Get Uncomfortable

We should get uncomfortable by sticking our necks out.Are you preaching to the choir or sticking out your neck?

If we’re really going to ensure that more young people have more opportunities to change the world and their own lives, we have to reach further. We have to touch the hearts and minds of children, youth and the adults who are with them every single day in as many ways as we can. That means teaching, engaging, learning and engaging with them as much as we can in as many places as we can.

In all the time I’ve been working with schools and nonprofits to engage people more effectively, I have had entire years where I felt professionally endangered, including some times when I felt personally at-risk.

I’ve frequently worked with groups of adults who initially behaved in hostile ways towards me. Other times I’ve worked with young people who adults said I could never reach. However, given the opportunity to reach them I try again and again. Sometimes I fail, and other times I succeed.

I think we should ALL operate this way, as often as we can, especially if we’re not comfortable with it.

Are you not sure if you’re uncomfortable? Then you aren’t.

5 Ways to Get Uncomfortable

Are you not sure how to become uncomfortable? You can try these five ways to get uncomfortable:

  1. Raise uncomfortable questions in meetings with your colleagues.
  2. Challenge other people to stop saying things that discriminate against other people – including children, people of color, low income people, youth, people who identify as BGLTQQ, and others.
  3. Spend your money in places you know you should, but you don’t.
  4. Push your friends to become more accepting of differences. Make new friends with people who are different from you.
  5. Open your mind to the farthest possible extremes of your thinking, and walk in that direction.

 

In order to reach these unknown spaces, we have to commit ourselves to doing things that can’t be done. We have to learn things we don’t know. And we have to try, intentionally and with determination, to make a difference wherever they can. “Do what you can, with what you’ve got, where you are.”

Do what you can.

Do what you can with what you’ve got.

Do what you can with what you’ve got where you are.

I know the people who are truly committed to changing the world because they are truly reaching beyond where they know they’ll succeed every single day. They’re doing things they’re uncomfortable with and passing by the mundane, predictable results they can anticipate.

We should get uncomfortable by sticking our necks out.

Authenticity in Youth Voice and Youth Engagement

Wauthentic youth voice and youth engagementhen a parent spends a whole childhood telling their kids they need to be one way, and the kids grow up in a community that only acts one way, and schools don’t prepare anyone for anything other than that one way, when they go onto become that one way, that cannot be called a choice and the practice cannot be called decision-making.

That young person has never known autonomy in any significant way.

Autonomy for Authenticity

Autonomy is the right to make your own decisions and freedom from external control.

A growing number of people are concerned about authentic youth voice and authentic youth engagement.

Youth voice, which is any expression of any young person about anything they choose, is different from youth engagement, which is the sustained connection a young person feels within or outside of themselves.

Authentic youth voice when youth express themselves in ways and with views that are true to themselves. When youth voice is authentic, youth can experience engagement on the basis of what they value.

Authentic youth voice requires youth autonomy. Youth autonomy happens when young people create their own rules and has authority over themselves as well as the power to do something with that authority. In authentic youth voice, young people understand the power they have, what authority they’ve been given, and the interpersonal connections they have to the people around them, whether in their families, communities, schools or the whole world.

5 Areas to Expand

In order to build programs where young people experience authentic youth voice, programs should seek to expand the following capacities in young people:

  • Thinking: Analytical and knowledge-building skills; evaluative and critical thinking skills; and creative thinking skills;
  • Communicating: Effective oral and written communication skills; critical and reflective reading skills; an informed openness to new information technologies;
  • Strategizing: Problem solving and pattern intelligence skills, numerical skills; synthesis skills; and the ability to express the results of analysis and evaluation;
  • Learning: The ability to pose meaningful questions that advance understanding and knowledge; the ability to conduct research and organize material effectively; information literacy and other skills associated with learning how to learn;
  • Action: The exercise of independent judgment and ethical decision-making; the ability to meet goals, manage time, and complete a project successfully; self-confidence and self-understanding; the ability to cooperate with others and work in teams; a sensitivity to individuals and tolerance of cultural differences.

Barriers to Authenticity

There are real barriers to authenticity in youth voice and youth engagement.

Adultism, ephebiphobia, and systems of paternalism are all deeply entrenched in the adultcentric cultures and structures throughout our society. Adultism encourages disingenuous youth voice. Ephebiphobia prevents youth engagement. Systems of paternalism suffocate authenticity among youth. Adultcentrism is the hammer that makes sure youth voice and youth engagement don’t matter.

Vast segments of our society actively do not want youth to have a voice.

Many adults actively ensure youth voice is subjugated, nullified and stifled whenever possible. When youth voice does become apparent, they either vilify it or infantalize it.

What do you think about authentic youth voice? Authentic youth engagement? How do they happen? What do they look like?

Unpacking #Youthification

PhrenologyThere’s a conversation afoot about “youthification,” which means acting younger.

Apparently, moms do it, businesses should do it, neighborhoods are doing it, and entire cities want to do it more.

After reviewing several articles about this term, I have identified several assumptions in the conversations about “youthification”:

  • All Youth Are the Same: This conversation about youthification generally revolves around the idea that youth act certain ways, do particular things, believe unique beliefs and feel specific emotions.
  • “Youth” Is A Product: So far, youthification is largely a topic of interest to marketers, whether in the form of urban planners who want to grow cities or businesspeople who want to sell products and services.
  • Youth Will Stand Still: Ironically, youthification seems to be fixated on pinning down static representations of young people in order to attract older people to what younger people like, want or do. Its ironic because youth cannot be seen as a static station; similarly, its consistently shown in adult development studies that fixing perspectives is a behavior of adults; ergo, we’re applying adult beliefs to youth in order to get adults to aspire to be youth.

 

The most interesting piece I’ve found related to youthification comes from an author who connected it with neotony, which is the physiological act of staying younger longer. Applying this concept to youthification may be akin to phrenology though, and I don’t advocate anyone taking that analysis seriously.

And from there comes my conclusion: “Youthification” is a manufactured reality that’s designed to help sell things to gullible people by preying on adults’ fear, denial and naivety, much the same as phrenology was a century ago.

The idea of “youthification” is part of the adultist notion of the monolithic youth, which is driven by adults’ belief that, “Because I can observe all youth doing one thing, all youth must be one way.”

This denies the consideration other factors that shape the identities of youth, ie socio-economic backgrounds, race, gender, etc., as well as individual personalities, private beliefs, and non-adult approved ways of being in the world.

Youth don’t need the approval of adults to exist in their own ways, and adults don’t need to act like youth, either.

Similarly, adults don’t need to act like youth, live like youth, be like youth, and youth don’t need to act like adults, either.

Consumerist to the core, I believe the intent of this marketing ploy is to reinforce “in” behaviors and “out” behaviors throughout our society by reinforcing particular ways of being that can be marketed to, and ignoring or denying ways of being that cannot be marketed towards, packaged, bought or sold.

Here are my conclusions about “youthification” so far:

  • “Youthification” is Manufactured: The term “youthification” is being promoted to sell people things.
  • “Youthification” is Derogatory: The concept of “youthification” is largely demeaning and belittling to youth, since it dumbs down their identities and makes them into statis, ascertainable, replicable robots.
  • “Youthification” is Irrelevant: Any serious discussion about trends in sociology will avoid or dismiss the concept entirely, and its to be taken with a grain of salt.

What are your thoughts about “youthification”?

Organizations Seeing Themselves

mirrorIn organizations and communities, people around the world are wrestling with their observations of the present and their projections for the future. We’re watching media images of terrorism and hatefulness mix with our own memories of what the future was supposed to look like. As we work more and spend more time at school, we’re loosing connections with family, friends, neighbors and others who we used to be tight with.

Our organizations are living through this, too. Schools, nonprofits, businesses and governments are feeling the effects of separation and alienation, disconnection and disengagement. The platforms that were to unite us are taking us apart also, and the leaders who’ve led us seem awash in corruption or indifference to our well-being.

Within all of this lies a hopefulness and possibility that cannot be forgotten though. Our organizations weren’t founded on cynicism or disbelief, and our communities weren’t brought together by pain or hate; they were united by faith and trust, mutuality and reciprocity. Somewhere in all those contrasting images there’s an emerging vision for the highest potential and greatest possibilities of ourselves, our livelihoods and our future.

