Youth Segregation

The underlying assumption behind all youth involvement programs is that youth are segregated. American society has relied on the ongoing and consistent alienation, isolation and institutionalization of young people for more than 10 decades now, only to the detriment of families, communities, and ultimately, democracy.

Youth segregation happens throughout our lives. Starting from the first moments of a child’s life, newborn infants are oftentimes removed from their mothers immediately after birth. Incubated like chicken eggs under glaring lights, babies are immediately wrenched away from the healthy grips of the mother-child bond, and mothers are immediately trained to believe and trust that the segregation of their children is a normal, acceptable, and even beneficial thing.

As children grow they continue to experience this alienation and abandonment. Daycare, schooling and many community programs all rely on the isolation of children and youth from adults, and worse still is that our adultcentric economy relies on this isolation as well. In addition to serving as captive audiences for promoting violence, consumerism and nationalism, these programs oftentimes also become the many purveyors of social values for young people, effectively negating the ability and responsibility the larger community has for “raising its own,” as Hilary Clinton profess in her book It Takes a Village and Other Lessons Children Teach Us.

Our society has created more than a few industries that are reliant on enforcing this child-dumping behavior. Surely the childcare and basic education fields come to mind; but we also have to consider mall owners, fast food franchisees and sports manufacturers all in the benefit from the economic behavior imposed through youth segregation. The government benefits too: in addition to the taxes they levy on each of the aforementioned services, police, government-led afterschool programs and a bevy of social welfare agencies are reliant on communities being unable and indifferent to the youngest among us. We need children and youth to just “go away,” and we expect that when the marketplace doesn’t cover those costs the government will pick up the tab.

Schooling is the main vehicle for reinforcing the necessity of youth segregation throughout our society. As John Taylor Ghatto powerfully explains in Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, schools teach students about segregation by routinely, systematically and overtly separating them by race, socio-economic status, gender, ability, perceived ability, age, interest, and test performance. In turn this activity normalizes segregation for young people, which makes the fact that they are isolated from adults in mainstream society for at least 1/3 of their waking hours okay. No one teacher or principal is responsible for this abdication of responsibility: the entire education system is culpable, as curriculum, classroom management, building leadership, school climate, educational leadership and political representatives are all in on the act.


Segregation only begins to let up by the time high school rolls around, when we expect youth to transition to adulthood. However, no matter how precocious or assertive a young person may be, they are still routinely dismissed through adultism and ephebiphobia. Voting rights, free speech and economic security are among the many human rights that society denies to youth simply because they are young.

The moral imposition of youth segregation is that it requires almost every adult to be complicit. We all have to support the person who says, “I know better – I’m older” in order for this shenanigans to pass. As soon as there is a critical mass of folks who simply will not take it any longer, adultism, adultcentrism their benefactor, youth segregation, will have to take a back seat until there is better judgment that will more effectively help us treat these social scourges. Until then we continue to struggle.

One comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *