistent alienation, isolation and institutionalization of young people for more than 10 decades now, only to the detriment of families, communities, and ultimately, democracy.

Youth segregation happens throughout our lives. Starting from the first moments of a child’s life, newborn infants are oftentimes removed from their mothers immediately after birth. Incubated like chicken eggs under glaring lights, babies are immediately wrenched away from the healthy grips of the mother-child bond, and mothers are immediately trained to believe and trust that the segregation of their children is a normal, acceptable, and even beneficial thing.

As children grow they continue to experience this alienation and abandonment. Daycare, schooling and many community programs all rely on the isolation of children and youth from adults, and worse still is that our adultcentric economy relies on this isolation as well. In addition to serving as captive audiences for promoting violence, consumerism and nationalism, these programs oftentimes also become the many purveyors of social values for young people, effectively negating the ability and responsibility the larger community has for “raising its own,” as Hilary Clinton professs in her book It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us.

Schooling is the main vehicle for reinforcing the youth segregation throughout our society. As John Taylor Gatto powerfully explains in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, schools have long succeeded at teaching and reinforcing segregation for young people. Reflecting on his 25 years of teaching in public schools, the premise of his book are the following seven lessons:”

“The first lesson I teach is, Stay in the class where you belong… The second lesson I teach kids is to turn on and off like a light switch… The third lesson I teach you is to surrender your will to a predestined chain of command… The fourth lesson I teach is that only I determine what curriculum you will study… In lesson five I teach that your self-respect should depend on an observer’s measure of your worth… In lesson six I teach children that they are being watched… The seventh lesson I teach is that you can’t hide.”

Between those seven lessons, which Gatto suggests all teachers follow to varying extents, is the moral of a story: young people are segregated. After we acknowledge that we can begin to identify how to defeat that segregation; but we must start by seeing it and naming it what it is.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

My Review of “Making Space – Making Change”

Making Space – Making Change: Profiles of Youth-Led and Youth-Driven Organizations was written by the Young Wisdom Project of the Movement Strategy Center. This is my review for The Freechild Project.

 

Responding to a crisis is not easy work. People who spend day in and out working for the good of other people are often taxed to the extremes: selflessness and empathy override their commitment to themselves. That is why it is so rare to capture a succinct yet powerful overview of youth activism today: democracy is in crisis mode, and those who are struggling for its life are being pushed to the extremes. That is why this is the most important document focusing on young people and social change to come out in recent times.

This new publication from the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland profiles five youth-led and youth-driven organizations from across the U.S. It provides insightful details on how these organizations started, how they build youth leadership and power, deal with challenges, and how they make real change in their communities. For readers of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Peter McLaren, and other critical educators, there are many familiar points- but with an important focus on social change led by young people. Early in the introduction to youth-led action, the authors state,

 “Instead of approaching the question of youth-led organizations as an either/or situation, it’s helpful to think about youth leadership and governance as a continuum with a spectrum of possibilities – something that can develop and change over time.” (p 15)

This echoes bell hooks recent book, Teaching for Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, where hooks extols readers to look beyond either/or and towards with/and. The authors of this report provide an important bridge to many critical thinkers, applying much-needed theory to the powerful, practical work of youth activists.

Rather than simply providing another toolkit, this report allows the details to tell the stories. The feature on the Lummi CEDAR Project, as all of the stories, paints a vivid portrait of a community responding to the dilemma of keeping cultural pride and community alive by engaging youth. This project highlights the power of belonging and identity, a trait that consumerist culture increasingly denies to many young people. As in other stories, the report is frank about the challenges facing the CEDAR Project: Creating a youth-led structure for an indigenous context; adapting organizational development models; and creating a culturally relevant youth organizing model in a rural Native community.

However, the summaries are always hopeful – realistic, for sure – but hopeful. As one of the youth directors said,

“It’s really awesome to me because our community is a small tribal community, and we have eighty young people trained now. So we have a broad network living a healthy lifestyle, caring about their community, inspired, motivated, and have this drive to make a positive change in their community. And that impacts their family… We’re just building a collective movement…” (p 41)

Making Space – Making Change is an important tool for young people and adults allies who are ready to put their principles into practice. It is a more important tool in the growing library of publications that support young people leading social change. Important analysis, detailed findings, and powerful personal connections can only promote a stronger, more effective future for social change led by and with young people. Thank you to the Young Wisdom Project – we’re all moving forward because of your work.

 

 

Title: Making Space – Making Change: Profiles of Youth-Led and Youth-Driven Organizations

Author: Young Wisdom Project of the Movement Strategy Center