10 Ways YOU Can Teach Youth

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Surveying the state of the nation today, many adults have taken to lambasting young people. Blaming youth for protests and riots, slamming young people for not being employed, and railing against them for dropping out of high school or becoming involved with the legal system seems to be a new norm in the media and among community members. If you actually want to change this, YOU had better teach youth.
Over the last fifty years, adults have gotten further and further away from youth. Instead of seeing them at the store, worshipping together in faith communities, or performing through sports, culture and other activities, a chasm has separated youth from adults. That hallowed institution of adults teaching youth about the workforce, apprenticeships, have waned in the poor economy; even when they were in full effect, they aged up to ensure that young workers couldn’t access them.

Youth loose when adults are not substantively involved in their lives, and substantively means more than razing the barista at the coffee shop; different from citing youth for vandalism; and other than chastising your own children for not following parental direction. Being substantively involved with youth means stepping into their lives as a role model, mentor, ally, or partner. Let me break these down.

  • Be a role model. If you want to teach youth, be a role model to them on purpose. Identify your purpose, name your values, and live with integrity by holding yourself to those. While you’re doing that, show young people how that is done. Show your own kids or other peoples’ children how you stay true to your truth, and live the way you want to see them live. This is the most passive way to teach youth, and it matters.
  • Be a mentor. A mentor to youth does not have to join a program, wear a special t-shirt or wave the flag for a certain cause. Instead, a mentor actively demonstrates their commitment to themselves and others through active interactions with youth, making themselves available on a regular basis to facilitate informal learning in a non-threatening way. Regularly having coffee, having a youth come to your office to simply hang out with you, and showing a young person the ropes can make you a powerful mentor and meaningful role model.
  • Be an allyGoing one step beyond mentoring and role modeling, the ally stands up with young people to be an engaged, supportive adult in the life of youth. They teach young people by standing up for them, challenging them and engaging them together in meaningful ways that teach youth. They are not arbitrary or occasional; instead, allies are active, interactive, empathetic and deliberate. They are also named: You cannot say you are someone’s ally; instead, you can only work towards this role and let the youth you’re allying with know what an ally is. They will tell you you’re an ally when its time.
  • Be a partner. As all good businesspeople know, partnerships aren’t always 50/50 splits of power. Instead, they are mutually beneficial relationships focused on meeting unmet needs. Youth/adult partnerships are intentionally formed relationships focused on meeting real needs in pragmatic ways. They are focused on communication, respect, trust and meaningful interactions. They are the pinnacle of healthy, positive and supportive role modeling, mentorships and allyships between adults and youth because they hold the prospect of equity over equality to successful foster responsible roles for everyone involved.

 

If you are genuinely concerned for the present and struggling to make sense of the future, you had better teach youth. The roles outlined above are ways that you can make a difference right now. Following are ten steps you can take to form these relationships.

 

10 Steps to Teach Youth Right Now

  1. Acknowledge youth. Begin by acknowledging that youth exist. Right now. Start anywhere you can, and expand everywhere you can. That might mean greeting your young employees on purpose, having a real conversation with your own kid, or holding a youth roundtable for your community.
  2. Build your commitment. Be genuinely committed to youth. Go beyond just listening to youth by sitting with them, working with them and learning about them – from them.
  3. Create interest. No matter who you serve, how you serve them, create interest among other adults for youth. Talk with people, share thoughts and ideas, and watch the momentum generate and move ahead, rapidly.
  4. Position youth. Put youth in sustained opportunities to interact with adults in real ways, whether that’s just you personally or others too. Share power, build support and make new pathways to teach youth.
  5. Teach youth outright. A lot of adults think youth are don’t want to learn from them, or resist them. Make opportunities to teach them outright. Show youth there’s nothing wrong with being an adult and sharing your knowledge. Stop thinking they are you – they’re not!
  6. Open spaces for youth. Whether you’re a parent, church attendee, business manager or community worker, open spaces for everyone- adults and young people- to teach one another and be acknowledged for what they’re sharing. Create environments and cultures for full youth-adult partnerships by creating environments and cultures for full youth-adult partnerships.
  7. Go to youth. Talk with youth where they’re at right now and have earnest conversations with them instead of insisting they come to where you are. Stop being threatened by the spaces young people occupy without our control. Practice releasing control and just be with youth.
  8. Develop opportunities for youth. In every city in every community across the United States and around the world, youth need real activities that integrate and ingratiate them with adults. Encourage adults to sustain their commitment to expand youth engagement instead of simply trying and then stopping.
  9. Enforce youth knowledge. Every piece of interactive technology in the lives of youth reinforces their knowledge, whether we’re thinking about Wikipedia, iTunes, the Playstation, or other tools. They give youth experiences where they feel powerful and knowledgeable. Adults need to reinforce this knowledge and build on it outside of technology.
  10. Sustain connections. Its vital to keep youth connections with adults active and alive. Share the benefits of connecting with youth, and encourage other adults to help make the genuine case to youth for why they should be connected with adults.

