Good Reading from the 1970s

More than 30 years ago there was a growing national effort to promote youth empowerment, youth participation and youth rights. For some reason we’ve forgot about that movement, like it never existed – or failed so miserably we don’t mention it, like an ugly stepchild. Here are several books from the 1970s that I recommend for anyone interested in gleaning some wisdom from “back in the day”…

Student Power, Participation and Revolution (1970) John and Susan Erlich – This book is a collection of essays by 1960s student activists from high schools and colleges across the U.S. These are the words that inspired youth action across the country.

Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1970) Paulo Freire – A complex examination of education by a man whose process of teaching rural Brazilians revolutionized that country forever. Freire went on to explore these concepts in a lot of different concepts, often challenging this book – but never was he as powerful, assertive and direct as he was in this book.

Conspiracy of the Young (1971) Paul Lauter and Florence Howe – Looking back on their experience working with young people throughout the 1960s, Lauter and Howe propose several powerful, logical and meaningful ways society can treat youth differently.

The Geranium on the Windowsill Just Died but the Teacher You Went Right On (1971) Albert Cullum – I have avoided adding the fiction books that continue to inspire me from back then – except this one. The author’s dedication says it all: “Dedicated to all those grownups who, as children, died in the arms of compulsory education.” Is anyone out there strong enough to say this today?

Will the Real Teacher Please Stand Up? A Primer in Humanistic Education (1972) Mary Greer and Bonnie Rubinstein – A nice collection of essays and drawings by children and youth along with activities adults can use in classes, programs and other settings. Everything in here challenges the historic relationship between youth and adults, and almost all what is in here inspires me.

Escape from Childhood (1974) John Holt – Holt’s rhetoric continues to inspire new generations of youth rights activists as he expounds on alternatives to the belittling, demeaning and degrading treatment of children and youth throughout American society. Awesome if you are looking for inspiration.

Student Power: Practice and Promise (1975) Glorianne Wittes, Joan Chesler and Dale Crawford – The authors of this book examine and compare six schools to each other. From radical private schools to public alternatives to inner-city megaschools, they offer powerful reflections and share important lessons that seem to have been lost.

I Am Not a Short Adult! Getting Good at Being a Kid (1977) Marilyn Burns – I am leery of books where adults tell young people how to act. This one is almost 100% different. In a revelatory way the author pulls the curtain back on adult society and tells the truth about childhood – to children themselves. Good call.

There are several other books, too, as well as many written before the 70s. Compulsory Mis-Education and the Community of Scholars was published in 1964, and still tells truths about the education system that are powerful. That’s just one of many. Feel free to share your favorite book from back then…

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

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

Join the Conversation

1 Comment

  1. This is a GREAT list, Adam. Thanks. Even though I was an adult in the 70’s, I didn’t come to understand the need for youth empowerment until well into the 90’s. I appreciate knowing about these books and hope I will have a chance to read some of them soon.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *