The Hidden Curriculum of Student Voice


Student voice teaches students and adults. If you agree with that idea, then you’ll want to learn about the hidden curriculum of student voice.

Tucked into the heart of this is the understanding of the hidden curriculum of schools. The hidden curriculum of schools shows us that there are the things we teach on purpose, and then there are the things we teach inadvertently, accidentally, by coincidence, or simply without stating what our intentions are. Things like having seats in rows and students raise hands are part of the hidden curriculum; deeper though are things like teaching about wealthy, Anglo-centric males in history to low-income girls from communities of color. This can teach these students that the contributions of poor people, brown and black people, women, and their communities are lesser than those of wealthy white men. In turn, this can teach inferiority and reinforce oppression throughout society. These types lessons are part of the hidden curriculum of schools, teaching students lessons explicitly acknowledging they are teaching students lessons. The hidden curriculum is part of all curricular areas and every teaching methodology.

Student council, student leadership classes, and other student programs do similar things.

In the case of student voice, schools actively teach students to hide, hold, and change their voices according to the expectations of adults. We do that through a variety of subtle and overt mechanisms that stifle, suffocate, mimic and manipulate students. These include honor roles, attendance, rules, and punishments that are all among the many overt ways we pummel the natural and innate desire of young people to learn. Other examples include having middle class teachers in low-income communities; segregating young students from adult learners during formal learning activities; and using grades and test scores to dictate success. Still other examples include teaching some students, but not most, about student voice; to engage a few students in powerful roles not traditionally for students; or excusing the “right” students to go to the school district offices while leaving every other student behind. All of this has the cumulative effect of changing student voice, or stopping it all together.

Among many lessons, these practices teach students:

  • Their authentic voices are bad and that adults must approve of what they are saying;
  • “Learning” must be hard and doesn’t require student desire or feedback;
  • In order for learning and student voice to be valid, it must be accepted by adults.
  • Above all, students must seek adult approval for all “valid” forms of student voice


If a student does not follow these lessons, they are punished with punitive, coercive and largely arbitrary judgments and actions bestowed upon them by omnipotent adults. Censure, suspension and expulsion await student voice that does not conform.

All of this teaches students to hide, hold, and change student voice in schools. There are a lot more subtle gestures, but this is meant to kind of introduce the notion of the hidden curriculum that informs student voice practices.

Three Types of Adultism

Here’s an exploration of three types of adultism that are prevalent throughout society.

  • Justified Adultism: “Justified adultism” (aka “righteous adultism” or “pious adultism”) would be anytime adults think they are implicitly and inherently right in doing something for, to, or at children and youth because they are adults, and young people are, well, young. “Your kids will hate you but will thank you later” is a crass rationalization that attempts to justify adultism. Well-meaning liberals, well-meaning conservatives, and people of all ages employ justified adultism all the time to rationalize schools, parenting decisions, technology access, etc.
  • Powertrip Adultism: That’s as opposed to “powertrip adultism” (aka “high and mighty adultism” or “adultocracy”), which doesn’t bother to justify itself. Instead, power is simply, automatically and autocratically foisted onto the shoulders of people over 18/21/25 simply because they are recognized as adults. This is used to grant driving licenses, alcohol purchasing ability, and voting rights to adults, and exclude all young people from the same. Powertrip adultism is less apparent in general behaviors throughout society though, since the old lady scolding kids for riding bike through the road median flowerbed doesn’t really happen anymore. However, where it does exist it tends to be hyperbolic, ie sending teenage youth to adult jails for teenage crimes.
  • Hateful Adultism: I don’t believe most adults wakes up and wants to be evil towards young people. However, some people feel genuine antipathy towards people who are young; they actually feel hate, disgust, distrust and dislike towards youth. This hateful adultism is actualized in obvious and subversive ways, and is proven throughout our society. Sometimes its reflected in the development of adult-only physical, mental and emotional spaces; other times it shows in policies, rules, regulations and more. There are places where the activities and programs for youth show hateful adultism, too.

The line between these three might appear arbitrary – and might completely be that way – to young people themselves. Ask a youth!

Thanks to Lisa Cooley for prompting me to write about these!

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Bastardizing Youth Voice

Adults lower the quality, authenticity and power of youth voice when we attach our agendas, our issues and our actions to it. This is called bastardizing youth voice, and it happens all the time. This article explores ways it happens and how it affects young people themselves.

