The NEW Youth Voice

"Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world." - Paulo Freire
“Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world.” – Paulo Freire

You might have noticed that since publishing The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide last year, I’ve come to feel strongly about aggrandizing youth involvement.

A lot of organizations and programs tout their credibility with youth involvement, youth engagement, and youth organizing by highlighting all the wonderful things they position youth to lead. By doing this, these organizations are actually doing youth disservice. The many challenges include:

  • Positioning adults as beneficent rulers who allow youth to do things
  • Incapacitating young peoples’ innate responsibility for themselves and others
  • Negating the abilities of communities to work together for the common good

 

Instead of helping, these activities actually and often harm the people they intend to help.

We need to see things differently. In recent months, I’ve begun to envision a new way of being, knowing, and doing. This way is currently emerging between young people and adults, and it is happening throughout society. This way re-positions children, youth and adults from assuming power relationships dependent on subservience and authority, towards seeing each other in a more holistic light.

The old way of Youth Voice…

  • Relied on adults having power over youth
  • Positioned young people as “adults-in-the-making” not to be seen as whole people right now
  • Depended on youth being subservient and compliant to adults
  • Required systems of oppression that enforced adults’ power
  • Demanded youth be compliant with adult desires out of fear of violence
  • Necessitated systems of authority enforced by structures of abuse
  • Made programs that put “youth in charge” necessary in order to rebalance power inequalities between youth and adults
  • Routinely positioned youth against each other and against adults in order to ensure compliance and conformity
  • Saw children and youth progressing along a predictable, staircase development cycle towards adulthood

The emerging, new relationships between youth and adults look different. The new Youth Voice…

  • Sees young people as whole people no matter what their ages
  • Utilizes holistic youth development as the organizing framework for young peoples’ growth, education, and ongoing formation as humans
  • Treats all young peoples’ growth as non-linear, non-sequential and non-uniform, instead treating every child and youth as an evolving human
  • Allows equal room for adults and young people to have, express, and critique power and authority
  • Positions children, youth, and adults in equitable partnerships designed to foster engagement, belonging, and ownership
  • Grants adults and young people equitable, responsible space for learning, teaching, and leadership in all roles, all of the time
  • Replaces command-and-control authoritarianism by honoring the collective, democratic perspectives of all people, regardless of age
  • Acknowledges programs that put “youth in charge” to be ineffectual and unnecessary
  • Dismantles youth-against-youth and youth-against-adult power struggles through common action and mutual support

Paulo Freire wrote, “Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world,” and the same can be said of Youth Voice. Youth Voice does not transform the world. Youth Voice transform people. People change the world.

If we are going to change the world, we must change ourselves first. Changing ourselves comes from active, deliberate work. That’s what my proposition for new Youth Voice is – an attempt to engage each of us differently.

Through these active, distinguishable ways of being, knowing, and doing, young people are adults are working together to transform the world we share. Everyone can and should aspire to nothing less.

 

Student Voice and Student Activism

One of the main researchers of student voice in the world today is Dana Mitra. Based out of Penn State, she’s done awesome work over the last 15+ years focused on students changing schools, and more. I really admire her writing, her commitment, and the breadth of her studies. She’s taught me a lot.

Today, she posted this video on our Student Voice Researchers and Practitioners facebook group. It details the causes of the massive uprising in Venezuela right now.

In response,  I asked the following questions:

Can we talk about the uncomfortable bridge between student-led student activism for education reform and adult-led student voice in schools? 

From my conversations and workshops, I’ve found that a lot of teachers are very off-put by that connection. Why is that? Is there an unspoken assumption that hidden inside every student is a possible revolutionary? Or that every student activist could potentially lead Venezuela-style protests?

Or does this get to the heart of why there still isn’t a #studentvoice movement throughout North American public schools, en masse? Is it that schools (including but not limited to teachers, administrators, and elected officials) are simply frightened by the prospects of educated, aware, and empowered students?