When adults take these steps, we can teach youth on purpose. Stop being afraid, start being active, and let’s make a difference in the lives of youth and throughout the future of our communities.

 

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?

Selling Ourselves

Tonight on Facebook, my friend Lilian Kelian shared her sadness about people who relate to each other through interpersonal hegemony. I thought about it a while… Is the growing phenomenon of interpersonal hegemony the deep impact of neoliberalism on our personal and collective psyche?

The word hegemony means dominance; interpersonal hegemony is when we try to dominate others with our selves, our sense of what makes us us. 

The word hegemony is mostly used to talk about cultures, economics, educational practices, and social relationships. But the idea of interpersonal hegemony sticks in my craw, mostly because I see it and practice it myself!

 

It’s as if we are all trying to sell ourselves to each other, including our ways of being, feeling and experiencing the world. We do this inadvertently, pitching our ideas and sharing our problems and rallying our celebrations all through social media and in person and with family, friends, colleagues, and sometimes anyone who will listen. This heightened egotism reflects our own insecurities, showing others how, in order to feel better about ourselves, we have to make others see our superiority and power.

I think we do this as a mere echo of the dominate cultural hegemony all around us, all the time. There’s a reason why companies use logos, why restaurants use the same designs in their construction, and why all magazines are laid out the same. They do it because we crave familiarity and likeness. We do the same thing by surrounding ourselves with people who are like us and do the same activities, listen to the same music, and follow the same trends we’ve always followed.

Our practices of interpersonal hegemony make others look at our ways of being and doing and feeling and thinking, and want to do the same. It is like we’re selling ourselves to each other, instead of having genuine human interactions.

Adults do this all the time with youth – and I say that from experience! Giving a youth I worked with a CD of my music was pure interpersonal hegemony, as I tried to get them to like the things I liked. When young people start showing up wearing the style of clothes we wear; when they use the phrases we use; and when they talk the ways we talk its not just flattery. Its interpersonal hegemony and the worse kind of dominance, intentionally or otherwise.

Hegemony does not have to be explicitly forceful, either. The most well-meaning, kind and intentional people can be accidentally hegemonical. The question rises of how to defeat it, and that I cannot answer well right now. The answer surely lies in a pedagogy of freedom, and the need to learn, teach and lead in freedom.

Thanks again, Lilian.

 

My Questions

  • Where does suggestion become dominance?
  • How can we promote personal freedom in our relationships with others?
  • With the dominance of hegemony throughout our lives, is there anyway to escape perpetuating it?

 

Follow REAL Leaders!

 

Is your business struggling? Are you having a hard time getting a job? Can’t figure out which way to go or what to do? Follow the leaders!

Sure, you think you’ve seen leaders piping up on tv or smathered across the Internet: Richard Branson, Maureen Dowd, Malcolm Gladwell, Sir Ken Robinson, Paul Krugman, Arianna Huffington… I don’t want to take away anything from these people, but the challenge is that they are opinion leaders, and not real actors who are making practical change happen today. They may have led by example in the past, but they aren’t right now.

We need to follow real leaders. Here are three examples.

