There is an engagement gap facing every school today, and Adam Fletcher can help you bridge that gap. Based in research and experience, Adam facilitates professional development for educators, training for students, project consultation for education agencies, and much more. He speaks at conferences, writes for journals and periodicals, and has authored several books.
Following are Adam Fletcher’s tools for youth engagement in schools. Contact him.
Adam F.C. Fletcher’s Tools Supporting Youth Engagement in Schools
Its cliche to say we live in trying times. But suffering is never cliche, and social justice isn’t a fad.
More than ever, people need to connect and make meaning of their own life. If we were merely passive recipients of a pre-made society, we wouldn’t need connections beyond those that are obviously beneficial to us, and any meaning in our lives could be dictated to us from a form.
We’re not just consumers though. Despite what some schools, business leaders and elected officials tell us, our society is not a product for anyone to consume. Instead, we are all actively making our lives right now – no matter what the rat race looks like for any of us.
Unfortunately, that idea of people-as-consumers may be winning right now. We eat food that’s pre-made; memorize lessons from curriculum that’s mass manufactured; follow regulations intended to standardize our everyday lives; and buy things that weren’t made for individuals, but for consumers.
Transformation Is Required
More than ever, its become obvious that things have to change. We must engage or die. Over the last decade, I’ve researched engagement throughout our society to learn that the places with the most meaningful, most sustainable connections are the most engaged. I believe we must take action to engage as many people as possible everywhere we can, as often as we can, or we face individual, cultural, and ultimately, social death. The end of our society. The end of our communities. The end of our lives.
Our communities, classrooms, cultures and homes have to be places of active, meaningful and authentic engagement. Our souls must be lifted and our hearts connected through determination and intention, and our volitions need to be called to a higher place. Instead of working from a place of crass consumerism, we should acknowledge the place of movement calling our hands and feet beyond apathy and into action. All of this must be sustained throughout the future of our species.
If we don’t do something different, our hearts will rot on the vine, our muscles will wither from atrophy, and our minds will shrink from starvation. For some people that’s already happened; for others its happening right now. We have to intervene, prevent and empower people to do things differently right now.
There are countless areas where we must connect in our world. Neighborhoods require our attention; governments need us. Faith communities rely on engagement; social change is sacrosanct in my book.
Here are three crises in particular where we face the ultimatum to ENGAGE OR DIE.
Education: If we don’t activate everyone, everywhere as active learners right now, we face the whole system decimation of education throughout our society. While a lot of attention is given to public schools right now, the reality is that higher education, community centers and nonprofits are suffering right now, and things will only get worse. We must engage in education or we will die.
Family: Our families are suffering for many reasons. A lot of people are talking about the elimination of the middle class and the effects that’s having on families. However, we must also acknowledge the roles of the human family; our larger communities; and the need to acknowledge nontraditional families. We must engage with the notion of family or we will die.
Health: I don’t work out enough. Sure, I walk a lot and eat healthy, stay away from drinking and staying out too late. Our health is a lot more than any of that though: instead, its the ecology that surrounds each of us. Food, water, shelter, sleep and oxygen are essential. The rhythms, cultures, thoughts, emotions and abilities around us are part of our health, too. If we don’t engage in health, we will die.
If you’re interested in having a conversation about what we can do about this, get in touch with me. I would like to facilitate workshops with all kinds of nonprofits, give talks at a variety of conferences, and reach into the hearts and minds of people everywhere who want to engage or die.Contact me for more details.
In places throughout our society, people are wrestling with a challenge that feels insurmountable: People just don’t care, they aren’t showing up, or they’re not doing what we need them to, what they’re supposed to do, or even what they want to do.
Causes of Disengagement
First obvious in schools, in the 1970s this was originally identified as a dropout problem. After struggling through early community action agencies, Rock the Vote type projects, and national service programs, in 1999 a sociologist named Robert Putnam put a face to the problem when he published Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Community.
Putnam successfully diagnosed the problem with society’s social capital, which is a metaphor for the interactive networks people keep with other people who live and work around each other. Since we’re constantly exchanging these visible and invisible gestures in conscious and unconscious ways, social capital is what allows our society to actually work.
What Disengagement Causes
Wonder why it feels like our society doesn’t actually work? According to Putnam, its because social capital isn’t being circulated like it used to be. Given the emergence of anarchistic capitalism and hyper-libertarianism, I believe we’re reaching a fever pitch and revealing the real problem, which I am calling the Crisis of Disengagement.
However, I think we need an accessible approach to the Crisis of Disengagement for everyone, not just academics. So let me name and define what I think we’re talking about here:
Engagement is any sustained connection anyone has to anything in the world around them and within themselves.
Disengagement is the absence of sustainability in our connections.
That said, the Crisis of Engagement is a solvable problem, much like poverty and war. As Nelson Mandela said,
“Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.”
Disengagement is a solvable problem.
My work is about helping YOU solve the Crisis of Engagement. Check out the rest of the Personal Engagement Tip Sheets to learn more!