These questions go further, too, as they reach to the very heart of our society’s relationships with young people today. That’s all for another post though…

Expanding Adultism

adultism

ANY bias towards adults is adultism.

That is the reason why sink heights in schools and parks are adultist. And adultism is the reason why sink heights have anything in common with the phrase “It’s better for kids to be seen and not heard.” And adultism is what sink heights and old adages have in common with curfews and compulsory schooling and so many other parts of our adult-biased society.

Is there anyone who doesn’t show bias towards adults? In my way of thinking these days, the answer is “Sure.” There are plenty of young people who aren’t biased towards adults. Some are though. As for adults, I’ve come to accept that we ALL are, even the best-intentioned among us. We have a disposition towards other adults, and that is what makes us adultist. I’m not interested in whether that’s “nature or nurture”, only in helping people acknowledge that it simply is what it is…

When we’re talking about relationships between adults and youth, I think we have to stop using terms like “oppression” so easily. That doesn’t mean it’s not real; but rather, it’s acknowledging the term isn’t accessible. It simply shuts people down. Oh goodness do I know how that term shuts people down.

In trying to popularize this conversation, I want an accessible language that people can discuss without it being loaded with insinuation and implications.

When we discuss adultism as meaning bias towards adults, then more adults can understand the nature of their own behavior. It can also help people understand that adultism is a simple fact, not a judgment against their very core moral fiber. 

All adults are biased towards other adults. Does it have to be that way? Probably – nature is beastly in some ways. Can we acknowledge this bias and work for justice in this situation? Absolutely.

Ending Discrimination Against Young People by Adam Fletcher

SELL SHEET for Ending Discrimination Against Young People

Summary

In Fall 2013, Adam Fletcher published a new book exploring the ways children and youth are treated throughout society. Ending Discrimination Against Young People is available on Amazon.com and from select distributors.

Most books about young people begin with the idea that children and youth are less than adults, and then proceed to offer various techniques to make them grow up. In his analysis, Fletcher begins instead by asking, “Who are young people today, and what do they truly face?” What follows from that place is a new understanding of the way the world works today, and powerful ideas that can change homes, schools, government, and businesses right now.

Details

  • Name: Ending Discrimination Against Young People
  • Author: Adam Fletcher
  • Paperback: 190 pages
  • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (August 16, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1492183822
  • ISBN-13: 978-1492183822
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5 x 0.5 inches

Available at http://amzn.com/1492183822

Half sheet EDAYP

Press Kit

Review Quotes

“Having been an educator and working with youth for over 20 years, I have always considered myself an advocate for youth. This book really opened my eyes as to how deep rooted this discrimination is and how most of us don’t even give it a second thought. Anyone working with young people should absolutely read this book. It is an essential understanding for the change we wish to see in our education system today.”

—Donna Mikkelsen, founder of The Garden Road School, Crompond, NY

“Adam Fletcher provides an expert look at the revolutionary idea that youth endure, and are harmed by, pervasive age discrimination and supplies supportive advice on how young people and their adult allies can work against it in their daily lives. His perspective as an activist/youth worker/educator (pick whichever one you think is best), a father, and a former young person inform this excellent addition to the youth rights library.”

—Alex Koroknay-Palicz, former executive director of the National Youth Rights Association, Takoma Park, MD

“I loved it. The departure from the typical academic perspective combined with the invested wisdom brings it together well.”

— Jabreel Chisley, 18 year old virtual schooled student and community organizer, Institute for Democratic Education in America, Euclid, OH

“After reading this book, I have to believe youth discrimination is a part of everyone’s life. When you’re 20, you are an adult but society refuses to recognize you as one. That’s not fair, and its making our priorities messed up. This book makes me know I can do something about that!”

—Emily Richardson, young person, Omaha, NE

“This book was really eye-opening and left me with a lot to think about. Now that I understand what adultism is, I can see examples of it in my life and the world around me. I want to be a different kind of parent who gives my kids more appropriate choices.”