When considering youth as allies to educators, adults may be tempted to act as translators for youth voice. Concerned that youth are not capable of speaking “adult-ese”, well-meaning program staff, nonprofit administrators, researchers, government staff, youth advocates and teachers reword the ideas of youth, interpret them, or otherwise differentiate between what youth actually said and what adults believe they meant.

Adults do this because we do not believe that the raw data represented by youth voice has actual value in the space of government policymaking, program teaching, organizational leadership, or community improvement. We do that because we do not trust youth at face value; without extracting what we think youth are actually saying, without reframing it into concepts, ideas, or beliefs we share, we think youth voice is foreign, alien, or immature and juvenile.

The challenge here is not that youth do not have valuable things to add to the conversation, but that adults do not have the ability to solicit the perspectives, experiences, knowledge and wisdom of youth without filtering, analyzing, or otherwise destabilizing their expressions. We have to accept that responsibility and build our capacity to to do this important work. We have to stop bastardizing youth voice.

I do not use that word lightly. To bastardize youth voice, adults corrupt how youth share their voices, however it is expressed. Sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally, adults debase youth by adding new elements, their own ideas, moving their own agendas and forcing their own beliefs through the actions, ideas, experiences, and wisdom of students. Bastardizing youth voice this way is not necessary, appropriate, or relevant to creating youth/adult partnerships.

All adults throughout the education system need to learn that all young people of all ages have the capacity and the ability to speak for themselves, albeit to different extents. Often this capacity may be undermined by the disbelief of otherwise good-hearted adults who honestly believe they know what youth think. Youth/adult partnerships creates appropriate platforms for youth experience, ideas and knowledge of the world without filtering those words through adult lenses. Youth can learn about the world they live in, the topics they should learn, the methods being tested on them, the roles of adults and students, and much more.

Questions to Ask

  • How do you interpret youth voice right now?
  • Does the idea of adults bastardizing youth voice offend you? Why or why not?
  • Where can you practice simply listening to youth voice today, without interpreting or bastardizing it?

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A Brazilian Interview

In the aftermath of my recent visit to Brazil I have been fielding a few online interviews. Following are my thoughts in reply to a reporter’s questions today. What do you think?


1 – What do you think about the idea of having a more open national curriculum for that age (15-17) so that each school could work with what’s interesting for their specific public?

In order to ensure a minimal ability to participate in democratic societies, it is important for there to be a consistent basic experience of learning, teaching and leadership through open public education for all students within a nation. However, it is also vital to allow for localization in every community and personalization for all students. Notice that I am saying all students and not just 15-17 year old students. Local communities should have the capacity to make effective, meaningful decisions about education for all students, and all students, regardless of their age, should have appropriate, meaningful opportunities to make decisions about their own learning. National curriculum standards should be made that facilitate that local decision-making and personal decision-making, along with policies that sustain long-term infrastructure, fiscal support, professional development for educators, and additional training as its needed.


2 – What needs to change in schools so that it is more interesting to young people and help reduce evasion?

All education should be made consensual between students and adults. Before undertaking learning, teaching and leadership, all people who are involved should understand what they are committing to. Students and adults should know what the alternatives are, because there are always alternatives. And everyone involved- young and older- should be able to say “yes” while retaining the power to say “no”. The time of forcing students to attend schools has been overshadowed by the era of choice that we live in today. With the unfettered ability to make consumeristic and social choices throughout their lives, young people need schools that support their abilities rather than repress them. Consensual education is the key to keeping schools relevant and meaningful into the future.

3 – In Brazil, teachers in the public educational system are very underpaid. It seems unreal to engage students when you cannot even engage teachers. How do you see this issue and the alternatives to tackle it?

Teacher pay is a real problem in North America, too. Undervalued for their contributions, teachers face many injustices in our imbalanced economies. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote, “A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom.” In the United States and Canada, the death of the human spirit is made worse by consumerist pressures and the grinding inequities faced by low-income people and people of color. That said, money alone does not prevent teachers from engaging with their jobs, schools, communities, or the students they teach. Using economics as an enabling device can support further oppression and disengagement, as teachers can use it to rationalize their indifference, inability, or adultism. Adultism, which is bias towards adults and against young people, is apparent anytime adults work to fulfill our own agendas without considering or by dismissing the agenda of young people. Students in schools face adultism constantly, whether its teachers setting the school calendar, government officials creating curricula, or voters determining which political party rules the education system in the current election cycle. Engaging students throughout the education system can begin to challenge these disparities between students and adults, and teachers can be key partners in that effort regardless of how much money they get paid.

