No Country for Young People

The United States is a backwards democracy. Rather than distributing the power to all of its citizens, it throws it into the hands of the few. Instead of bringing opportunities to the under-resourced, it lavishes chances upon those who already have access. In this post, I am concerned most with the reality that instead of engaging its youth in democracy, the US is most focused on engaging its middle-aged and seniors. That process is languishing.

For more than a century children and youth across the country have called for active roles: They have protested as suffragettes, lobbied in Congress, marched against child labor and sat in for civil rights. They have led Internet campaigns, political campaigns, Amnesty International campaigns and anti-war campaigns. While the adults who ally with them have been exceptional (Mother Jones, J.D. Salinger, Tom Hayden) the young people themselves have made huge strides for young people and for the communities they represent – even if they are unacknowledged for their contributions to society. When was the last time you heard of the American Army of Two, Joseph P. Lash, Barbara Rose Johns, Billy Wimsatt, Alex Koricknay Palicz or Tully Satre?

In the meantime there is growing international support for youth involvement, youth voice, youth activism and youth rights. Instead of being an occasional, one-off activity or an underfunded, underutilized grassroots movement, these efforts are systemic, operationalized and powerful. That’s not always good – but its a completely different place than exists in the United States.

Almost all of Europe has young people participating and represented by the European Youth Forum. In 2006 I talked with one of the founders when I was at a Brazilian youth conference in Sao Paulo. While he was older, it was awesome because he was one of the founders. Think of it: having opportunities for 50-year-olds to actively advocate for young people, youth rights, youth involvement and other issues all of their professional career. Even if that’s not attractive to you, what if it was just an option? The National Youth Council of Singapore is almost 20 years old; the Sangguniang Kabataan of the Philippines is more than 15 years old. The Convention on the Rights of the Child, which acknowledges and extends all of the areas we’re interested in, has been signed into law by more than 190 countries around the world! As I’ve said before, the U.S. is one of two countries that haven’t signed it. This nation doesn’t really see Somalia as good company to be compared to in international relations , does it?!?

The United States is no country for young people, and that has to change.

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Whatever It Takes

Youth workers and teachers are often guilty of the same thing: They call on the kids who raise their hands. You know who I’m talking about, because just like me you’ve done it before. She’s the bright and articulate leader who knows the answer. He’s the quick and deft analyzer of information who holds the key to the activity. I think that inside of that dynamic there is a tension in a lot of youth voice activities that is rarely acknowledged.

Michael Fielding calls out this tension best in his Framework for Assessing Student Voice. He asks several simple questions. The next time you go marching into a youth voice activity you are facilitating I want you to ask yourself the following:

  • Who is allowed to speak?

  • To whom are they allowed to speak?

  • What are they allowed to speak about?

  • What language is encouraged / allowed?

  • Who decides the answer to these questions?

  • How are those decisions made?

  • How, when, where, to whom and how often are those decisions communicated?

I am beginning to think that we must do whatever it takes to engage those young people whose voices rarely get heard. If that means that youth-serving orgs give up a wall of the building specifically for graffiti then so be it – those voices must be heard. If that means that a committee meeting is spent surfing the web with students and adults looking for quality curriculum resources, then so be it – those voices must be heard. Music in the hallways, geocaching for community resources and skateboarding for peace must all be seen as options, because at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what the specific activity was: its the experience of learning that comes from it that matters. We have to teach young people by demonstrating to young people that we value their voices equally to our own. Whatever it takes to do that, let’s get it done.

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

Why I Love the CRC

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child is the most popularly accepted legal instrument affecting youth voice and involvement in the world today. Two countries haven’t ratified it: Somalia and the United States. Great company. Of course, the Campaign for US Ratification‘s model of youth involvement is poor itself, so there is a ways to go…

FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION

Article 12


  1. States Parties shall assure to the child who is capable of forming his or her own views the right to express those views freely in all matters affecting the child, the views of the child being given due weight in accordance with the age and maturity of the child.

  2. For this purpose, the child shall in particular be provided the opportunity to be heard in any judicial and administrative proceedings affecting the child, either directly, or through a representative or an appropriate body, in a manner consistent with the procedural rules of national law.

Article 13

  1. The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.

  2. The exercise of this right may be subject to certain restrictions, but these shall only be such as are provided by law and are necessary:

    1. For respect of the rights or reputations of others; or

    2. For the protection of national security or of public order (ordre public), or of public health or morals.

FREEDOM OF THOUGHT, CONSCIENCE, AND RELIGION
Article 14

  1. States Parties shall respect the right of the child to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.

  2. States Parties shall respect the rights and duties of the parents and, when applicable, legal guardians, to provide direction to the child in the exercise of his or her right in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child.