—Julian Apilado Lilienthal, mother of two, Deming, NM

“[Fletcher’s] fluid writing makes complicated realities easy to see. Now, I understand the role I have as a parent in youth discrimination. I’ll be a better parent and teacher for my daughters because of this book.”

Elizabeth Ahlstrom, homeschooling mother of four, Caroline, Alberta, Canada

Recent Press

 

Please send your review, blog, newsletter, or other press related to ENDING DISCRIMINATION AGAINST YOUNG PEOPLE to be listed here using this page. Thanks!

 

More Information

For more information, email info@adamfletcher.net or call (360) 489-9680. Order your copy.

 

3 Secrets of Adults Who Help Youth

SeattleYEPC

As teachers, youth workers, parents, counselors, and other adults who work with young people every single day, we have our secrets. They’re not true for every adult, and being able to admit them takes courage, especially when we admit them to other adults we work with.

In my new book, Ending Discrimination Against Young PeopleI explore the need to create safe spaces for honest conversations among adults who work with young people, and parents who are progressive. I am not one to tell others’ secrets; however, here I want to distill some of what I’ve heard and share it with you. These are secrets that many adults who work with young people have told me about the young people they work with.

3 Secrets of Adults Who Help Youth

SECRET #1: Adults don’t trust young people.

Generally, the reason why adults work with young people in any supportive way is that they simply don’t trust them. They don’t believe children and youth can get the supports, experiences, ideas, knowledge, or outcomes adults think they should without the active participation of adults throughout their lives. This is true in the best classrooms and the lovingest homes, as well as the friendliest offices and healthiest workplaces. Ask an adult if this is true, and they’re likely to adamantly deny it. You can tell adults don’t trust youth when they…

  • Make decisions for young people without young people
  • Give young people consequences that wouldn’t be there without those adults’ interventions
  • Use phrases like, “I’m the adult here,” and insist on young peoples’ compliance

 

SECRET #2: Adults almost always think they know best.

An evolutionary mechanism of many creatures, including humans, is called the fight or flight response. The idea is that animals react to threats with a feeling in our nerves that helps us determine whether to fight or flee. I believe adults are almost constantly aware of what they perceive is the compromised ability of young people to respond accordingly to perceived threats. Because of this, there is an evolutionary response within adults that causes us to believe that we need to know the best for ourselves and young people whenever we share company. This is apparent when…

  • Adults limit young peoples’ options “for their own good”
  • Young people are infantalized (treated like infants) no matter what age they are
  • Children and youth constantly defer to adults

 

SECRET #3: Adults are scared of youth.

Any adult who says anything about the future in a negative context is plainly afraid of youth. This is true because they lack the faith, trust, or perspective to see that young people are inheriting a world that is gonna survive. It’s not going to fall apart, stop spinning, or implode at any second. Instead, it’s going to keep on turning, and things are going to work out. This becomes obvious when…

  • Adults talk about “kids today” in a negative sense, or talk about their childhood and youth as if there was nothing wrong, bad, or challenging when they were that age
  • Young people talk, act, dress, or behave like adults in order to make adults more comfortable with them
  • Adults make generalizations about today’s generation
I began this article by talking about adults who work in “helping professions” and parents. The reason why I single these folks out is that first, I am one of both. Secondly, as adults we get into these professions and learn to rationalize our work through many guises, which are the bulletpoints I shared above. But those are the symptoms; the words in bold are the realities.
Let me know what you think in the comments below!

Defeating Adultism by Design

Our society is deeply entrenched in adultism, which is bias towards adults and consequently, discrimination against young people. It is prevalent throughout the institutions of our society. In order to re-negotiate adultism, we have to identify what support has to exist throughout society. I call this support “scaffolding”. I call this re-negotiating “youth integration”.