What questions do YOU have about my visit to Brazil or the things you’ve read here? Please comment on my blog!

We Love Sameness

As adults, we’re interesting creatures.

In schools, at work and through community programs, we spend a lot of time talking about creativity. We try to innovate, to respond, to grow and build and spread whenever, wherever and however possible. Many of us want our technology to be expansive, our governments to be progressive and our society to advance and progress.

However, I think we’re interesting creatures because when it comes to many things, adults are reductive and very conservative, no matter what our party politics are. We strive to maintain order in our families, at home and in our personal finances. We buy the same things whenever we go to the grocery store. We read the same websites, hang out with the same people and do the same things to entertain ourselves. Some people lean on their religious faith regularly, while others stand firm in humanistic convictions.

This is why we create and uphold common curriculum and standardized tests throughout schools, and why shopping mall stores for young people do so well.

We love sameness.

This is true in almost every activity we do with young people, either as parents, educators, social workers or concerned neighbors. We crave for familiarity with these children and youth, so we impose our values, perspectives, ideals and considerations onto them. Being young, many young people receive these products of adulthood willingly, ingesting them into their being more and more as they grow older and older. Contemporary conceptions of adolescence might just be the gradual infusion of adultism throughout our psyches.

Adults do this in other ways too, routinely calling for pants to be pulled up and music to be turned down. We design buildings and businesses for adult needs because we recognize those needs, can appreciate them and are willing to uplift them as the ideal. We don’t do this with young peoples’ values and ideals though, instead waiting until we deem young people ready to bestow them with the rights and responsibilities we believe should be accorded with age.

Adults love sameness. How about you?

We Are The Problem

EDAYPthumbIt can be challenging to see the practical implications of ending discrimination against young people. This morning I received a note from a reader asking for practical applications, ways that we can actually do this work. I think the reason its challenging to envision how to end adultism is because what I’m calling for initially is a shift in consciousness and awareness, rather than an immediate and direct change in action.

Challenging adultism requires raising the critical consciousness of the people who perpetuate adultism that they perpetuate adultism in the first place. That means that all adults, everywhere, almost all of the time should become aware of the fact that we perpetuate adultism.

As our critical consciousness is raised and we accept out roles in perpetuating adultism, we can begin to overcome adultism be strategically addressing our own actions and attitudes. Then we can address the culture we live in and share with everyone else. And the structures that we’ve created to impose and propel adultism can be addressed as well.

But that first step—conscientization—is what will allow anyone to take meaningful action to overcome adultism. Without accepting that we’re the problem, we’ll only continue to be the problem.


You can learn more in my book, Ending Discrimination Against Young People.

Adult Power

Adults have power. A left over vestige of some time gone by marked by limited mortality, adults are rewarded this power simply because we reach adulthood. In this post, I explore what that power is, how it happens and what it means. Special thanks to Lisa Cooley who has been pushing my brain on this lately.

There are distinct differences in the treatment of young people and adults. That treatment is handed out by every adult, all of the time, and is often re-affirmed by young people as part of their social conditioning. That treatment is meant to ensure the power of adults. The differences in how young people are treated are made worse if you, in addition to not being seen as adults, youth are not identified by adults as white, hetrosexual and middle class.


Getting On Adults’ Good Side

One of the distinct ways that young people manage to secure preferential treatment by adults is by acting LIKE adults; that is, by assuming gestures, vocabulary, clothes, attitudes, and postures seen by adults as being adult-like. In many circumstances, this is actually labelled “acceptable behavior.”

Acting too much like an adult is frowned upon though. Among some people who advocate for youth rights, there is a belief that any age-determined boundary is arbitrary and should not exist, including drinking, driving and voting rights. 