I work with individuals, organizations and communities to help foster deeper understanding of what our hopes and dreams are as individuals and as collectives. Like a million billion Venn Diagrams, our possibilities overlap and emerge as a unified vision for the future that moves along with pragmatic practicality. I coach individuals towards contextualizing their vision for world change; I educate groups to increase the capacity of communities to become present and co-create the future we share; and I inspire organizations through thoughtful, powerful talks that usher in our own greatest visions for ourselves and the world we share.

Learn more from my post, Mirrors of Our Interiors.

Questions to Consider

  • What do you see in your organization?
  • What do you see in yourself?
  • Where are you going?
  • How can I support you getting there?

Leelah’s Murder Is OUR Fault

Leelah Alcorn’s death was practically a murder. It shows how America’s legal system, which enshrines parental rights above children’s rights, has killed another young person.

More importantly though, we need to see that Leelah’s murder is our fault. We have not done enough, taught enough, said enough, or worked hard enough to stop this horror from happening. And it is a horror, and it was preventable.

Discrimination Against Youth

Leelah’s story shows us- yet again- the discrimination against youth that seems inherent in our society. The horribly preventable circumstance that led to Leelah’s death are unfortunately the norm for every single American youth today, regardless of how they identify. The fact that Leelah identified as trans exacerbated that reality for her. Follow me: Every single American youth today is targeted in the most malicious ways throughout society simply for being young. This is the case whether they are cis, straight or queer; wealthy, poor or working class; academically gifted, creatively driven or athletically poised. Youth are singularly denied their rights, oppressed for their identities, conscripted for their abilities, and completely downtrodden because of their because of their ages and our society. And its merely and entirely about their age.

Add distinguishing factors to their age such as race, gender identity, socio-economic class, and academic ability, and youth move from being “merely” enslaved to entirely oppressed. The enslaving factory of this adultocracy is so deeply entrenched that parents, teachers, youth workers and many many people who call themselves youth allies merely perpetuate it without ever knowing it. My book focuses on helping these individuals see beyond their own lenses and aspire to be something greater.

Personal Action

The most effective piece of this article focuses on you. Its what David Bond from The Trevor Project said at the end of the piece:

However, Bond told me, even just one supportive adult in a LGBT teen’s life decreases suicidal ideation. “Be consistent in that person’s life and check in in a genuine way – and don’t be afraid to ask if they’re thinking of killing themselves,” Bond advised would-be allies.

“There’s a misconception that if you ask the question you’re going to put the idea in someone’s head. But it’s more often a helpful question than a harmful one.”

Whatever the answer – and I believe more states banning so-called conversion therapy and easier legal and financial avenues for emancipation, especially for older teens, should be a big part of that – we need more action now.

“A year feels like forever when you’re young,” PFLAG’s Sanchez told me. It’s no longer good enough to remind LGBT kids that “it gets better”. We need to figure out more legal, safe alternatives for those who can’t wait that long.


Everyone of us can take action and do something about this, but we have to face the reality that everyone of us is responsible for Leelah’s death (and the unnoted deaths of so many other American youth) first, and then work from that place. THAT is the work to do, no matter who we are.

And none of that is meant to take away, minimize or otherwise continue the oppression of trans, cis, or anyone who identifies as “other” throughout society. Its meant to highlight the compounding factors that are attempting to decimate peoples’ senses of ability, possibility and hope. We can do better than mere survival, and Leelah’s story demonstrates another way that can happen. Each of us can take action.

Legal Action

America’s legal system must act to do several things:

  • Stop allowing abusive parents to kill youth;
  • Stop devious judges from profiteering off youth imprisonment;
  • Stop racist and classist educators from reinforcing the school-to-prison pipeline;
  • Stop social workers from placing youth in harms way;
  • Stop police from arbitrarily enforcing laws against youth;
  • Change laws to allow all youth everywhere to choose their living situations;
  • Develop a guaranteed income for all youth, everywhere;
  • Prevent youth oppression by acknowledging the full personhood of children and youth from birth.

When these things happen, horrific and preventable deaths like what happened to Leelah Alcorn will not happen again. But not before then. If you really want to change the situation, join the struggle to end discrimination against young people.

Thanks, Kate, for calling me to write about this.

