Education should not be the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats
When I was a teen my family got a dog. Not fancy or well-bred or any that, but a mutt. He was the best, obedient and kind and fun and just a dog, ya know? How did Rudy learn to be all those things? Training. This is how we talk about engaging the people who work with youth.
Training is a one-sided model of knowledge delivery where the trainee is given knowledge to simply ingest and consume, regurgitate and perpetuate. The gross dilemma in this model is that it is inherently anti-youth allyship, as it insists that the needs of young people do not waver beyond the training’s rigid boundaries. Think about it: you go to a conference presentation where for 90 minutes a presenter railroads you through his agenda. While there are interactive sections within that session, there is little time for questions, and critical questions are routinely discouraged either through ignoring or humor. This is training.
What is the favorite topic of many of these trainings? A program. You know the kind, replete with a wonderful powerpoint, a fat binder and a website for constant reference to ensure that your program is on track. There are evaluations as well, complete with prescriptive results that deny the individuality of the facilitator, the attendees, the location, the situation, or any given circumstance that may realistically change the nature of the delivery.
This type of sterile standardization has become par for the course in modern youth work. I have spent thousands of hours attending training as a participant while a youth worker; since then I have facilitated hundreds more for others. However, the entire time I was standing in the front I was struggling with the didactic models I was taught with. How much information did I ever recieve in this belittling form that ignored my individual needs in order to meet the requirements of the presenter, the host organization, the evaluators or others?
At the very least we need more dialectic learning opportunities for youth workers to grow and change, so that we don’t continue to perpetuate the ills we’ve been taught. At the least. At the most, well, we need a radical re-conceptualization of youth work. We need to transform our models from being system-driven towards being entirely youth-driven. We need more than robotic youth workers – we need humans. Recognizing the humanity of the people who work with young people will allow them to recognize the humanity of the youth they work with. This type of progression will let us move forward; otherwise we’re stuck here.