  3. Freedom to manifest one’s religion or beliefs may be subject only to such limitations as are prescribed by law and are necessary to protect public safety, order, health or morals, or the fundamental rights and freedoms of others.

FREEDOM OF ASSEMBLY


Article 15


  1. States Parties recognize the rights of the child to freedom of association and to freedom of peaceful assembly.

  2. No restrictions may be placed on the exercise of these rights other than those imposed in conformity with the law and which are necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security or public safety, public order (ordre public), the protection of public health or morals or the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.

ACCESS TO INFORMATION
Article 17

States Parties recognize the important function performed by the mass media and shall ensure that the child has access to information and material from a diversity of national and international sources, especially those aimed at the promotion of his or her social, spiritual and moral well-being and physical and mental health. To this end, States Parties shall:

  1. Encourage the mass media to disseminate information and material of social and cultural benefit to the child and in accordance with the spirit ofarticle 29;

  2. Encourage international co-operation in the production, exchange and dissemination of such information and material from a diversity of cultural, national and international sources;

  3. Encourage the production and dissemination of children’s books;

  4. Encourage the mass media to have particular regard to the linguistic needs of the child who belongs to a minority group or who is indigenous;

  5. Encourage the development of appropriate guidelines for the protection of the child from information and material injurious to his or her well-being, bearing in mind the provisions ofarticles 13 and 18.

SPECIAL SUPPORT FOR DISABLED CHILDREN
Article 23

  1. States Parties recognize that a mentally or physically disabled child should enjoy a full and decent life, in conditions which ensure dignity, promote self-reliance and facilitate the child’s active participation in the community.

  2. States Parties recognize the right of the disabled child to special care and shall encourage and ensure the extension, subject to available resources, to the eligible child and those responsible for his or her care, of assistance for which application is made and which is appropriate to the child’s condition and to the circumstances of the parents or others caring for the child.

  3. Recognizing the special needs of a disabled child, assistance extended in accordance with paragraph 2 of the present article shall be provided free of charge, whenever possible, taking into account the financial resources of the parents or others caring for the child, and shall be designed to ensure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education, training, health care services, rehabilitation services, preparation for employment and recreation opportunities in a manner conducive to the child’s achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development, including his or her cultural and spiritual development

  4. States Parties shall promote, in the spirit of international cooperation, the exchange of appropriate information in the field of preventive health care and of medical, psychological and functional treatment of disabled children, including dissemination of and access to information concerning methods of rehabilitation, education and vocational services, with the aim of enabling States Parties to improve their capabilities and skills and to widen their experience in these areas. In this regard, particular account shall be taken of the needs of developing countries.

EDUCATION FOR PERSONAL FULFILLMENT AND RESPONSIBLE CITIZENSHIP
Article 29

  1. States Parties agree that the education of the child shall be directed to:

    1. The development of the child’s personality, talents and mental and physical abilities to their fullest potential;

    2. The development of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and for the principles enshrined in the Charter of the United Nations;

    3. The development of respect for the child’s parents, his or her own cultural identity, language and values, for the national values of the country in which the child is living, the country from which he or she may originate, and for civilizations different from his or her own;

    4. The preparation of the child for responsible life in a free society, in the spirit of understanding, peace, tolerance, equality of sexes, and friendship among all peoples, ethnic, national and religious groups and persons of indigenous origin;

    5. The development of respect for the natural environment.

  2. No part of the present article or article 28 shall be construed so as to interfere with the liberty of individuals and bodies to establish and direct educational institutions, subject always to the observance of the principle set forth in paragraph 1 of the present article and to the requirements that the education given in such institutions shall conform to such minimum standards as may be laid down by the State.

These sections were originally delineated in Roger Hart’s 1997 publication, Children’s Participation: The theory and practice of involving young citizens in community development and environmental care, published by UNICEF. Learn more about the CRC at the official UNICEF webpage.

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

Protection Versus Self-Reliance

“Protection is never neutral, disinterested or without negative consequences. Sheltering children from the work world has made them totally financially dependent on parents. The daily regime in school reproduces factory discipline. Their bodies, their time and their intellects are monitored by bells, confinement to desks, by exams, grades and punishments, and by teacher surveillance.

Other institutions have arisen to contain those who do not adapt in home or school. With each new outburst of rebellion, there is a cry for more discipline, more specialists. With each new act of brutality against children, which comes to light in the press, there is a cry for more protection, more intervention. Is it not time, while keeping in mind the very real vulnerability of children in the current system, to call into question the idea of protection? To ask what has it achieved?

