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!

Reflecting on Rebellion

When I was young, I saw the rebellion of youth on TV and students in my various college classes and national service programs as being a privilege of the wealthy. At that point, I literally thought I couldn’t afford to rebel. Everyone wore the right t-shirts, joined in on doing the right activities and generally had the same affect towards the world.

By the time I began to feel a sense of rebelliousness in me I was in my mid-twenties. As a teen and young adult, I didn’t rebel at my parents or the structures that I knew growing up. Instead, as a newly married young professional I felt I had to rebel against the middle class socio-economic structure that I was rapidly surrounded by and part of. Struggling and confused, I felt alone and separated from my partner and friends. I was going through an experience my parents and siblings couldn’t relate to, as we’d all chosen different life paths. So I went alone.

I knew if I did it mindlessly my trajectory would inevitably moving towards a life of complacency and ease. When I became aware of that momentum, I rebelled against it. I sought to find work that challenged me and the people who I worked with. I asked my partner to read and listen to the authors and philosophies I was exploring and navigating. I started walking a pathway without signage.

Living this life of rebellion in my own way, you might not recognize what I’m talking about. But for me it rings true. Sometimes I’ve gotten it right, and often I’ve fallen flat on my face. Writing books is an act of rebellion for me. Facilitating these workshops and giving these talks is an act of rebellion for me. Struggling and striving to address injustice for others and working to transform systems of oppression are acts of rebellion for me. But mostly, I’m rebelling against my self.

This lifestyle has cost me a lot at times, including job security, long term relationships and other luxuries. I don’t have the big family and nifty house I’ve always wanted, and my truck is looking more raggedy than ever before. My bills are demanding and sometimes I can’t get the book I wanted.

Throughout my career, I have never felt like I had a choice over how much money I made. I have not had this job offer or that one that forced me to choose a wealthy corporate job over impoverished social work, and I’ve never made a dichotomy out of making money or helping the world. I have always known that since I knew my life’s mission is my livelihood, and I would have to make money doing it. I have never felt qualified or wanted in the world of money making. Instead, I have constantly an awareness that my work is work for the society, the work of working with others in order to make a living. My rebellion from this work happens the days when I come to the place where I don’t want to help others anymore. My rebellion is to stop doing the work and making money on those days.

As time goes on, the rebellious spirit in me has calmed, too. I have grown more quiet and contemplative. My rebelliousness has led me to embrace more of my eccentricities and differences, too, as I inject my goofy humor into personal interactions and professional engagements, or tell more of my own stories in the context of the social change and educational transformation work I do to make a living.

Another major part of my rebelliousness is my unabashed love for my daughter. You may have heard my stories about Hannah before, but I’ll guarantee you she is closer to the heart of my work than ever before. I live in a society that actively supports fathers to disengage from the lives of their daughters, and while I bless everyone around me, many of my people release me from my bond with her too. I rebel every time I engage deeply in her life.

So, reflecting on rebelliousness, I see how I strive to live it rather than talk about it. How are you living today?

This post was inspired by this conversation at PopTech between Parker Palmer and Courtney Martin focused on rebellion.

Interviews about Freechild and Social Justice

Today, I answered a pair of interviews from students studying Freechild. The first came from Sopheak Va at Arizona State University, and follows here.

1. What exactly do you do at  The Freechild Project? 
Freechild provides training, tools and technical assistance to young people and adults working together to change the world. Our trainings are for K-12 schools and nonprofit organizations, and focus on youth-led social change, youth-driven programming, youth involvement in decision-making, and adultism. Our tools include our website and more than 50 publications, including free ebooks and books for sale on Amazon.com. Our technical assistance happens online and in-person, and highlights everything mentioned so far.

2. What is The Freechild Project about and what do they bring to the community? The mission of The Freechild Project is to advocate, inform, and celebrate social change led by and with young people around the world, especially those who have been historically denied the right to participate. We do this by facilitating training and workshops, and through our website.

3. What is your motivation and how to you stay motivated doing what you do? 
I grew up as a poor, white Canadian undocumented immigrant in a low-income African American neighborhood in the Midwestern United States. While I was growing up, my family volunteered a lot throughout our community. My parents believed that we should always give back whatever we can, so we gave our time and energy. I still do that through Freechild, and I teach others

4. What are some obstacles or difficulties have you encountered while trying to raise awareness? Adultism is the most oppressive force facing young people today. This bias towards adults leads to youth discrimination everyday, and it is single-handedly destroying families, communities and the fabric of society. You can learn more about it in the book I wrote.
5. What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment(s) for the organization and personally? Our tremendous reach has served as an indication of our success. Since 2001, Freechild has partnered with more than 500 organizations to serve 1,000,000 young people and adults in 750 communities. Our trainers have taught thousands of hours of classes, and our free ebooks have been downloaded more than 10,000,000 times. Our materials are cited more than 1,500 times in a variety of publications both online and offline. However, I think the greatest accomplishment for me personally is having individual youth in struggling communities across the US reach out to us for assistance. It feels great to be of use.

The second interview comes from Michael Andrew Burkeitt from Temple University.