Candace Neveau started a business called Thunderbird Rock in her small Ontario town to promote educational eco/culture tours and activities. Focusing on her tribal culture and historical elements of Sault Ste. Marie, as well as the ecosystem around Whitefish Island. Her tours specialize in history, craft making, nature walks and traditional teachings. She employs young people from her community, and teaches others too. Speaking about changing the world through entrepreneurship, Candace says, “There is a shift, an awakening, and entrepreneurs are people who are doing work and creating their own jobs because they see how broken things are and they’re not going to sit there and live with that. They have to change it. They can’t do anything else but change it. There are people out there and it burns inside them.” (LinkedIn profile)

Kaniela Ing is a state senator in the 11th House District of the Hawaii State House of Representatives. He was elected in 2012, and since then he has focused on policies that encourage sustainable agriculture and environmental conservation. Ing believes in restoring public trust in the government and instituting election reform policies. He has also made education and economic development a focus of his time in office. Ing has strong opinions about a number of issues. For instance, when recently talking about a new voter registration law, he commented, “We need to modernize our archaic election processes and make voting as easy and simple as possible.” (LinkedIn profile)

Leanna Archer used a recipe from her great-grandmother to bottle and sell her own hair pomade to her friends. Today, she has an entire line of all-natural products, including hair cleansers, conditioners and treatments. As the CEO of her own company, Archer works constantly and manages to maintain successful profit margins. In her spare time(!), she operates a philanthropic foundation to help build schools and safe learning environments for underprivileged children in Haiti. Leanna chips out wisdom like, “When you want something done, you have to do it yourself,” and “Dreams are wild, but they’re wild enough to come true.” (LinkedIn profile)

Each of these REAL leaders has practical, powerful wisdom to share right now. Each one is stepping out in big ways, past expectations and towards success on their own terms. We can learn things from these people and many others who are doing the work right now.

Here are three reasons why we need to follow REAL leaders:

Reason 1. [R]ealism: They Are Doing Tangible Things Right Now. REAL leaders are doing tangible things right now. They show realism because the scale they are working on and the impact they are having can be observed, and there are practical things we can all learn from them in real time. Since they’re operating right now, lessons and learning from REAL leaders are applicable to the real time situations we are facing right now.

Reason 2. [E]mpowerment: They know they’ve got something going. When people are entrenched in the work, they aren’t worried with praise or being lavished with accolades and awards because they are busy. They know they’ve got something going. When REAL leaders aren’t being praised all the time, they are either working or thinking about work. Their lack of awards makes their knowledge powerful because they aren’t trying to earn more awards or get more attention. REAL leaders are busy working.

Reason 3. [A]ction: People See Them Leading Everyday. The challenge of armchair leaders is that you can’t see them lead – you just have to take their word for it. People see REAL leaders working every day, because that’s what makes their leadership real. They aren’t sharing abstract concepts or theoretical frameworks; they’re doing real work.

Reason 4: [L]earning: They Are Learning All The Time. No matter who is at the front or how its happening, REAL leaders are learning all the time. For instance, each example above is from a young person who is under 25 years old, and successfully challenging apathy, disregard and cynicism from their own communities, and from society at large. They learn all the time, and so can you.

These four reasons make REAL leaders today: Realism, Empowerment, Action, and Learning. Follow REAL leaders!

The thing about REAL leaders though? They aren’t exceptional. Instead, they are the rule, more frequently than ever. Every person can be a REAL leader.

Here are 10 ways to follow REAL leaders in the world today:

  1. Make friends. Youth and young adults don’t bite. Offer a genuine hand of friendship to learn from them.
  2. Offer your time. Young people who are REAL leaders are busy all the time! Between school, young families, and hustling to make a difference, they are busy and could use a hand.
  3. Be a mentor. Offer your wisdom, and learn in turn. Many young leaders are yearning for adults to learn from, and you could be one of them.
  4. Challenge your beliefs. Think youth are apathetic and lazy? Stop. Think you don’t have time? You’re wrong. Believe you have nothing to learn? Get real.
  5. Go to where they are. If you want to learn from REAL leaders, go to where they are and quit insisting they come to you.
  6. Shop from them. Hire them, vote for them, and do practical things that benefit REAL leaders. Learn their lessons while you’re doing that.
  7. Form partnerships. Do you have something to offer youth entrepreneurs, young politicians, or youth social change agents? Work with them to learn from them.
  8. Challenge others. If you want to learn from REAL leaders, challenge the biases and negative opinions of other adults. That will force you to learn.
  9. Believe. Many young people are trapped in the cynical and demeaning news cycles that portray them as super indifferent or super violent. Believe in youth.
  10. Speak up. However, wherever and whenever you can, speak up for REAL leaders and promote them and their work.

Following REAL leaders can lead your business, your community, and yourself to a successful, bright and powerful future. They can do that because they’re on the edge, they’re sacrificing for success, and they are all making a difference.

What are you doing today? If you’re not making a difference, follow these young people and many, many others. Then go out and change the world.

Supporting Adult Allies of Youth

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The other week I heard from Jose*, an innercity high school teacher. He wrote this:

For seven years I taught in a pleasant rural school where students were receptive to me and how I teach. I engage students, and work very hard to get them working authentically on projects that matter, empowering them in my classroom and in the school community. For the last five years I have worked in an urban middle school. No matter how how hard I work to make the curriculum interesting and relevant, no matter how kind and fair I am to my students in an effort to build goodwill and positive working relationships/partnerships, they do not listen and are not receptive.

 

They have their own agenda and it does not involve respecting adults or the school — I can not speak without being interrupted. We have backtalk, rude behavior, students starting arguments with students constantly — they are only interested in their own social agenda. As a result we end up having security remove students from the classroom on a daily basis. Most days I have to toss at least one student out within the first five minutes — they do not even give teachers a chance. I am ready to leave the profession because of the stress.

I thought hard about Jose’s writing, because a lot of it sounded familiar. Then, after meditating on it for a while, I remembered another teacher who I’d heard struggling in a similar way. I analyzed their situation and assessed their circumstance. I answered in earnest, and when I finally heard back it was because they were disappointed with my conclusions. So rather than respond directly to Jose, I’m going to ask him to help himself.

Staying committed to supporting young people can be challenging. Often spending too many hours and earning too few rewards, its important for people who support young people to be honest about how its going. If you’re a parent, youth worker, educator, counselor, or anyone else who strives to be an adult ally, you need to learn to work through the struggle. We all need to learn to work through the struggle, if we’re going to stay committed.

13 Essential Questions for Adult Allies

We each need to know how to work through the struggle of supporting young people every day. The following questions are intended to help adult allies to young people ask themselves whether they need to consider something different. They’re aren’t finished, and if you have any suggestions please leave them in the comments section. Also, let me know if they’re useful for you.

So, if you’re a struggling teacher, counselor, parent, youth worker, or other adult ally to young people, take a moment and answer the following questions:

