There was a period of time, about ten years ago, when any discussion of “youth rights” automatically got me fired up. In 1997 I was working as an “adult living skills” instructor in a program for foster and homeless youth in Lincoln, Nebraska. That year I re-read Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed for the second time, and still didn’t understand most of it. I also read Jonathan Caldwell Holt’s Escape from Childhood – which I absorbed and felt deeply.
Throughout Escape from Childhood, Holt extensively surveys the notion and reality of youth rights – although his analysis embraces children, as well. He pounds the nail on the head over and over, discussing the abuses of schools, families, government agencies, children’s rights advocates, even banks. Everything in it – the anecdotes, the powerful points – they all resonated with some part of my experience, and I was completely excited.
I sat on those thoughts and let them percolate over the next several years while I served two more AmeriCorps terms, coordinated a ropes challenge course, supervised a youth floor in a drug rehab center, worked at a nature center and coordinated a service learning program. Percolate. Then, in 2000, I was hired by Washington’s state education agency to promote youth involvement. It was that year in the national youth voice movement and service learning field that I saw Holt’s ideas come to fruition, with nominal but present efforts abounding designed to involve young people more thoroughly in the decisions that affect them most. I was, and am still, critical of these programs, because I believe they are mostly devoid of critical consciousness in general; however, I took hope.
So I started to use Holt’s language. Conferences, teacher workshops, state agency meetings, anywhere people were discussing youth engagement, youth voice or youth empowerment I mentioned youth liberation, youth oppression and youth rights. I built the original Freechild Project websites from this perspective as well. As you might guess, I quickly ran into brick walls. Matter of fact, I ran into them over and over.
These trials-by-fire led me, slowly but surely, to adapt my approaches to accommodate to my given surroundings. Later I will write more about how these experiences molded my work with SoundOut, and still inform what I do. But today I’m concern about translating for people so deeply indoctrinated by the ephibiphobics and adultcentrists that they simply do not see the realities young people faced today. Any insight is appreciated.