1. Do you think cases of social injustice are happening more frequently?

Social injustice is an inherent function of societies that place material value before human value, and because of this its been present throughout the course of humanity. As a culture, we’re learning to see social injustice, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been around before. If anything, our consciousness is helping elevate our society towards eliminating injustice – but we’re still a long, long ways away.
 

2. Why is this? are we examining with much more scrutiny?Yes. What some people call “political correctness” today is a heightened awareness of social injustices on the individual level. However, many people have been aware of social injustice for a long time, whether it was Abraham Lincoln in the 1850s or Augustus in the Roman Empire. Social justice is not new.

 

3. Do you feel that policing measures and tactics are a cause of the increase? Absolutely not. Policing is merely a symptom, and not the cause. Today, the cause is American capitalism, which has spread like a virus around the world and infected societies worldwide. But even American capitalism is just the modern incarnation of the injustice machine. Anytime anyone values any THING before people, there will be injustice.

 

4. Finally, where do we go from here? How can we best prevent social injustice from occurring moving forward. We need to radically re-envision society and work towards the new world that is possible, every single one of us. That begins with young people are goes towards everyone else in the world. Everyone, everywhere, all the time needs to be involved in critically examining what currently exists, re-envisioning what can be, and creating the new world. Everyone, everywhere, all the time. Moving forward, anyone who works with any other person anywhere at anytime can begin sparking these conversations, facilitate these conversations, and participate in these conversations as often as possible for whatever reason. Only from there will we begin to move the bar of injustice that’s suffocating so many people today.

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?

 

I Will See YOU in São Paulo!

On Monday I am flying to São Paulo, Brazil, to talk about my philosophy and practice through CommonAction, including SoundOut and The Freechild Project. It all began a few years ago, when Lilian Kelian contacted me. Working with a program called Jovens Urbanos (Urban Youth), Lilian asked if they could translate some of my publications and use them in the cities they work, São Paulo , Pouso Alegre, and Serra. Happily agreeing, I looked forward to seeing the finished product.

This summer, Lilian contact me again to invite me to come to Brazil and help spread the word about the publications and the ideas behind them. I am leaving Monday to spend next week in São Paulo!

Hosted by CENPEC, my trip is being sponsored by Fundação Itaú Social, a large foundation in Brazil. Among other things, I am facilitating a workshop and speaking at a conference. The conference, Seminário Internacional: Educação + Participação = Educação Integral, will be broadcast live online on Friday, November 14.

Here’s the poster for my workshop on Wednesday, November 12. I’m going to post things occasionally throughout the week. I am very excited for this opportunity, and I’m really looking forward to meeting people, sharing ideas and learning a lot while I’m there! What an opportunity! Woohoo!

 

Adam Fletcher in São Paulo

 

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.

We Are The Problem

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Adult Power

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

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

 

Getting On Adults’ Good Side

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

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

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

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

 

Legal Boundaries & Social Consequences

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

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

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

 

Force & Coercion

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

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

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

 

What You Can Do

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

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

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

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

 

I have seen three primary ways adults relate to youth, no matter whether the relationship is parenting, teaching, or policing. The first way is over-permissiveness; the second is responsible; and over-restrictive. Before I explain these, its important to remind you that I’m an adult and these are my opinions; a young person and other adults surely will see things differently.

Over-permissive relationships between children, youth and adults allow young people to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever and however they want. Disregarding the longer term effects of how young people relate to adults, over-permissiveness can incapacitate young peoples’ ability to successfully relate to the broader society around them. By allowing too much freedom, these relationships give children and youth “just enough rope to hang themselves” by extinguishing their inherent away their sense of purpose and belonging throughout the larger society in which we all belong. Based in a well-meaning notion of equality between young people and adults, these relationships conveniently relieve adults of the burden of responsibility in parts or all throughout the lives of young people. They often happen to encourage freedom.

Over-restrictive relationships between young people and adults override the decision-making capabilities of children and youth and disable their inherent creativity in order to assure adults’ sense of authority, protection, and ultimately, ownership over young people. By discouraging young people from experiencing the freedom and ability they need in their natural learning process as well as throughout their social and familial worlds, these relationships can take away enthusiasm and unfettered joy, only to replace it with rigidity and structure. Over-restrictive relationships enforce inequality between children and youth, and occur by adults enforcing their power with heavy-handed education, tight schedules and severe rules, and harsh punishment. They often happen to encourage safety.

Responsible relationships between children, youth and adults are based on trust, mutual respect, communication, and meaningful interactions. Positioning each person as an evolving member of a broader society, they identify roles, opportunities and outcomes that benefit every person in uniquely appropriate ways while holding the greater good ahead of individualism. These relationships occur when adults consciously decide to foster equity throughout the lives of young people by intentionally acknowledging each others’ according abilities, fostering deliberate opportunities and continually embracing the evolving capacities of children and youth throughout their lives, starting when they are infants. Responsible relationships nurture appropriate attachment and encourage interdependence between young people and adults. They often happen to foster democratic sensibilities.

I have not met one adult who is constantly and consistently one of these ways with all young people all of the time. This isn’t meant to provide a puzzle for people to fit together the individual pieces, either. Instead, by showing a spectrum I meant to show that each of us can be any of these at many points throughout our lives.

Share your thoughts in the comments section!