  • Have you ever decided to have a good day with the young people you’re around, only to have it last for just a few hours? Most of us in who support young people make all kinds of promises to ourselves. We cannot keep them. Then we come to understand that engaging young people requires being honest, and we start to tell the truth to ourselves and young people.
  • Do you ever wish children and youth would just grow up sometimes, and stop being so childish? Adult allies to young people do not project their demands on youth; instead, we accept them as they are, for who they are. We see potential, but do not demand certain outcomes. Instead, we work with who we are.
  • Have you ever switched from supporting one type of young people to another in the hope that this would keep you from burning out? Adult allies to young people support young people in many ways. We spend time with them everyday. Or we donate money. Or we advocate for them. Or we volunteer for boards. You name it, we do it. Anything we do we see through the lenses of supporting young people, because that is who we are.
  • Have you had to quit a job supporting young people during the past year in order to stay or become mentally healthy? This is a pretty sure sign you’re not sustainable in your role as an adult ally to young people.
  • Do you need to be around young people to feel “alive”? At one time or another, most adult allies to youth have wondered why we were not like most people, who really can be around anyone and be healthy and alive.
  • Do you envy people who do not work with young people? Be honest! Eventually, you have to find something else to do if you’re an educator or youth worker, because it will only get worse for you, not better. Eventually, you will not like young people at all, and will quit in anger or dire necessity. Your only hope may be to quit now before radical emotions take over.
  • Have you had problems connected with being an adult ally to young people during the past year? Most well-meaning adults will say it is the people they work with or the program they deliver that frustrates them. Many times, we can not see that trying to support young people is making our lives worse. At that point, we stop solving problems and start becoming the problem.
  • Is it easier for you to support young people in your job or larger community than it is to support the children and youth in your own home or program? Most of us started our jobs thinking it was grand. If young people aren’t cooperative though, or if the program isn’t just right, we get frustrated and have to leave or quit.
  • Do you ever try to get “extra” time with young people because you didn’t get enough at work, home, church or otherwise? Many adult allies trick ourselves into thinking that we can’t do enough at work, and when we’re done getting paid we have to keep going. However, we come to realize that it is not self-sustainable to keep going, and that at the end of our day, we have to stop, for our own good and the good of the young people we work with. Same with parents.
  • Do you tell yourself you can get a job doing anything, or be any kind of parent you want to, but you keep supporting young people as an adult ally even when you don’t want to? Many of us know that we have boundaries, but we don’t acknowledge them or work within them. Instead, we soldier through hoping to make a difference. We are not though.
  • Have you missed days of work or taken a sick day at home because you didn’t want to support the young people you’re around every day? When we don’t allow ourselves time off, many adult allies “call in sick” despite the truth that we need time to recuperate our hearts and minds more than our bodies.
  • Have you ever felt that your life would be better if you did not support young people? Many adult allies start off well-intentioned, hoping to make a difference in the lives of someone younger than ourselves. Once we do the work though, whether parenting or counseling or teaching or coaching or whatever, we discover that we have limits. Then we feel trapped. Eventually it takes a toll on us, and we have to admit that we shouldn’t be doing the work we’re doing anymore. If we’re a parent, we know we have to get support, either from a spouse or friend or extended family.

If we are authentic adult allies to young people, we all struggle with our roles supporting them. You are likely to be more aware of the effects of adults on youth throughout society, and more empathetic with youth in general. I say this because I’ve worked with thousands of teachers, parents, counselors, and other adult allies to youth, and they all say so and show me as much. Many of them found out their truths the hard ways though: Burn out, getting fired, or physical injuries resulting from sloppy self-care.

But again, only you can decide whether you think you should keep being an active, engaged ally to young people. Try to keep an open mind on the subject. If the answer is YES, I offer a lot of materials to help support you, and the world does too. Just contact me.

I will not promise to solve your life’s problems. But together, we can see you how you can continue to support young people without sacrificing yourself.

*I changed the name of the teacher who shared this story at his request

There Is No ONE Youth

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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?

Remembering Maya Angelou, Every Single Day

This was the morning the world received the announcement that Dr. Maya Angelou passed away. A larger-than-life yet down-to-earth poet of the people, Dr. Angelou is being mourned today by presidents and generals, rappers and musicians, and by the people, all of us, many of whom struggle to find our voices.

I first read Dr. Angelou’s classic memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, when I was 23. Throughout my youth, I’d heard her name bandied about on the news, particularly in her role as the Poet Laureate of the United States. I decided to read her to understand the world better; she has repeatedly taught me how to understand myself.

“Until recently each generation found it more expedient to plead guilty to the charge of being young and ignorant, easier to take the punishment meted out by the older generation (which had itself confessed to the same crime short years before). The command to grow up at once was more bearable than the faceless horror of wavering purpose, which was youth.”

I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

The reality that its easier to act grown up instead of actually being young has become a central point in my understanding of youth today. Faced with a world of adults cloning adulthood onto children and youth, Dr. Angelou helped me understand the need to grab a hold of “wavering purpose”, which is uncomfortable and unrelenting, and actually sit with it, let it be, and learn to live through it. On the other side? PURPOSE, BELONGING, and luckily, WISDOM. What comes on the other side of false adulthood but more falseness?