Youth integration will occur in two steps: The first step is desegregation, which is deliberately ending the segregation of young people throughout society. Today, segregation happens implicitly and explicitly throughout society, including schools, at home, in commerce, and in law-making, enforcement, and courts. Desegregation will address the tools of segregation, including policies and practices, as well as the attitudes and opinions that reinforce them.

The second step is integration. When young people are re-established in equitable relationships throughout society, including their relationships with parents, teachers, youth workers, police, and others, integration is present. It is a deliberate step meant to stop and reverse segregation.

Scaffolding for Youth Integration, aka, How to Defeat Adultism

Supporting young people as they’re integrating throughout society has to be done with deliberation and determination. Challenging adultism and fighting discrimination against youth must be situated in the larger struggle for nonviolence and social justice across our society. Awareness of these struggles and attuning with great legacies of transformation positions young people as the substantive leaders in social change they have been for more than 100 years.

The three pillars of adultism are culture, structure and attitude. If adultism is going to be defeated, efforts must be designed to address these three pillars.

Pillar One: Culture

The first pillar is Culture. Culture is made of the beliefs, habits values, visions, norms, systems, and symbols within a specific and definable community. Adultism is made in the fiery furnace of culture, as groups of people work together to define and reinforce stringent perspectives that re-enforce adultism. In the same way, culture can help examine those assumptions and redefine them in line with social justice through youth integration.

Pillar Two: Structure

The named activities, policies, strategies, processes, allocation, coordination, and supervision of people throughout a community happens through the structure of a definable group of people. In schools, structure includes school rules and curriculum; in society, it includes laws and policing. Structure makes things happen, enforces those things, and encourages them. Structural change promoting youth integration requires deliberate action for transformation. It should actively engage young people in equitable relationships while establishing and maintaining adult allyships.

Pillar Three: Attitude

Where culture and structure belong to a group, attitude belongs to individuals. “Your attitude determines your altitude” applies to adult understandings of youth: “Adult attitude determines youth altitude.” In our adult-dominated, adult-driven society, young people are subject to and subjugated by adult opinions, actions, attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs. This is the full effect of adultism. In order to counter this effect, we must change our own attitudes and provide opportunities for the people around us to change theirs, including youth and adults. This takes new ways of communicating, interacting, and being. It takes personal engagement within our selves and throughout the worlds around us.

 

We must address each of these elements when we seek to integrate young people in any part of society. Each is present throughout all the formal and informal institutions throughout our society. You can find culture, structure, and attitude in individual homes, schools, governments, and other places. By creating scaffolding for youth integration, we can re-negotiate adultism throughout our lives.

 

Adultism In Schools

    The following post is adapted from my book, Facing Adultism, and focuses on what adultism looks like in schools.

Adultism Is The Reason

Adultism is the reason schools exist. When children and youth packed factories, farm fields, mines, and service jobs around the western world in the late 19th century, many adults could not find jobs. This caused adults to rally against child labor and for public schools. A lot of adults said they wanted to end children ending up on the streets without an “occupation”- especially after newspapers reported that was the case. Schools suddenly became popular as places where young people could have productive experiences throughout the day. In the early 20th century they were made compulsory in many Western nations. Moving children from compulsory labor occupations into compulsory learning occupations without their input, ideas, or contributions in any way paved the way to the state of education today. That was just the first effect of adultism in schools.

More Than Neglect

In nineteen states across the U.S. corporal punishment is legal in schools. Corporal punishment is any physical punishment administered to students. This includes spanking, slapping, smacking, pulling ears, pinching, shaking, hitting with rulers, belts, wooden spoons, extension cords, slippers, hairbrushes, pins, sticks, whips, rubber hoses, flyswatters, wire hangers, stones, bats, canes, or paddles. Corporal punishment also means forcing a child to stand for a long time or forcing a child to stay in an uncomfortable position. It can mean forcing a child to stand motionless or forcing a child to kneel on rice, corn, floor grates, pencils or stones. Corporal punishment can also mean forcing a child to retain body wastes; forcing a child to perform strenuous exercise, or; forcing a child to ingest soap, hot sauce, or lemon juice. In schools where students received corporal punishment, students often have no format to appeal such punishment. They frequently do not have the ability to raise concerns over the legitimacy of the claims made against them, and they may not have the ability to raise concerns over the severity of the punishment being administered for their presumed violations.