When I was doing research on the etymology of the word “adultism” back in 2007, the oldest usage I discovered was related to the behavior of young people. Adultism was explained as as, “A boy of 12 and a girl of 13 who had the spirit and personality of adults… They were placed in institutions because of stealing and prostitution. These forms of precocity lead the individual into difficulties and should be recognized early in the development of the individual.”

Young people lose favor with adults when they stop acting like adults or in ways that adults approve of.


Legal Boundaries & Social Consequences

Courts have determined that there is a boundary to cross for youth when they go from acting as adolescents to acting as adults; however, that line, also, is blurry, since courts across the country try young offenders as adults starting at the age of 10 and going up from there. In the US, the military will accept 16 year old recruits in some circumstances. Driving, voting and drinking are among other shifting age boundaries to adulthood when adults have determined it is not okay for someone younger to “act like an adult”.

Since adults determine how adults are expected to behave, they also enforce those expectations. Some enforcement is social; other punishment is economic; some is cultural; and other enforcement and punishment is legal. Anything that deviates from the acceptable behavior is in err, or malicious, or unacceptable, and there is always a punishment is doled out duly, legally or illegally, obvious or subtle.

The social consequences of deviating from adult expectations range from subtle discrimination to distinct alienation to overt ostracization. Youth can be shunned in a variety of ways, and excluded in a number of others. This includes taxation without representation, scientific stigmatization, and compulsory schooling that relies on age segregated environments. The over ostracization of youth leads to youth homelessness and overall street dependency.


Force & Coercion

How do adults ensure their power? There are no ends to the force we use, which is true for parenting and teaching and neighboring and governing and policing and counseling and selling and buying and any other activity adults do with young people. Force is another word for coercion, and to some extent every adult is coercive over young people, not matter how well-intended they are.

As parents, we dole out and withhold love, affection and attention according to how well our child adheres to our desires and expectations. This is forcefulness, under the guise of loving care. Even enlightened parents do this habitually, as if its hardwired into our intuition. We live in a society reliant on very subtle and very overt gestures of coercion. Schools are masters of this to some degree, as they use both mechanisms of subtle and overt control to force students into compliance.

The question isn’t whether or not we force anyone to learn anything, because we all do. Instead, there is a question of the degree to which we’re forcing the Other to do what we want them to. There is a question of the desired and actual outcomes of the force, or why we coerced them. All of this adds up to the rightness or wrongness of using force, rather than simply saying “You forced someone to do what you wanted them to.” We all do that; why and how is what counts.


What You Can Do

By not saying anything about this ingrained discrimination against young people, all adults actually condone the behavior of other adults. More so, we are complicit because we send unspoken messages, like that we think youth, too, should have the attitude of adults as well, and that those youth who don’t should expect to be treated accordingly.

These oppressive clarion calls are constantly given throughout our society. We make them through convenient lists of guidelines and rules posted on walls; dress codes and curfews; and many other overt exhibitions of preference. All of these tools are geared towards acceptability, conformity and the maintenance of adultocracy.

Ask yourself why we still award people for reaching age 18 by foisting tons of power on them over another segment of the population. Oh, and identifying the role of adultocracy throughout our society? I wrote a book about it called Ending Discrimination Against Young People, and you can order it here.

Why Does Adultism Exist?

adultismLately I’ve been thinking about why adultism exists. Unfortunately, there’s no easy reason. However, its easy to say that at the end of the day its all about power, and our relationship to power. However, there are deeply layers inside of that to examine.

Adultism exists because the cultural effects of discrimination against young people are long lasting. As I continue to learn more about adultism, I continue to discover more ways that we perpetuate adultism. As I explore in my book, discrimination against young people permeates almost all workplaces, homes, schools, and politics despite the most well-intended awareness-building campaigns, professional development, and anti-adultism projects. To say the least, unraveling hundreds of years of enshrined social norms is a slow process that will take more than a generation of work.

The reason for that is that the socialization of adults throughout Western society routinely encourages us to extinguish our memories of our own youth. So many people have traumatic experiences when they are young simply because they are young. Never dealing with those experiences, the bias, exclusion, disbelief, alienation, demonization, and otherwise feeling discriminated against in so many ways becomes normalized and feels rational.

In the absence of critical conscious awareness that allows them to deal with those feelings, all adults end up unconsciously perpetuating and propagating adultism.