It seems meager to say that Dr. Angelou inspired millions; it’s a gross understatement that does her life little justice. Dr. Angelou literally changed the world, not only with words, but with actions. She was a civil rights activist all of her life; a spiritual seeker who stayed active on her pathway toward universal engagement; and a friend to many.

I ended up reading A Song Flung Up to Heaven, along with two of her poetry collections. One of those was called Poetry for Young People, and it held this poem, called “Still I Rise”:

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops.
Weakened by my soulful cries.

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own back yard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Does my sexiness upset you?
Does it come as a surprise
That I dance like I’ve got diamonds
At the meeting of my thighs?

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

This poem holds the fire in the belly of youth throughout its mighty stanzas. Dr. Angelou masterfully gives life to the strength and glory of youth throughout it, celebrating the hopefulness, justice, and ability that makes up the hearts and minds and bodies of young women and young men. She justifies every person’s burning desires, calling us higher in our own thoughts and feelings, demanding that we hold true to our guts and demand the same of others.

Growing up in a struggling family in a depressed neighborhood, I learned the value of poetry at a young age. One of the very first poems I remember distinctly was actually Dr. Angelou’s classic, On the Pulse of the Morning, which she wrote for her Arkansas brethren Bill Clinton’s inauguration. I watched her read that poem on tv, and it left a permanent mark on my psyche. In the middle of it, she said, “History, despite its wrenching pain, cannot be unlived, and if faced with courage, need not be lived again.”

Dr. Angelou challenged us to not live history again, again and again. I know in the deepest part of myself that we are capable of doing that. I learned that from many heroes, including Dr. Angelou. I remember her every single day because of that.

Oh, and the other heroes who I have known? They were likely influenced by her, too.

How about you?

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Measure of Intergenerational Community Engagement (MICE Model)

The Measure of Intergenerational Community Engagement, aka the MICE Model, is a tool I developed for The Freechild Project. After working with intergenerational groups for more than a decade, I found it increasingly necessary to explain intermediary steps an organization could align themselves with while seeking to engage youth and adults as partners.

As it evolved, the tool took a life of its own. Ultimately, it has become a wonderful piece for participants to reflect, consider, and grow youth engagement. It can be used in any setting where young people could work with adults.

Let me know what you think of my MICE Model in the comments below! Thanks!

Why No Student Voice?

Going over my Guide to Students on School Boards this weekend, I found an interesting fact: Almost all of the states of the states that have outlawed students on school boards allow corporal punishment in schools.

The 14 states that have laws that don’t allow students to serve on district boards of education Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia.

The 19 states that legally allow corporal punishment are Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia and Wyoming.

This represents a diminutive view of young people in general, resultant of social norms from hundreds of years ago.

High rates of racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination, exist in these states’ schools as well. Relying on fear and intimidation to ensure social structure is ever-present in these states’ school systems, as well as throughout many of the local communities in these states.

The results of these stringent efforts to systematically disenfranchise students ensures the success of the school-to-prison pipeline that targets low-income students, students of color, and others. This pipeline, in turn, is devolving much of society for the benefit of the notorious one percent.

Ultimately, I believe that states have outlawed students on school boards in order to ensure social division, secure corporate profits, and maintain the culture of fear that benefits historically powerful populations in our society, including the legacy of racism and much more.

To note though, even though other states may not have laws against students on school boards, and others still actually have students there who aren’t allowed to say or do anything significant, the danger is that positioning students on school boards may be largely tokenistic: Without a relevant framework informing their actions, well-meaning adults may simply be placating popular interest without affecting any real change in schools.
Its important to understand that students on school boards is a step towards meaningful student involvement, but not the whole path. That is a much larger framework involving many more activities that can actually engage every single student in every single school all of the time. That’s my grand vision for school reform today, and what I think we should all be working for in schools everywhere.
Luckily, I’ve seen the number of students, parents, educators, and others who agree on that grow each year. We’re heading toward the future, and its coming to meet us in schools right now.