Corporal punishment may be one of the most obvious physical impacts of adultism, but it is not the only one. One hundred years ago, because of the influence of Italian educator Maria Montessori, educators began paying attention to the physical apparatuses young people were expected to learn with. Their desks got lower, the chalkboards were holdable, and drinking foundations were built at their height. These types of accommodation ended where young people were expected to stop interacting with adults. School board meeting rooms were built for adults; school counselor offices were built for adults; cafeteria food preparation areas were built for adults. Even in high schools students are expected to be “of average adult height” in order to operate learning instruments such as microscopes, computers, and other devices. Research suggests that within in school students comprise an average of 93% of the human population, with adults accounting for the other seven percent. There is an awful lot of accommodation of that  seven percent!

Discrimination By Mandate

Adultism is apparent when large numbers of young people of any age are not allowed to congregate, cooperate and coordinate. Schools today are rooted in age segregation that disallows young people from socially and educationally interacting with each other. With few formal opportunities to socialize, young people may learn to distrust their peers and seek the approval of adults only. Some adults in schools lose the ability to distinguish between conspiracy and community, and they make continuous efforts to keep students from interacting with each other in schools.

Adultism drives adult behavior throughout schools, as well as a lot of student behavior. Teaching styles frequently represent adults’ values and skills rather than young peoples’ perspectives and capabilities. Adults determine what is valuable for students to learn and how young people need to demonstrate their learning. They enforce inequities between students and teachers in everyday behavior, too: When teachers yell at students, they are controlling classrooms; when students yell at teachers, they are creating unsafe learning environments. Ultimately, students in schools are subjected to their parents’ and their teachers’ assessments of their performance in the classroom, and have no formal input into grading or graduations. Searching for adult approval in order to receive the most praise or achieve the best grades, students routinely appease adults with sufficient class work without actually engaging in the content being taught. They find solidarity with the adults who control their classrooms while betraying the trust of their peers as they tattle and compare each other.

Undermining Purpose

Finally, and perhaps ultimately, adultism undermines the very purpose of educating students in schools. Student engagement has been shown to directly affect academic achievement. When students experience adultism, their engagement is severely affected in negative ways, no matter the environment. Classroom management, learning activities and student discipline are all affected by adultism, in all grade levels. In response to all of the bias towards adults throughout their educations, some young people completely acquiesce to adult expectations. Others completely abandon or apparently rebel against these expectations by routinely performing lowly in school through behavior or academic achievement, and through dropping out. Dropping out of school is the ultimate impact of adultism in schools.

In addition to those such as Montessori, who was almost uniquely oriented against adultism in schools, educators have rallied against adultism in schools without naming it as such for more than a hundred years. Massively influential, thought often misunderstood, American school philosopher John Dewey constantly promoted a curriculum for schools that was footed in student realities instead of adult conveniences. He once wrote, “Nature wants children to be children before they are men… Childhood has ways of seeing, thinking, and feeling, peculiar to itself, nothing can be more foolish than to substitute our ways for them.” This situates him squarely on the side of anti-adultist teachers. Paulo Freire, a Brazilian educator whose theories on teaching oppressed people continue to inform school change, justly sought authentic learning for students, too. His attitude could be summarized by his singular belief that, “the educator for liberation has to die as the unilateral educator of the educatees.” This positions the student as the holder and determiner of learning, and that is anti-adultist. While some theories address students’ roles indirectly, and others head-on push against the overbearing domination of adults, in schools, all are valuable as allies in this struggle.

It is because of all these realities that adultism makes schools today ineffective in every way.

Is there anything you’d add, take away, criticize, or expand on?