In order to truly END discrimination against young people, we have to have a 3-prong program that addresses adultism in all of its forms:

  • Attitudinal Adultism: Personal feelings, assumptions, and beliefs that form a person’s attitudes about young people.
  • Cultural Adultism: The shared attitudes, including beliefs and customs, promoting the assumption that adults are superior to anyone who isn’t identified as an adult, simply because of their age. This is also called social adultism.
  • Structural Adultism: The normalization and legitimization of historical, cultural, institutional and interpersonal dynamics – that routinely advantage adults while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for young people. This is also referred to as institutional adultism.

When we address those systems of discrimination, we’ll begin to move all of our society forward. When we understand power and our relationship to power between youth and adults, only then can we end discrimination against young people once and for all.

Why Youth Are Unemployable

There’s a growing consensus among many employers that youth today aren’t employable. Whether they’re looking for blue collar jobs or professional careers, workplaces simply aren’t satisfied with the skills, knowledge, or abilities of young people anymore.

The reason for employers being dissatisfied with young workers is relatively simple. However, seeing that simple problem requires peeling back some different lenses used to talk about youth employment today.

Using my experience working in education and workforce development programs, along with current news and research, I have identified several lenses that color the ways employers see youth today. Here are some of them.

3 Reasons Employers Say They Don’t Hire Youth

  • Youth Seem Too Entitled. Employers frequently say that whether they’re high school dropouts or college graduates, youth today seem too entitled. No matter their station in life, they think they should have rewarding work, ideal workplaces, fair pay, good benefits, and substantive advancement opportunities. In return, they don’t want to work as hard, as long, or as meaninglessly as their parents or grandparents did. Employers talk about how parents of youth today are too obsessed with their childrens’ happiness, and because of that young workers don’t know how to work hard for anything. Instead of working for the opportunities they have, many youth are simply taking those things as if they belong to them by birthright instead of earning them.
  • Youth Are Too Apathetic. With their obsessive amount of piercings, tattoos, and poor clothing, employers say youth constantly show that they are indifferent to common workplace expectations for appearance. Reflecting that indifference, youth today don’t respect the predominant Protestant Work Ethic that has dominated successful businesses around the world for more than 400 years. Many bosses say that young workers’ apathy shows in monumental ways when they simply don’t exert the energy needed to get the job done.
  • Youth Just Aren’t Ready. Despite all their education and education reform, tutoring, youth programs, and other entitlements youth enjoy today, employers consistently report that youth aren’t showing up for work ready to get the jobs done. Instead, they’re under-skilled and less-than-willing to learn what they need to in order to perform the most menial labor. Even college graduates are incapable of accomplishing the most basic of tasks for many jobs, with employers saying these youth shirked necessary learning in higher education in order to pursue learning that made them happy, or just took the easy classes to get through.

I have regularly heard and seen these reasons effectively stop young workers from getting and keeping the jobs they need today. President ObamaRepublicans, the pope, and many, many other leaders around the world see youth unemployment as a major issue.

Before we can address youth unemployment in a real way though, we need to see what the real causes are. Since we’ve read some of the reasons employers readily share, I want to uncover the main cause for why youth today aren’t employable: Discrimination Against Youth.

The Real Problem

Discrimination against youth is the main reason why employers think youth are unemployable. Discrimination, which is defined in several ways, includes the meaning, “the recognition and understanding of the difference between one thing and another.” Employers are constantly discriminating; however, in the case of employing young people, they are discriminating against youth.

Whether we’re reviewing job applications, interviewing prospective candidates, hiring youth, training them to do their jobs, or supervising and managing them everyday, employers are constantly discriminating against youth.

For 17 years, I have run a boutique consulting firm. Of the 25 employees I’ve hired, more than half were under 21, and many were under 18. Throughout my career in education, I’ve supervised hundreds of employees for other organizations, with the vast majority of them being under 18. I have worked as an adult living skills instructor, teaching youth skills they needed to become successful adults including the ability to get and keep work. Most recently, I oversaw a youth employment program serving more than 500 young people across the region where I live, which is mostly rural along with seating the state capital.

I discriminate against youth. Surely, I judge them by their appearance, their actions, their attitudes, and the outcomes they produce too; however, I start by judging them by their age.

I don’t do that with adults.

