Reclaiming Our Youth

“Critical reflection on practice is a requirement of the relationship between theory and practice. Otherwise theory becomes simply “blah, blah, blah,” and practice, pure activism.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom 

In completing my bachelor’s degree in youth studies and critical pedagogy at The Evergreen State College I wrote a 190 page critical reflection on my then 9 years experience in the fields of youth development and community organizing. I called that document Reclaiming My Youth.  After spending several years lamenting the continued decimation of the roles of youth across the U.S. and studying writing by Henry Giroux, Mike Males, and other authors, I decided that there is at least an equally important challenge: reclaiming the futures of youth. After dozens of years of neoliberalism decimating public services for young people as public schools are sold and youth programs are privatized and parenting books and fee-for-service religious services and other ways of selling off the good of children and youth, we – young people and their adult allies – must stand up and reclaim the future of youth. 
How to reclaim the future of youth: Engage the distinct ideas, opinions, attitudes, knowledge, and actions of young people throughout our society. A crisis of disconnection has led to this loss, as youth are disconnected in our communities, youth are disconnected from our public good, and youth are disconnected from their own futures. Youth are disconnected in our communities: at home, in school, during youth programs, across our neighborhoods, across our state and throughout our shared history. There is no decision-making for the public good, young people are not routinely engaged in creating positive effects on the whole community, and they are routinely forced to participate in poor community activities.
 
Youth are not being engaged in creating their future because of the perspectives of adults, the bias against youth, structures that disconnect them, and because young people themselves have internalized the messages broadcast to them.
The reason why the future of youth must be reclaimed is because of Hope. Our nation’s untold history of youth demonstrates that there are alternative roles of youth throughout society, and because they possess the energy, wisdom and strength adults need to successfully cocreate democratic societies that engage everyone as equal partners. The early common history of the nation, 1960s and 70s youth empowerment activities, 1980s and 90s community building orgs and 1990s and 00s youth voice programs are the greatest indicators we have of those new roles existing. 
 
There are new opportunities being created throughout society as new relationships, programs, positions and other avenues are being opened for young people throughout communities, actually creating “wrap-around” community engagement opportunties. As important in the current climate, powerful outcomes are being proven through research and evaluation that actually demostrate the meaning and depth of young people today.
 
I have a plan for the future of youth I want to write more about:
  • Point 1 – Promote community-wide accountability for the problems that affect the whole community
  • Point 2 – Engage every young person in every community as a powerful and purposeful partner
  • Point 3 – Encourage and educate every adult in every community about the potential of youth voice
  • Point 4 – Create safe and supportive opportunities for youth voice throughout every community in Washington State
  • Point 5 – Infuse youth voice throughout the structures that affect every young person everyday
Our only hope is to reclaim the future of youth. Once I saw Rachel Jackson, an organizer with Books Not Bars, speak at a rally in Oakland where she said, “Our youth are not failing the system; the system is failing our youth. Ironically, the very youth who are being treated the worst are the young people who are going to lead us out of this nightmare.”  
Our only hope is the future of youth. Let’s get to work. PS – You can see the original powerpoint from the speech I gave on this in November 2007 here.

“The futures we inherit are not of our own making, but the futures we create for generations of young people who follow us arise out of our ability to imagine a better world, recognize our responsibility to others, and define the success of a society to the degree that it can address the needs of coming generations to live in a world in which the obligations of a global democracy and individual responsibility mutually inform each other.” – Henry Giroux, “Translating the Future and the Promise of Democracy

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