“As a concept, youth represents an inescapable intersection of the personal, social, political, and pedagogical.” – Henry Giroux in Fugitive Cultures
As parents, youth workers or educators adults have a responsibility to see the inherently political nature of “youth” as a concept. It can seem like a complicated thing: How can a time of life be political? But once we unfurl the banner of youth, we see that its more than a time of life; instead, its a title, a rank and an identity that goes far beyond age, including attitudes, cultures, media, and economic realities that are called “youth”. I think this is what Giroux was getting at in Fugitive Cultures, which I’d recommend to anyone interested in learning about the positions young people occupy in our society.
By labeling people under a certain age as “youth” we assign them particular roles to play. Adults tend to call young people youth instead of “young people” or as many youth prefer, “young adults,” in the same way parents called their children “kids” instead of children. This type of assignment ripples in the treatment of young people: under the banner of “youth” people under a certain age, which varies according to situation, people are systematically, culturally and attitudinally discriminated against. They are subjected to routine stereotyping, mass alienation and indifference, and highly-subjective treatment that is patriarchial and adultist, to say the least. Youth are targeted by well-meaning adults for interventions; youth are targeted by sensationalist media outlets for profiteering; youth are targeted by politicians, educators, parents, business owners and so on…
So the politics of youth are complex, intricate and intense. I believe its the responsibility of ethical practitioners of Youth Voice and meaningful student involvement to actively identify these politics for themselves, and to work with the young poeple they work with to do the same. While this process can seem whelming, it doesn’t exclude you from engaging the young people your class, program, organization or community in learning about it. That’s right: bring young people themselves into critical conversations about the politics of youth, and watch their political identify unfold right in front of you. This is one of the most essential skills we can impart with young people. By helping them identify as political beings operating within a political world they can identify their own need for literacy, their own drive for engagement, and their own commitment to democracy. In this way formal and informal education can have a mutually-relevant and cohesive approach to student success. We should aspire to no other such goals.