Instead, I study adults’ resumes carefully, engage deeply with their interviewing processes, and thoughtfully inquire about them to their references. I review their education and training, and delve into their thinking if I call people back in for a second interview. I don’t do it the same way with youth, and I know that many employers are just like me.

All of that is to say that this isn’t a hypothetical essay written by a well-meaning do-gooder. Instead, its meant to be a practical treatise that examines a common, under-explored, and urgent reality facing the world today.

Why We Discriminate Against Youth

For more than 50 years, marketers have been ripping away at youth engagement as economic actors. This includes their roles as customers, employees, clients, and producers. We discriminate against youth because doing so makes us money.

Before the 1950s, youth were not treated as distinct figures in the marketplace. Instead, they were generally treated as young adults and were marketed to using the desires of adults to captivate their attentions. Realizing their potential as consumers, marketers identified them as an under-attended segment starting with the post-WWII economic boom.

Slowly and steadily, marketers repositioned youth from being the passive recipients of the adult-driven economic towards becoming active consumers. Initially relying on the concept of a generalized type of “every youth”, ad campaigns and new products frequently suggested that youth without discretionary incomes could earn their way to wealth. Marketers began exploiting difference social values among youth, increasingly pushing market segmentation along socio-economic class lines. They casted images of “punks” and “jocks”, “surfers” and “cool cats”, “Blacks” and still others upon American youth, leaving them to identify with the clothes, music, and other trends marketers foisted on them.

What the ad men and corporate leaders soon discovered was that this line of thinking ignored the economic reality of youth: Without money, there was no way to market high dollar items to low- or no-income youth.

That led marketers began keying in on youth with passive, discretionary income as their ideal targets, and cuing up others for cheaper, lower quality purchases. Children and youth became identified as the penultimate consumers, as their young purchasing habits informed their older purchasing habits. With their singular position in life as the compulsory attendees of public schools, the vast majority of youth were literally a captive audience for both explicit and passive marketing campaigns. Students in schools who wear particular logos identify along particular social and economic class lines, forming clear brand identities that are associated with their personal and familial worth. Those same students take certain classes, attend the right social events, and do the same activities both in and out of schools. Their apparent desire for conformity and community make them the ideal audience for high pressure peer-to-peer marketing tactics that marketers have honed since the advent of youth.

Simultaneously, the promoters of mass media realized that sensationalizing the challenges facing young people and making youth the problem instead of seeing them as the solution sells newspapers. Falling into the trap of commercialization, many nonprofit organizations and educational leaders have fell into this perspective too, actively discriminating against youth in order to secure funding for their seemingly beneficent activities. Politicians respond in kind, boosting police funding, entrenching standardized teaching and assessments in schools, and continuously and deeply demonizing youth themselves. All of this further segregates youth from society.

Youth who are excluded from the mass socialization in schools had room made for them, too: Getting low grades and dropping out makes them ideal candidates for service sector jobs, while the school-to-prison pipeline situates them squarely as income generators for corporations that profiteer off delinquency.

All this is to show that adults discriminate against youth because we make money by doing it. There are many ways that happens, and following are three:

  • Segregation: Ensuring their self-identification in social class segregated consumer spending groups through schools allows marketers to appeal directly to appropriate potential youth consumers according to their income levels.
  • Condemnation: Originally condemning to service sector work adults wouldn’t do gave them disposable income marketers could appeal to with high demand, low-cost, high profit products;
  • Stagnation: Repealing those job opportunities from the lowest income young employees virtually assures their economic and educational stagnation, perfectly positioning them to move along the school-to-prison pipeline that generates major revenues.

Basically, we rely on discrimination against youth to drive our economy. Our perception that youth today are unemployable is intact because of discrimination against youth.

How It Happens

These realities apply to young employees in a variety of ways. In an age of economic downturn, young people are seen as expendable participants in the employment pool because of their socio-economic statuses. Denied those formerly presumably disposable incomes, they are viewed as irrelevant actors in a sea of adults who apparently need jobs more than youth. Employers rationalize this during hiring processes in many ways, attributing their discrimination against young people with the cliche condemnations:

  • “Youth today don’t know how to wear their clothes! Their pants are too saggy or their hair is too colorful!”
  • “These kids don’t have the right work ethic. When I was young…”
  • “I don’t like their attitudes. I need someone who wants to come in here and work hard, do the right thing, and get paid money to get a job done, not just because they think they’re owed something.”

