Robotic Youth Workers

Education should not be the filling of a pail,
but the lighting of a fire.
– William Butler Yeats

When I was a teen my family got a dog. Not fancy or well-bred or any that, but a mutt. He was the best, obedient and kind and fun and just a dog, ya know? How did Rudy learn to be all those things? Training. This is how we talk about engaging the people who work with youth.

Training is a one-sided model of knowledge delivery where the trainee is given knowledge to simply ingest and consume, regurgitate and perpetuate. The gross dilemma in this model is that it is inherently anti-youth allyship, as it insists that the needs of young people do not waver beyond the training’s rigid boundaries. Think about it: you go to a conference presentation where for 90 minutes a presenter railroads you through his agenda. While there are interactive sections within that session, there is little time for questions, and critical questions are routinely discouraged either through ignoring or humor. This is training.

What is the favorite topic of many of these trainings? A program. You know the kind, replete with a wonderful powerpoint, a fat binder and a website for constant reference to ensure that your program is on track. There are evaluations as well, complete with prescriptive results that deny the individuality of the facilitator, the attendees, the location, the situation, or any given circumstance that may realistically change the nature of the delivery.

This type of sterile standardization has become par for the course in modern youth work. I have spent thousands of hours attending training as a participant while a youth worker; since then I have facilitated hundreds more for others. However, the entire time I was standing in the front I was struggling with the didactic models I was taught with. How much information did I ever recieve in this belittling form that ignored my individual needs in order to meet the requirements of the presenter, the host organization, the evaluators or others?

At the very least we need more dialectic learning opportunities for youth workers to grow and change, so that we don’t continue to perpetuate the ills we’ve been taught. At the least. At the most, well, we need a radical re-conceptualization of youth work. We need to transform our models from being system-driven towards being entirely youth-driven. We need more than robotic youth workers – we need humans. Recognizing the humanity of the people who work with young people will allow them to recognize the humanity of the youth they work with. This type of progression will let us move forward; otherwise we’re stuck here.

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker, writer, trainer, researcher and advocate who researches, writes and shares about education, youth, and history.

2 thoughts on “Robotic Youth Workers

  1. This is a good one!!!,on the one hand I do agree with a lot that Mr Fletcher is saying,however,at the same time I do recognise the need for good planning and structure. I guess it is all about finding balance, every system that works well has good balance .of course we need a framework to work within but at the same time there needs to be room for concepts and ideas to be allowed to evolve. The last thing I want from any training session is to be talked to for the duration of x amount of hours; people tend just to switch off after a very short while with this type of format. Looking back over the past year of our NVQ sessions I am glad to say that this is not the format that has been used. I know from my own personal experience that on occasion when we have been set tasks during our sessions I have gone off on a complete tangent with my thinking and come back with something that was not asked for, now, if the facilitator (Mark) had took the ‘robotic and dogmatic ‘approach then the outcome that I had arrived at would have somehow been deemed wrong and therefore null and void, I would not have got anything out of the experience and would be wanting the session to end and to go home, however, my outcome was recognised as being pertinent within the youth work framework as a whole and subsequently welcomed, the end result is that I have learnt something through experience and am feeling quite happy and ready for the next task .Taking these concepts forward into are practice with young people. Both Emma and I are currently working with a group of young people in Calne on a project called ‘we have our own opinions’. The young people have come up with a list of issues that affect them i.e., sex and relationships, drugs and alcohol, school etc etc, they are choosing one issue per week and as a group we are debating that issue, then one by one or in pairs the young people are taking themselves off into one of the other rooms where we have a video camera set up and filming themselves giving their views and opinions on the said issue of the day. Last nights topic was bullying and we started off with different types of bullying and then progressed into how we differentiate between bullying and two people falling out and then with the young people steering the debate we moved onto racism and then onto belief systems, the concept of god and finally ended up with ‘is there other forms of life in the universe’ now, as youth workers if we had taken the dogmatic approach and kept steering the debate back to the topic of bullying I feel that the young people would have soon got bored with this and any experiential learning would have been lost, but by allowing the debate to flow and naturally evolve what we ended up with was a group of young people and youth workers sat around a table for 2 hours debating and learning through experience. A truly wonderful session!!I have probably gone off on a bit of a tangent again with my reply, but, I am good at that but by sitting down and thinking about it and writing it all down, I have learnt something and that it is what it is all about!!!

  2. I love this blog! Jamie and Sue I agree with you completely . Sue, yours plans for your session at Studley sound fab! I am especially drawn to your idea of taking YP to the homeless shelter. I think that is a wonderful way to work with the YP on so many aspects of the curriculum. Jamie, I agree that session was fantastic and so exploratory. I think I learnt alot from the YP that session. Anyways I digressing! Training – again I concur with Kevin that I think training is a vital part of any role , not just Youth Work. I am a bit of a training freak so am probably not the best person to comment on this but am going to anyways. I agree with some of what Adam Fletcher says and think back to about 10 years ago when I started taking training after school. I remember those sessions being very much the stereotypical model that Adam is suggesting. I just need to clarify I was not in Youth Work then but in Travel. However I do think that as of late, especially the last year, training seems to have evolved or maybe I am just finding the right training courses. I have attended the NVQ training days and have to say I have been pleasantly surprised by the way in which it has been delivered. The three days that stick in my mind are the spirituality days and yesterdays session on the curriculum. Firstly the spirituality days – I was advised by other YW who had done the course previously that these days were the worst on the NVQ as you have to find yourself. I was quite scared at this point and was not looking forward to the sessions. However for me I feel that these sessions provided me with so much. Firstly due to the interactive nature of them, I felt that this learning style for me worked and that I was able to use the practical elements I gained from the session with the YP I worked with. Secondly I enjoyed the self exploratory journey I went on during these sessions. I found I was able to understand myself more and understand my role as a YW more. It also highlighted the need for YP in todays society to have different beliefs and different models of spirituality, as in todays society I dont believe we rely on religion in the same way maybe our parents did. Again Sue like you, I left the first part thinking Im not sure what I am going to do with this, eventhough I enjoyed it. However if there is one thing that I have learnt since this session is how much work I have been doing with YP around spirituality and not even knowing I am doing it. Bizarre! The curriculum session – I enjoyed the whole session but for me it was the final part that got me enthusiastic. When Becky started to explain the activity I absolutely freaked and didnt want to take part. However almost immediately after this I found myself actually wanting to put a subject up there and talk about something that was important to me. I enjoyed this form of learning as I felt it mirrored alot of the work we do with YP and was amazing to have no rules as such and no real rigidity to the programme of what we were going to do. I know this goes against all YW rule associated with structured planning but it was so exploratory, exciting and engaging. For me overall I feel the whole NVQ has been a worthwhile training course due to the fact that it is being facilitated predominately by people who have been YW so understand the need for us as YW to go off on tangents and explore other aspects which probably have no relation to what the subject matter was based on. Again, I agree with Jamie, that Mark has been exemplary in allowing us to do this and I believe that by embracing this he has allowed us to learn in a very unique and creative way. I feel that although all the theory stuff we have covered on the course has gone into my brain in some form, I genuinely believe that the sharing of experience from the facilitators and us as YW has been the main learning outcome for me. Thanks guys! I just want to leave one last bit on what I believe makes a good training course. Back last year I attended a course on difficult, dangerous and disturbing behaviour – Sue I think you were at this one. In this course the facilitator did the whole power point presentation and theory side of it which I vaguely am able to recall, however after lunch the facilitator re enacted a scene that played out in a youth centre in which a YW was stuck in an office with a YP who had a knife. The facilitator actually dressed as this YP and came and held a knife to our throats as if we were the YW in that situation. I will never forget the fear I had during this experience and as a result I will never forget the way in which I ever need to deal with a situation like this should I ever be the unfortunate YW to be in a centre where it happens. I have shared this experience, not because I think facilitators should appraoch their training courses by becoming actors and dressing up, as that would be unrealistic if that is not them, but I do think that the visual way in which we learnt that day probably stuck more than the powerepoint aspect during the morning – Sue maybe you could confirm if this was your experience. Prior to the facilitator acting out this scene he gave us all the background knowledge to this YP and after the re enactment we had to figure out what had happened to this YP to bring him to this point. It was like Cluedo for YW. Again another aspect I enjoyed and another different way of learning. For me, training should be about thinking outside of the box, which as a result of being on the NVQ I believe we have begun to do, as it was a fab new way of learning, but I am a perfectionist and always believe there is room for improvement with anything. Sorry again, gone completely away from the subject I feel, but do believe that its good to share the different experiences we have.

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