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 Learn more at!

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 Learn more at!

When Given the Freedom…

“The young, free to act on their own initiative, can lead their elders in the direction of the unknown… The children, the young, must ask the questions that we would never think to ask, but enough trust must be re-established so that the elders will be permitted to work with them on the answers.”

– Margaret Mead, Continuities in Cultural Evolution

In 1964, at the age of 35 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize. Thousands of students of color participated in a school walkout in New York City over defacto segregation. The Berkeley Free Speech Movement was started after a huge protest after a police officer arrested a protester.

That same year Margaret Mead, a cultural anthropologist who was famous in the U.S. for her book called Coming of Age in Samoa, wrote quote above. Mead is popular today because of a more simple quote attributed to her: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”

I think “The young, free to act…” quote above is one of the most powerful summaries about youth-adult partnerships and intergenerational equity I have found. Enjoy.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

A Future So Bright…

Who do they write these articles for? In a recent edition of Fast Company, a “cutting edge” business magazine, editors paired up a high school student from California with a corporate scientist to talk about technology. They chose a senior from a private religious school tucked away by a golf course in the Bay Area.

Not being one to rant, but come on. This article was clearly written for the demographic the magazine represents. The student says things like, “The future is exciting,” “Society puts too much pressure on teens… to have a plan,” and “I’ll follow the path as I go, I suppose.” The picture of her takes up 1/4 of the page, and she’s striking a painfully cliché pose; her “counterpart” looks thoughtfully at her, as if he is really paying attention (see right). Meanwhile, he’s blowing past her dialog with bullets like his opening salvo, “We are experiencing a ‘Cambrian explosion’ of innovations that will impact every aspect… [blah blah blah- insert empty rhetoric here].”

The magazine juxtaposes the scientist’s pompous adultisms against the student’s “naive” criticisms. And I’ll give her credit – she is critical. She voices concerns that everyone she knows is plugged into media while the world is whizzing past them. He just keeps drilling this notion that “the future’s so bright”.

However, what’s at issue here isn’t the way these two interact, but rather what and how they are interacting. First, let’s take a look at some statistics. According to CIRCLE, there are 40.7 million 18-29 year-old citizens in the United States, over twice the number of 66-77 year-olds. The scientist in this article is pushing 65. And the population of young people today is almost as large as the population of young people was when the baby boomer generation was young. Also, the population of young people of color is steadily increasing, while the population of young white people is decreasing.

All this is to say that if the conversation in this magazine was to truly representative of a conversation that might actually happening in America today it would sound and act entirely different from what is represented here. Try it: First find a young person who you can have a 6-paragraph-long conversation with, and then ask them what the future looks like to them. Challenge them, encourage them to challenge you, and have a conversation – don’t just give them the floor. Then read the Fast Company article here and compare your results. Let me know what happens.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Critical Questions for August

As I travel I write a great deal. My offices at home and work are filled with notepads where my ideas flow out, as are a pair of hard drives. Following are some of the critical questions I’ve written over the last month:

  • Can students be equal members of professional learning communities in schools?
  • Is the human capacity for learning unlimited?
  • What is the difference between “recycling knowledge” and “upcycling” knowledge?
  • If no one paints on an infinite canvas, what are the boundaries we don’t talk about?
  • What are the greatest educational practices that foster student voice and sustain the desire to learn throughout life?
  • How can the mechanisms that meaningfully involve young people evolve throughout a person’s lifetime to continuously, constantly and sustainably keep them involved?
  • Can role reversal activities be a useful learning tool for groups of youth and adult co-learners?
  • Can young people ever be truly disengaged in their own lives, or does living inherently require engagement of some sort?
  • Does engagement hinge on activities for young people, or the context in which they participate?
  • What are the significant “baby steps” a person/class/school can take towards meaningful student involvement?
  • What are the core differences between engaging historically disengaged students and engaging historically engaged students?
  • What are the core differences between meaningful involvement for young people in different community settings, i.e. schools, families, community organizations, government programs, etc.?
  • What is the apparent tension between focusing on meaningful student involvement in schools and fostering broad stakeholder involvement which includes, but is not exclusive to, students?
  • Why do teachers seek retribution against disobeying or nonconforming students?
  • When youth don’t speak up, is it okay for adults to speak for them?
  • Is there a false dichotomy between “youth voice” and “adult voice”?
  • Why isolate youth voice when youth are members of the larger community?
  • What are the effects of isolating youth voice and disallowing youth/adult interactions in critical conversations about place?
  • How can appropriate critical relationships between young people and adults be fostered?
  • Can equity exist without empathy?
  • Does every activity a young person participate in have to be “immediately” meaningful, or is there inherent value and “rightness” in activities where the meaningfulness does not become apparent until later dates?
  • Can students understand concepts, theories and practices better than adults?
  • Can students understand concepts when adults don’t understand them?
  • What is the outcome of students understanding concepts, etc., when adults don’t?

