Enabling Optimism Towards Youth

Michelle Obama is my hero of the week. For the last twenty years, including much of my teens and all my adult life, the general attitude of society towards young people has been one of fear and loathing: I grew up in the age of zero tolerance, anti-cruising laws, youth-being-tried-as-adults, and the generally crass demonization and stigmatization of young people. Based in ambivalence, malaise and intrasigence towards youth, adultism firmly footed itself throughout our national psyche, and all young people and all adults suffered for it.

In one fell swoop Michelle Obama has begun to unravel the comfort of adultists: as the First Lady, her bold declaration of the power of young people rallies forth a tremendous optimism and hope for children and youth today. Within the week the tide has begun turning: the New York Times is lauding youth for shunning consumerism; youth in Pittsburgh are curing cancer, and; Steve Culbertson of Youth Service America got bold and did his job. This new youth boosterism is even going global: in South Africa young people are being hailed as a powerful voting bloc that will change the country, and indigineous youth are saving the planet.
This isn’t to say that one editorial can change the world, no matter who writes it. Chuck Schumer is enshrining adultism in legislation by wanting to further limit the financial power of young people; ally to youth everywhere Peter Levine has revealed that youth volunteerism rates have dropped; youth are being portrayed as moochers on President Obama’s dole, and; African American youth in Los Angeles who get shot are still being portrayed as gang members without due cause.
Depending on how that article written. If Michelle Obama used deliberative wording that veered away from typecasting youth as the future – instead of the present – would be useful. Instead of framing the relationship between young people and adults in a top/down relationship Michelle could change the perspective towards one of equity between youth and adults. (Learn more about that concept from this pdf.) But for making meaningful gestures, the First Lady definitely wins my respect for the week.
(Oh, and what differs between Laura Bush’s preaching and Michelle Obama’s advocacy? Michelle put her energy where her mouth is and co-founded Public Allies a long time ago. She’s from within the ranks.)

One comment

  1. I so agree with you. Both Michelle and Barack, informed by their experience with community organizing and service, have reached out to all types of people, especially young people. I have written a lot about how they have reached out to areas of the lived city, which often includes school visits in neglected and often overlooked areas of the District. The two things that most affected me: 1) Not only did Michelle recruit a number of influential women to converge on DC and visit area high schools, but she also invited some of the students back to the White House to share in a celebratory dinner later that day; 2) the outreach with regard to the White House garden involves ongoing visits by local fifth graders, revealing more than a publicity opportunity, but a commitment to continued relationships.

Leave a Reply

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