These attitudes are typical and common among adults today. While every single adult doesn’t discriminate in these ways, we all discriminate in some ways, whether at home or throughout our communities. However, the irony is that people who are in hiring, supervising, and managing roles today had the very same things said about their generations when they were younger. The cyclical nature of marketing insists that companies return to the same tried and true strategies every generation in order to assure repeat customers and brand loyalty. Large corporations do this continuously; small companies and upstarts rely on previous generations’ attitudes towards young people to sell product too.

All of this is inherently discriminatory towards youth for many reasons, chief among which is that implicit and immediate condemnation of youth because of their age. Rather than being based in non-biased research and reality that acknowledges the varying and evolving abilities of all young people, we routinely and systematically lump them all into the same category, assign them the same attributes and deficits, and figure they’ll do the same things, no matter what.

How to Make Youth Employable

There are many different things we can do instead of relying on discrimination against youth to forward our economy. We can recognize the possibilities that are inherent within every single youth, no matter what race, socio-economic class, cultural background, or educational ability they are. We can actively, purposefully engage youth as economic actors who are capable and responsible for engaging future generations of youth. We can change the world.

Yesterday, I spent a few hours working with a group of educators focused on youth employment. After discussing my recent article called “5 Lies Employers Tell Youth Today“, we talked about what everyone can practically, actually do to make a difference. Here are several options anyone can do right now make youth employable.

8 Steps to Youth Employability

  1. Accept Responsibility. If you actually believe youth are unemployable, you are actually responsible for that condition, as well as for addressing it. If just 10% of all adults everywhere accepted responsibility for doing something different, youth unemployment would become rare around the world. No matter if you are a parent, a teacher, a police officer, business owner, politician, store manager, or simply a neighbor, you have a role to play. Read on to learn what that is.
  2. Teach Young People About Mindsets. From birth, teach all young people everywhere to be willing to learn. Build lessons in how we think into early childhood development programs, and mandate all educators teach about learning styles and mindsets, and more.
  3. Promote Practical Hopefulness. Many adults have largely given up on young people today, whether they recognize it or not. Instead of piping false hope across social media and television, we have to promote practical hopefulness that engenders real action.
  4. Create Partnerships. As they enter their teen years, actively engage every young person in every community in an equitable partnership with an adult, whether as a mentor, in an apprenticeship, or otherwise.
  5. Build Connectivity. Throughout their youth, continuously connect and reconnect every young person throughout their community through active learning, volunteerism, and otherwise.
  6. Redo Education. Re-envision the core curriculum of schools to focus on practical, applicable skill-based and knowledge-building learning, rather than large topical swaths that are seemingly devoid of practical applications to students themselves. Student voice should be at the center of ALL education.
  7. Promote In-person Internet. Weave together online identities with in-person identities. With the ubiquity of the Internet today, its increasingly vital that young people move seamlessly within their social networks, whether on the Internet or in real time.
  8. Foster Entrepreneurial Lifestyles. Entrepreneurship is about more than work; its about life. More commonly than ever, society accepts that change is the only constant. Teaching young people to make the most of that is one of the best ways to make youth employable.
  9. Stop Fighting Change. There’s so much resistance to diversity, to people who aren’t white or wealthy or male or straight or educated or accessible to the mainstream. We must stop fighting the impending changes our world inevitably holds for all of us, and instead embrace them ALL. We can guide and move some change, but at the least, we must simply accept it.
  10. Make Lifelong Learning An Accessible Expectation. There is a lot of value to teaching oneself and learning what you want to, when you want to. However, in our increasingly commodified societies we’re making lifelong learning more and more expensive and inaccessible. We should throw the doors everywhere open for everyone, all the day. Andrew Carnegie knew the value of this; we should acknowledge that’s more important today than ever.

Perhaps the most important thing we can do is the first thing on this list: Accept responsibility, because from that place we can change the worldA lot of research and policy work that has been done that supports my contentions; read them for more information.

Regardless of how you see it though, ending discrimination against young people is truly what is needed to make all youth everywhere employable today and in the future.