Every morning is a call to action, a demand for movement, a whisper of enticement, and an insistence to go on. Heartspace compels us to connect every day in every way we possibly can.
If you want to visualize what Heartspace looks like, start by envisioning a geodesic dome. Notice in this closeup of the Montreal Biosphere that a geodesic dome is made of thousands of interlacing triangles. In Heartspace, each point of contact among the triangles is a sustained connection in your life. All of these connections lace together in order to form your Heartspace.
However, instead of holding a hollow space on the interior like a dome, your connections also lace inwards in a profuse and lavish network of connections and intra-connections. This represents the sustained nature of Heartspace, and the reality that each of your connections affects every other to varying degrees. In this way, your personal engagement is like a spider’s web, too, where the vibrations shake the inexplicably strong connections you have within and around you. Thich Nhat Hanh showed how this happens, writing,
People normally cut reality into compartments, and so are unable to see the interdependence of all phenomena. To see one in all and all in one is to break through the great barrier which narrows one’s perception of reality.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Heartspace is more though, because rather than having finite endings that are clear and identifiable, the sustained connections you maintain within and outside yourself are launched ad infinitum throughout your life. Heartspace literally has no boundaries.
Heartspace has eternal latitude, and whenever we sustain our connections within or around ourselves, the impact launches out from ourselves, like ripples in water. Just like ripples that radiate out from the place where a drop of water lands on the surface of a body of water, our sustained connections coarse through our Heartspace and into the lives of others, generally unconsciously, but sometimes consciously, too.
When we interact with another person’s Heartspace, it can be useful to envision overlapping connections happening like in a Venn Diagram. This happens when we fall in love, or meld deep friendships, or nurture warm connections with our children. It can happen when we reciprocally give our art, cooking, or chopped wood. It happens when we share- that earnest and honest act we learned as children. Sharing Heartspace is devoid expectation or consternation, because it simply insists that we be who we are, how we are. It calls us towards our innocence and compassion and allows us to be fully human, if only for a moment.
Kurt Vonnegut shared a great reminder to bring us within ourselves through this innocence, writing,
Be soft. Do not let the world make you hard. Do not let pain make you hate. Do not let the bitterness steal your sweetness. Take pride that even though the rest of the world may disagree, you still believe it to be a beautiful place.
These images are meant to enliven our ability to see Heartspace, what it is, and how it works throughout our lives. If they do not work for you, simply release them from your imagination. If you want to, look within yourself and imagine what your Heartspace looks like for you. You might even draw that, or write a poem about it. Reply to this post and let me know what you think and feel about the ways sustained personal engagements look throughout your world.
A few days ago I made an unusual sidestep and argued that national and community service programs should supplant government funding with local sources of funding, and scale back accordingly. This is unusual for several reasons, the primary among them being that I believe it is the paramount duty of a democratic government to ensure its citizenry has their basic human rights respected, including having food, water and shelter, educational opportunities, and the right to participation, among many other rights. This is particularly true about young people, as they are more than our metaphorical future: instead, children and youth are our immediate present, and their presence should be more than an afterthought.
In this light it may seem irresponsible or reckless to advocate for the abandonment of government funding for AmeriCorps programs. Imagine if this proposition were taken to its most extreme: every child in a private school, every patient responsible for paying for their own health care, and every prisoner tried by a jury of their creditors. The outsourcing and abdication of many democratic responsibilities in the U.S. doesn’t bother some people; I am not one of those people.
Instead, I believe it is vital for policy-makers, government officials, law enforcement, teachers and other individuals to acknowledge their obligation, their huge responsibility of ensuring the mechanisms of democracy function, and to do that well. Equally as much, it is the duty of every single citizen – and in my own case, every single resident – to enact our roles as democrats committed to fighting the tyranny of oppression, alienation, and anitpathy that comes from , irresponsible and wreckless government leadership. This should happen in our local, state and national political systems; however, it should not stop there. Instead, we have to activate and engage in our schools, with our justice system, throughout the healthcare debate, and across the marketplace. And in national and community service programs.
In the last post I expressed the later part of that sentiment, which stems from the several years I have borne out the fruits of the labors of countless government agents, either while I have worked in government, as an independent contractor, through government grant-funded activities, or in one of the mechanisms originally destined to ensure government imperatives are carried through, schools and nonprofit organizations. For as much as I’ve been in the past, I am becoming more and more concerned about the way the federal government fluctuates in its economic support for essential services necessary for the democratic functioning of our nation. This includes the funding of AmeriCorps. Without making a deliberate and consistent commitment towards the sustainable funding of the program, Congress and the President are deflating the potential value and the public’s perception of the value of the program. Luckily, AmeriCorps programs and their advocates maintain a vigilant struggle to fight that perception. In the meantime, we need a frank conversation about the inadequacies and apparent inabilities of the government to stay focused on the most pressing national needs. As the country settles into a long slog of recession, if not a depression, we must ask these hard questions – and ask hard questions, demand answers, and create solutions.