Feel free to answer any of these, or put me onto somewhere where I can learn more. Thanks.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

One, But Not The Same

Question of the Day: How can adults realize that they are different enough from youth without thinking youth are so different that they cannot relate to youth in any form? Maybe one of the greatest challenges of building youth/adult partnerships is the continuous point that so many people like to draw out and get hung up on: We’re one, but we’re not the same.

On one hand, it’s right: youth are different! Their intellectual and emotional capacities, cultural norms, and social interactions evolve with every passing day, and because of that we can easily see that young people are different. Sociologist Mike Males explores a lot of these real and perceived differences in his writing, often demonstrating that differences between the racial and economic composition of young people today and previous generations leads to ephebiphobia. Henry Giroux, Kathleen Cushman and John Holt do this to some extent, as well.

But wait! That’s wrong – youth are part of us all! Every single person on this planet who is an adult has been a youth before. The experiences of young people vary so much, but the notion remains the same: For a period of our lives, each person is all commonly afflicted by the hallmarks of youth, which change from society to society, culture to culture. Youth aren’t so different from us that we cannot relate to them. No matter how we choose to relate, we all co-occupy this gigantic ball of Earth, and we’ve all got to learn to change it. Why not do this together?

Somewhere in the middle of that is a lot of tension related to adultism, adultcentrism and adultocracy. Its easy to admonish people for not understanding each other, particularly when we refuse to see difference. But there are differences that must be acknowledged and embraced. All that I’m looking for today is to stop the tendency of so many adults to make young people so different from ourselves.

Thinking about my previous post where I beg for a new vision for youth leadership, I realize that maybe another tension is in here: Adults who think they “know” youth and “get it” are the ones who seek out and readily interact with the youth who act most like themselves. Ooow, that’s a tough statement right there. Question of the Day: How can adults realize that they are different enough from youth without thinking youth are so different that they cannot relate to youth in any form?

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Dr. King & the Struggle

About once a year I stumble across a reason to go to Washington, D.C. A few years ago I spoke at the national Children’s Defense Fund conference; last year I was “on assignment” profiling a youth program ran by a friend in town. This year I’m attending an national “invitation-only” summit called “Blazing the Trail: A New Direction for Youth Development & Leadership“. I am most looking forward to hearing Karen Pittman talk about the state of youth leadership and youth development today, primarily because she wrote about this work ten years ago – I want to hear her still sound fresh about it.

Every time I visit this city, I like to sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and ponder, imagine and daydream about what has happened there, and what could yet come forward. I think about Marian Anderson and Abe and the Million Man March and Forrest Gump (yes, Forrest Gump). But mostly I wonder about Dr. King. Here’s a quote of his that stays in my head:

“Now, I say to you today my friends, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: – ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all mean are created equal.'”

That is it – the stuff of greatness right there. It was not enough to call the individual out, like Bull Conor, and simply say, “You can change!” It wasn’t enough to challenge a congregation and say, “You can transform!” Not a city or a state, either – but the nation – Dr. King took on the nation. Whenever I dwell on King, I am immediately taken to a stronger thought and a deeper place within myself, and I feel like I understand a little more than I did before. I guess I should dwell on King a little more for that reason.

One of the stated outcomes of the “Blazing the Trail” summit is “Increased youth-guided policy making at the Federal, state and local levels”. That reminds me of another King-ism:

“A right delayed is a right denied.”

That’s it – that is it. That is why I dwell on Dr. King. His words offer guidance and direction in today’s troubled times and for today’s modern youth movement. Thanks, Dr. King – I only hope we can possibly live up to the dream.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

The All-Adult Youth Council

Our quote for the day comes from a 2003 publication that quoted a student in New York City who was an activist with Youth Force. In front of a city council meeting he said:

“If you had a problem in the Black community, and you brought in a group of White people to discuss how to solve it, almost nobody would take that panel seriously. In fact, there’d probably be a public outcry. It would be the same the for women’s issues or gay issues. But every day, in local arenas all the way to the White House, adults sit around and decide what problems youth have and what youth need, without ever consulting us.”

