You might have noticed that since publishing The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide last year, I’ve come to feel strongly about aggrandizing youth involvement.
A lot of organizations and programs tout their credibility with youth involvement, youth engagement, and youth organizing by highlighting all the wonderful things they position youth to lead. By doing this, these organizations are actually doing youth disservice. The many challenges include:
- Positioning adults as beneficent rulers who allow youth to do things
- Incapacitating young peoples’ innate responsibility for themselves and others
- Negating the abilities of communities to work together for the common good
Instead of helping, these activities actually and often harm the people they intend to help.
We need to see things differently. In recent months, I’ve begun to envision a new way of being, knowing, and doing. This way is currently emerging between young people and adults, and it is happening throughout society. This way re-positions children, youth and adults from assuming power relationships dependent on subservience and authority, towards seeing each other in a more holistic light.
The old way of Youth Voice…
- Relied on adults having power over youth
- Positioned young people as “adults-in-the-making” not to be seen as whole people right now
- Depended on youth being subservient and compliant to adults
- Required systems of oppression that enforced adults’ power
- Demanded youth be compliant with adult desires out of fear of violence
- Necessitated systems of authority enforced by structures of abuse
- Made programs that put “youth in charge” necessary in order to rebalance power inequalities between youth and adults
- Routinely positioned youth against each other and against adults in order to ensure compliance and conformity
- Saw children and youth progressing along a predictable, staircase development cycle towards adulthood
The emerging, new relationships between youth and adults look different. The new Youth Voice…
- Sees young people as whole people no matter what their ages
- Utilizes holistic youth development as the organizing framework for young peoples’ growth, education, and ongoing formation as humans
- Treats all young peoples’ growth as non-linear, non-sequential and non-uniform, instead treating every child and youth as an evolving human
- Allows equal room for adults and young people to have, express, and critique power and authority
- Positions children, youth, and adults in equitable partnerships designed to foster engagement, belonging, and ownership
- Grants adults and young people equitable, responsible space for learning, teaching, and leadership in all roles, all of the time
- Replaces command-and-control authoritarianism by honoring the collective, democratic perspectives of all people, regardless of age
- Acknowledges programs that put “youth in charge” to be ineffectual and unnecessary
- Dismantles youth-against-youth and youth-against-adult power struggles through common action and mutual support
Paulo Freire wrote, “Education does not transform the world. Education changes people. People change the world,” and the same can be said of Youth Voice. Youth Voice does not transform the world. Youth Voice transform people. People change the world.
If we are going to change the world, we must change ourselves first. Changing ourselves comes from active, deliberate work. That’s what my proposition for new Youth Voice is – an attempt to engage each of us differently.
Through these active, distinguishable ways of being, knowing, and doing, young people are adults are working together to transform the world we share. Everyone can and should aspire to nothing less.