Youth Engagement in the Economy by Adam Fletcher

Over the last six months, I have written more than a dozen articles about youth engagement in the economy. For the first time, I’ve compiled them into a publication and added some important information. A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement in the Economy is a guide addressing youth employment, youth entrepreneurship, youth training, youth banking, youth programs, school classes and other activities. Covering the most forward-thinking about economic youth engagement, this publication is for employers, youth workers, teachers, and others committed to building the economy through youth engagement. Learn more by downloading it today, and share it with your friends, colleagues and networks!

 

NEW E-BOOK:

A Short Introduction to Youth Engagement in the Economy
by Adam Fletcher
81 pages
Published by The Freechild Project
Olympia, Washington, USA
2015

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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Individualism or Interdependence?

In a facebook conversation today, I began to write about the inherent ideological split among the ranks of folks who support my work, and across the spectrum of people who call for youth engagement, youth voice, meaningful student involvement, student voice, student rights and youth rights in general. I believe that split looks like this:
 
  • INDIVIDUALISM: An individualist viewpoint reflecting a traditional American line focused on pulling yourself up by your bootstraps. If youth had total freedom over themselves they would have full authority and rights to do what they want, and this would lead to a better world for everyone. There is little to be gained in surrendering rights, freedoms or authority.
  • INTERDEPENDENCE: An interdependent perspective other focused on a more democratic/communitarian perspective. The belief here is that everyone benefits when everyone works together for everyone’s benefits. There is much to be gained from recognizing how everyone benefits when everyone sacrifices.
 
In the field of education, I believe there’s no better illustration of these viewpoints than the book We Make The Road By Walking, which is a conversation between Myles Horton, who founded the Highlander Center, and Paulo Freire, who wrote Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Horton represents the first aspect, while Freire highlights the second.
 
I find myself frequently advocating and writing and working into the second realm, and I hold Freire’s work with the highest esteem. That said, I am from the North American West, where the first ideal is highest. I am also a great admirer of the Highlander Center, where the Labor Movement and the Civil Rights Movement were trained to lead their uprisings, and which teach a lot of community organizers in the US today.
 
The arguments I’ve run into over the last 15 years of being involved with the YR movement, which all started in sparing with Alex Koroknay-Palicz about these very things, have all shaken into one of these two categories. Among the National Youth Rights Association, I would say the vast majority of vocal supporters believe in absolute freedom, vis-à-vis the first argument.
 
Among the democratic education movement there seems to be a balance of perspectives between the two sides.
 
However, within the public school realm, I have found a lot of older folks hold the second viewpoint, keeping focused on how compulsory education is a foundation of American democratic involvement. A lot of younger educators have lost this perspective and don’t see the connection between requiring schools for 6 to 16 year olds and civic engagement, e.g. voting, protesting, running for office or lobbying lawmakers.
 
I believe this disconnection has been taught to students inadvertently and intentionally, and has fostered a new generation of active antipathy towards public schools. Ergo, any argument in favor of compulsory education is inherently an argument against personal freedom and ultimately, against youth rights.
 
What isn’t said is that public education was made compulsory in order to ensure movements like youth rights would exist. The tension in this discussion reflects the best outcome of that intention, where two sides can make highly literate, logical arguments. That can only be the product of a democratic society that ensures free access to public education for every member of society.
 
I find it hard to believe that I have to say this, but I will: Without compulsory education laws, many parents would keep their children home from school, but not for the romantic vision of many unschoolers. Instead, they’d be forced to work or do domestic work. Parents who couldn’t afford childcare or to stay at home with their children would be forced to let their children (including youth) be alone at home during the day. In neighborhoods without protective supports like caring neighbors and community facilities young people want to be at and are allowed to be at, many young people would become involved in anti-social behavior.
 
Until there is a plausible alternative, compulsory education is the only worthwhile option for ensuring educated democrats (lowercase “d”) and providing for structured, safe and supportive learning environments for all students is the minimum that can be done to make sure democracy continues. Unschooling for all young people everywhere is simply not a responsible option, and does nothing to secure a good future for this nation or the world. Homeschooling isn’t either. They should both be alternatives that are given room to exist, but shouldn’t be the only options on the table for people.
 
And that’s why I am from the second category I mentioned above, and not the first.

10 Ways YOU Can Teach Youth

YMC1

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.