No More Special Programs, Please!

The youth voice movement of the last twenty years has been more problematic than practical for the majority of individuals and organizations involved. Despite good intentions and high-minded ideals, few youth voice initiatives have found a way to integrate and sustain youth involvement and action over the long-run. So many of the youth councils, youth-led evaluations, board positions for youth, and other special accommodations have come and gone, leaving confusion, frustration and resignation in their wake.

Today I write this in remorse of the recently-announced end of the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction’s student engagement office led by Greg Williamson. For the last three years Greg has been pounding his feet on the street trying to get students and teachers across Washington State to simply listen to and consider what students’ perspectives about schools and school reform efforts are. After slugging it out in 100s of schools with thousands of students and adults, Superintendent Terry Bergeson has pulled the plug on Greg’s effort.

This is after I’ve seen a dozen other experiments and projects and processes similar to the student engagement office fail over the last seven years. Its gotten to the point where folks simply dismiss it as part of the process – “These things come and go” – and then we move on. There are so many problems with that thinking, not the least of which being the fact that once those programs are gone, YOUTH ARE STILL AROUND.

That’s the great challenge of our work: To redefine our society beyond special treatment and interesting ideas. We have got to change the ways people think and feel in their everyday work, because when the programs end, those people are still there. Youth are still there. And their younger brothers and sisters are still there. What is next?

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