There’s something to ponder. Oh, and for an example of the (unfortunately) popular all-adult youth council, check out the Workforce Investment Act of 1998.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

My Review of “Bringing It Together”

Bringing It Together: Uniting Youth Organizing, Development and Services for Long-Term Sustainability was written by K. Zimmerman, M. Chow and T. James for the Movement Strategy Center. This is my review for The Freechild Project.


The late 1960s and early 1970s saw the a rush of youth-led activism in America, focusing a variety of issues including social justice, school improvement, and so-called “youth liberation”. The issues were highlighted through a variety of actions, including protest marches, rallies, and teach-ins, with riots, arrests, and curfews as regular results. Analyses within various efforts identified corporatization, militarism, and elitism as the forces to fight against.

Unfortunately, many people today- including youth and adults- bemoan the lack of those specific actions in these dangerous times. Many well-meaning liberal activists collectively yearn for the action embodied “back in the day.” However, after leading The Freechild Project for five years, I have consistently found that while youth activists share analyses with the past, the actions of youth organizations are more sophisticated than ever before – and that’s a good thing. A new report from the Movement Strategy Center calledBringing It Together: Uniting Youth Organizing, Development and Services for Long-Term Sustainability gives ample evidence that youth activism has “grown up” – and beyond a hunch, they show exactly why that is right and good for young people and communities today.

Similar to their popular youth co-created report Making Spaces-Making Change, [read a review here] in Bringing It Together the Movement Strategy Center spotlights six organizational case studies from youth-led and youth-driven organizations on the West Coast. As the subtitle of the report states, there are many correlations between youth organizing, youth development, and youth services. Throughout this piece the authors show how a growing number of organizations are intentionally uniting those approaches to provide a more holistic, supportive, and sustainable model of social change “as part of a very long-term vision for social justice movement building and healthy living.” If only more youth-serving organizations were so intentional.

The organizations featured here work in diverse communities, including Latino/a migrants, African American teens, an American Indian reservation, inner city communities, and LBGTQ youth. The issues are just as disparate: cultural awareness, women’s empowerment, education reform, voter registration, immigrant rights, and a bevy of other topics. That is what makes the authors’ findings about the common approaches to innovation between these groups that much more startling: the threads weave together to create a strong, empowering, and sustainable course of action. More importantly, they form a brilliantly effective strategy for social change on multiple fronts, including community organizing and cultural awareness, youth development and community services.

Throughout the report, the depth of analysis and possibility for field movement becomes startlingly clear. By clearly delineating each program’s history, goals, approaches, structure, partnerships, and progress, the authors continually move beyond the current rhetoric and postulating popular among numerous youth organizing intermediaries. Their observations and recommendations succeed in creating a vibrantly accessible and teachable framework for an integrated approach to youth action.

Through very approachable writing and research methods, the authors call the failure of many youth-serving organizations to put their work into a larger context to task in a very subtle way. As Paulo Freire often wrote, there is nothing neutral about our presence in the world, and before we can begin to change the world, we have to name it and critically understand it. Youth workers reading this report may find the authors’ explanation of the “Resource Power Triangle” particularly effective way of transforming their regular approaches into non-traditional action.

Getting back to the history: within 20 years, by the late 1970s, many observers and former participants from said that the American “youth movement” was dead. The American Indian Movement and the Black Panthers had been brutally suppressed; Students for a Democratic Society and Weather Underground imploded; Youth Liberation morphed, hippies became yuppies, and the rest is history.

Or is it? Since the late 1980s and early 90s the new movement has been growing. Today’s activists are standing on the shoulders of giants, yet creating space for themselves as well. The authors of this report note that “we are living at the end of the era of the New Deal.” George Bush’s so-called “ownership society,” paralleled by the increasing promotion of the importance of “social entrepreneurship,” is tearing apart the historical fabric of public responsibility in the US. This study shares scholar Henry Giroux’s analysis of the effects of neoliberalism on low-income youth and young people of color, as schools close, prisons swell, health programs end, and public programs become privatized.

The Movement Strategy Center’s new report illustrates- without a doubt- that youth-led community organizing is responsive, effective, wide-ranging, sophisticated, and powerful. This document is a vital contribution to further understanding, growth and hope for the future of our communities.


Title: Bringing It Together: Uniting Youth Organizing, Development and Services for Long-Term Sustainability

Authors: K. Zimmerman, M. Chow and T. James

Publisher: Movement Strategy Center

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