Public Youth in Private Times

In a time when young people are increasingly viewed solely as consumers of popular culture and commodities for government funding, it is challenging to consider who is responsible for young people today. Corollary to that statement is the reality that we live in times when its difficult to determine who is responsible for the public good today. One of the most exciting observations I’ve made from my work through The Freechild Project is the emergence of what I will call the “Public Youth.”

Public Youth are young people who take history, power, politics, and culture seriously by claim ing responsibility for themselves, their communities, and the society to which they belong. They don’t shun responsibility or authority; rather, they search for it and grasp it whenever it comes around. Public Youth aren’t driven by personal gain or social prestige; rather, their intuitive sense of ability is finitely connected to their sense of belonging, perspective, and empowerment. Finally, Public Youth are, for many reasons, progressively liberal, suggesting the inherent hope and commitment to their endevours.

My interest in Public Youth extends from my findings with Freechild:

  • the depth of analysis and breadth of action led by Public Youth
  • perceptions of Public Youth by their peers, families, adult allies, and various “enemies”
  • the general reception by adults of Public Youth throughout their lives
  • the extent to which Public Youth are actively engaged, challenged, mentored, and allied with adults
  • their effects on the larger communities to which they belong, and
  • their life-long commitment to progressive social change due to their role as Public Youth

While there is a growing body of literature supporting youth activism, organizing, service and identify, little of it acknowledges the interconnected nature of the young people who are engaged in those works. The theory of the Public Youth brings these divergent areas together, identifying them as a consolidated body of action that is situated squarely in the present, with its eyes on the future. Despite the continued “generation-ization” of youth (identifying young people as distinguishable generations rather than members of divergent socio-economic, racial, political, and social bodies), Public Youth have a indefinite history that spans time, and is relatively easy to trace at least to the beginning of this country’s history.

I’ve often said that Freechild is a step among many in my life’s work; I think you’ve just read where the next ones may take me. Let me know what you think.

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