If protecting children we are making them more dependent and vulnerable to exploitation, then this is not only counterproductive, but hypocritical. When adults think of protecting children, it is always against the danger “out there,” against other adults since they themselves know “what is best.” We seem incapable of realizing that a protector can also be an abuser, a person who does not respect a child’s integrity or wishes – in short, any adult, be they parent, teacher, stranger or youth worker.

Real protection is self protection. Adults need to work with children to confront dangers and problems, to examine what resources and rights children need in order to be stronger and more independent. And adults need to look at how they benefit from children’s dependency.

This section comes from As Soon as You’re Born They Make You Feel Small: Self Determination for Children, a small booklet written by Wendy Ayotte that was first printed in 1986. I enjoy reading like this, whether or not I fully agree with it, simply because I like the challenge inherent in reading and reflecting on it. The rest of the booklet is just as powerful, and Ayotte was successful in her guerrilla marketing effort with the booklet: my Google search turned up almost 400 hits online, for this booklet that was printed in 1986. I know its been re-released again, but still – its nowhere to be found online. That’s awesome.

My thoughts on this section? I agree with Ayotte’s point about childrens’ reliance upon adults, and the dichotomous and alienating relationships enforced throughout our society that ensure that reliance. However, I do take exception to the implication that children and youth do not have any need for a protective role between themselves and adults. In reality there is a role for that reliance – just as much as there is a necessity for adults to rely on young people. That is the nature of interdependence.

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

Stop Youth Segregation with Integration

Once a youth advocate understands the reality that segregating youth is an injustice unto its own, they have a responsibility to undo that damage. They have a responsibility to integrate youth. For too long that notion of integration has been limited to simplistic notions about youth participation.

“All we need to do is invite the youth.”
“We need some youth sports!”
“Let’s get a youth on our board.”

Unfortunately, this well-intended and often poorly-executed idealism often leads to further alienating young people, as the traditional youth leaders who are targeted for participation quickly become dissatisfied with the token roles they have in these situations. Otherwise these opportunities serve as mass pacifiers, undermining the very essence of being young by rerouting the mental power of young people towards physical aggression and competitive brainwashing. This gesturing is designed to develop children and youth in the mold of a mass marketplace stereotype that is stuck on accumulation and consumption and dismissive of community, interdependence, and radical democracy.

The alternative to that painful reality is much more complex than previously acknowledged, and yet, much more accessible than is portrayed by traditional youth participation practitioners. I would suggest that in the majority of communities across the United States the alternative to traditional youth involvement can be juxtaposed against engaging young people as partners. In Europe this phenomenon is called youth mainstreaming. Their explanation:

“It [youth mainstreaming] is a strategy for making (youth) concerns and experiences an integral dimension of the design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes, in all political, economic and social spheres so that (youth) benefit equally and inequality is not perpetuated.” – UNESCO

Those political words are powerful, but stiff. While I support strategic approaches, I don’t think the verbiage inside a lot of policy is particularly accessible or appropriate for the activities that are intended to happen because of the policy.

That much said, I want to offer a more familiar term for this burgeoning practice: Youth Integration. When civil rights leaders have referred to integration in the past, they have largely meant desegregation, leveling barriers to interaction, creating equal opportunity, and developing a culture drawing on multiple perspectives instead of just bringing the minority into the majority culture. That is the goal I have for Youth Integration: The equitable, sustainable and holistic infusion of children and youth throughout society.

We can’t continue to settle for anything less.

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

Youth Segregation

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 profess in her book It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us.

Our society has created more than a few industries that are reliant on enforcing this child-dumping behavior. Surely the childcare and basic education fields come to mind; but we also have to consider mall owners, fast food franchisees and sports manufacturers all in the benefit from the economic behavior imposed through youth segregation. The government benefits too: in addition to the taxes they levy on each of the aforementioned services, police, government-led afterschool programs and a bevy of social welfare agencies are reliant on communities being unable and indifferent to the youngest among us. We need children and youth to just “go away,” and we expect that when the marketplace doesn’t cover those costs the government will pick up the tab.

Schooling is the main vehicle for reinforcing the necessity of youth segregation throughout our society. As John Taylor Ghatto powerfully explains in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, schools teach students about segregation by routinely, systematically and overtly separating them by race, socio-economic status, gender, ability, perceived ability, age, interest, and test performance. In turn this activity normalizes segregation for young people, which makes the fact that they are isolated from adults in mainstream society for at least 1/3 of their waking hours okay. No one teacher or principal is responsible for this abdication of responsibility: the entire education system is culpable, as curriculum, classroom management, building leadership, school climate, educational leadership and political representatives are all in on the act.