Adam Fletcher is a speaker on engaging young people in business, education, and communities. He is also the author of several books, including Ending Discrimination Against Young People. Learn more about him by visiting

There Is No ONE Youth


There is no ONE youth. Adults constantly talk about youth as if they’re one person that acts one way and faces one reality. In truth, there are millions of young people acting millions of ways and facing millions of realities, right now.

The Myth of One Youth

Adults routinely address all youth as one youth. It happens like this:

  • “Youth today need to suck it up!” says one upset grandparent who is frustrated with their grandchildren. Rather than addressing their specific relations, these people are generalizing all young people to meet their expectations, positive and negative.
  • “I have lost my hope in youth,” suggests a politician who is looking at recent violence in his city. He is not scanning the whole scene, seeing everything that’s going on. Instead, he’s addressing his own myopic view, and distrusting even the potential of the youth he serves.
  • “My youth was lost,” explains a teacher to her classroom while she’s trying to dissuade them from using drugs. Painting a wide swath of disregard for herself, she’s actually undermining herself by invalidating the things she learned, the experiences she had, and the ideas that were born while she was young.

Everyone is different from everyone else. We don’t lump together adults into one singular pile to say that all adults are the same, no matter what. Yet we routinely do that with children and youth, putting them all into the same pile. This leads to standardization and conformity, enforcing mediocrity and complacency rather than incentivizing transformation. This conflicts with the common understanding that change is the only constant in life: Life changes for young people, too!

It is in the Words

A long time ago, my friend and colleague Wendy Lesko took me to task about using the word “youth” to refer to young people as a singular group. This is when people say, “Youth are the future” or “Youth today…” It lumps all young people as one group, and denies them their plural nature as youths. She said we don’t do this to adults, and when we’re very young we even get a plural tense of our age group, going from child to children. Wendy explains all this in her quintessential book, Youth: The 26% Solution.

I dismissed this concern as semantics for a long time, and kept using the word youth in its singular and plural form. However, today I realize the error of my ways; thanks, Wendy, and all the youths I’ve worked with, for being patient with me for so long.

Today, I understand that simply clumping all young people into the same boat by calling them “youth” disempowers their identities and negates their individual personhood. I get it.

Its in the Realities, Too

The reality is that all youths are different. Every young person grows up in circumstances that are uniquely their own because of the ecology and history they are in and from. Families, spiritual beliefs, social realities, educational experiences, economic backgrounds, cultural heritage, political biases, and many other factors differentiate youths from each other. This is for both positive and challenging factors.

Despite its commonality as a seperator, in most cases age isn’t even a worthy seperator. Ability, understanding, knowledge, and wisdom do not follow strictly linear lines of thinking. There are many ignorant adults and intelligent young people who are evidence to that reality in either direction.

In the past, leaders saw standardization as the solution to controlling massively growing populations. For a variety of reasons though, today the mechanisms of familiarity and conformity simply aren’t enough for the masses. Instead, as our world becomes more populated by more people, its becoming more important than ever to differentiate and individualize than ever before.

Leaders must see the necessity of mass customization and individualization, no matter what sector of society they serve. Politics, education, religion, recreation, and many other areas are wrestling with this right now.

The secret formula here is that youths are the canaries in the mine shaft here. They are the ones demanding that the world change, making change happen, and inculcating society with a new vigor and ability to foster transformative thinking and realities.

Are you ready for this changing world? Are you ready to acknowledge all youths as different, rather than seeing and treating them like they’re all the same? Here are three ways to do that.

Three Ways to Treat Youths Individually

  1. Throw away the script. Don’t use standardized curricula, training, positions, or programs for young people today. Instead, work with them to mentor them, creating youth/adult partnerships that transform your home, school, neighborhood, business, or government.
  2. Create spaces to dream. Denied opportunities to be creative in many schools today, youths are growing up believing they’re incapable or unable to dream new dreams. Create new spaces for that to happen. Teach them visioning techniques, use brainstorming activities, and foster wider thinking than anything they have in their brains right now. You never know how far that can go!
  3. Take action today and tomorrow! Instead of simply stopping with thinking or visioning or planning or researching or teaching or training or reflecting, move with young people towards action and outcomes right now. Show them how to move from passive pasts to active todays and intentional tomorrows.

All adults can make differences in the lives of young people, whether at home, throughout their communities, at their workplaces, or beyond. Where are YOU going to make a difference today?