Segregation only begins to let up by the time high school rolls around, when we expect youth to transition to adulthood. However, no matter how precocious or assertive a young person may be, they are still routinely dismissed through adultism and ephebiphobia. Voting rights, free speech and economic security are among the many human rights that society denies to youth simply because they are young.

The moral imposition of youth segregation is that it requires almost every adult to be complicit. We all have to support the person who says, “I know better – I’m older” in order for this shenanigans to pass. As soon as there is a critical mass of folks who simply will not take it any longer, adultism, adultcentrism their benefactor, youth segregation, will have to take a back seat until there is better judgment that will more effectively help us treat these social scourges. Until then we continue to struggle.

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!

How to Get to Real Youth Empowerment

Youth empowerment is a tricky concept that makes a lot of adults feel good about themselves. They see themselves as “handing over the reigns” and “giving up” control in order to teach young people magical lessons about power. Comparing themselves to others, these same adults often preach the value of youth empowerment and advocate its great abilities throughout our society.

Something is not right about that.

While my daughter is growing up I take it as my responsibility to be consistently conscious and aware of her needs, responsibilities and rights as a fellow human being who I am lucky enough to share those needs, responsibilities and rights with. And by “share” I don’t mean “give to”; instead, I am talking about the reciprocal exchange of authority and duty, by which she allows me to care for her needs while I am allowed to expand and build her mind, her hands and her spirit. That’s an awesome thing. Here are some rules I follow to help really empower my daughter:

Don’t dismiss everything the adults in your life did. Parents, teachers, preachers and scout leaders had some right ideas mixed in there. Those times your dad let you run the power saw after he taught you how to do it? That was good. Him coming along after you were done and recommending how you could do better? That was great. I know it can be hard for young people to hear criticism from adults, but honestly that is our responsibility. It is wrong to demean or destroy a young person, but it is right to offer corrections and identify opportunities for growth.

Don’t do everything you learned in Youth Development 101. While Erik Erikson, Jean Piaget and many others had good and right concepts regarding the development of children and youth in Western societies, they aren’t always right. Around the world these days more credence is given to the concept of evolving capacities than youth development, and those readers in the U.S. should check out that idea, too. There’s more to the world than convenient staircases; let’s look at the options.

Avoid youth programs that claim to empower youth. There’s an old Buddhist saying to the effect of “Those who say they are humble are not.” That’s true a lot of the time with youth empowerment programs, too. Organizations and adults that are in the business of building the capacities of youth, creating and fostering opportunities for “wide-world learning” and breaking through the barriers of oppression that young people face simply do that work – they don’t make grand pronouncements about their desire to see youth running the world because they are busy seeing to it that young people can run the world, either today or in a near future.

Get out of the office. If you are a youth worker who spends five hours a day in an office and three hours with youth, make a resolution to flip those numbers. If you’re a researcher who meets with young people twice monthly, flip that number. Real youth empowerment requires real youth, and that’s an important key for all adults to remember. In the same way, if you are constantly exposed to the same youth, go find some others for a day. Reflect on why you like your constituency, why you love your job, why you want to really empower young people.

Don’t look for a magic bullet. We have to get past quick fixes and simplistic responses to the sophisticated, complex worlds that young people occupy today. There are no magic bullets. Cooperative games don’t work in some groups; community organizing isn’t effective in every situation; youth voting won’t cure political corruption right away; intergenerational equity will take lifetimes to achieve. Let’s stick in it for the long haul and do the good things we need to do.

These are some simple tips – let me know if you have anything to add.

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

The U.S. and the Convention on the Rights of the Child

Young people must be included from birth.
A society that cuts itself off from its youth severs its lifeline.
– Kofi Anan

Today I am reeling from an article written by Paula Reid, a member of The Students Commission in Canada. For more than 25 years the Commission and their magazine, Tiny Giant, has been calling on the Canadian government and society to bring youth voice into the mainstream and to make youth involvement an expectation for all youth. Paula’s article, published today in the Toronto Star, is a brash indictment of the Parliament’s failure to make any real progress after signing the international Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) more than 18 years ago.

Paula pounds away at the government:

“It’s ironic that just a few weeks ago the federal government was forced to respond to a report condemning its failures toward Canada’s young people.”

Quoting the president of UNICEF Canada:

“Canada has the resources to uphold children’s rights – but not the will.”

Wrapping up her indictment:

“Young people like me who have grown up with the Convention still have hope. But we need more than that – we need action and change. Canada needs to keep its promises to its children and youth. This change is 18 years overdue.”

I love it! This is exactly the kind of rhetoric that the pro-youth involvement movement needs to adopt everywhere including Canada. So why am I reeling?

For the last 18 years of the Convention’s life the United States has refused to be party in it. Only the United States and the collapsed state of Somalia have not ratified it, and worse still, according to Amnesty International, “the United States continues to lead a defensive action against Children’s human Rights lobbying against further measures designed to protect children – most recently against efforts to stop the use of child soldiers.”

There are many reasons for youth voice supporters in the U.S. to support the CRC, the least of which is that children and youth are humans, too, and as young people they have particular rights and society has a particular responsibility. Let’s just say that out loud, all together now.

My two favorite sections of the Convention are Article 5, which identifies “evolving capacities” as the major determinate in a young person’s growth (versus child development theory) and Article 12, which boldly asserts that young people have their own voices (perspectives/ideas/opinions/knowledge) and if that weren’t enough it clearly states that children and youth should be “heard” in any official proceeding of any kind, either formal or informal. That is a legal mandate for youth involvement.

Now, that said it is no wonder the U.S. hasn’t signed off on this. There is a lot of criticism, including:

  • The CRC is about liberty rights and not about protecting children
  • The CRC gives children dangerous freedoms and undermines respect for adults and for parents
  • Ideas about their rights could encourage children to be greedy, selfish and irresponsible, and
  • The CRC could lead to complacency that treaties alone are enough to improve conditions for children

There has also been a great deal of scholarly and practical responses to these issues and others, many of which George Bush and his predecessors failed to hear.

Apparently there is a U.S. Campaign to ratify the CRC, but honestly, after I’ve been interested in the CRC for more than seven years and working in this field for 16 years, including spending time in Washington DC and now NYC, I have only heard of this campaign online. So I don’t know what the hope for this document is. All I know is that something – anything – has to change. Paula Reid, let’s hope that’s sooner than later.

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

Rethinking Youth-Adult Partnerships

Last month I received a copy of a new report out from the National 4-H Council called 4-H YIG National Report: Youth-Adult Partnerships in Community Decision Making: What Does it Take to Engage Adults in the Practice? In this summary of stellar new research from Shep Zeldin and Julie Petrokubi from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, along with Carole MacNeil from the UC-Davis, studies continues to answer the research protocol Zeldin’s team boldly proposed back in 2000-2001. The report details, in depth, several important points that advocates and practitioners need in order to do this work:

  • Theory, research and practice behind youth-adult partnerships
  • 4-H’s model of youth development and the promotion of youth-adult partnerships
  • Research questions and methods
  • Findings focused on challenges of implementing youth-adult partnerships
  • Recommendations for creating the conditions for youth-adult partnerships

However, while the report hits on all the cylinders it needs to, I find it is sorely lacking several important components. Somewhere within the field of youth advocacy there is a blatant lack of critical thinking about one’s one work. While this report addresses challenges facing youth-adult partnerships (p 18), it does not mention the challenges of youth-adult partnerships. One of the main challenges is the crisis of social justice inherent within the frameworks of youth-adult partnerships:

The reason we need partnerships between young people and adults is because as it stands, society treats young people as less-than human.

If you are black or brown, the situation is worse still. In some communities, if you are a young woman that is worse; in others, for young men it is worse. In schools, it is almost the same straight across the board. Simply put, that treatment and the sentiment behind it must stop. The dilemma of the historical model of youth-adult partnerships examined within this report is that it relies on the continuation of that model, and worse still, it perpetuates it to some extent.

I want to go far as to propose that we adopt Malcolm X’s notion that sitting at the lunch counter isn’t enough – young people should own it, too. There must be complete investment and parity within the heart and mind of the individual young person in order to ensure the values that we purportedly strive for, which according to Zeldin, et al, is “authentic youth participation”, which ultimately is a “fundamental tenant of democracy” (p 3).

Let’s rethink youth-adult partnerships and go beyond this simplistic notion that having enough youth in enough activities in enough organizations is enough democracy. That is the problem of American democracy today: people think there is enough. This traditional model of youth-adult is not enough, simply because there is more! There are more young people, more adults, more opportunities and more outcomes we can and should expect from these relationships.

Tomorrow I’ll write about what I think that is. In the meantime I would suggest that you check out this report, along with related materials, on the National 4-H website. Also, check out this new article on Wikipedia for a preview of where I’m going with this.

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