I had a convo yesterday with a colleague who suggested that any youth voice is inherently radical. I replied that as an identity-based perspective, youth voice can be easily manipulated and construed to be reaffirming of mainstream belief, or tokenized and patronized into an obscure and irrelevant ideal. I believe these outcomes are anti-radical, and largely based in the cynical notion that youth voice is just another way to report that we’ve “been there and done that”, another checkbox on a form. I don’t believe youth voice is inherently radical. Instead, it’s another tool in the toolbox of democracy. Democracy is only radical when it’s most severely practiced. That severe practice has been conceptualized by theorists like Zyglut and Giroux as “radical democracy.”
In my understanding of this ideal, radical democracy is the fully actualized potential of democracy. Rather than rely on simplistic participation it demands the active engagement of every citizens’ critical thinking, cultural wisdom and utopian vision in order to collectively craft the future.
This is where youth voice takes it’s most authentic form, and unfortunately it’s generally the most threatening. Consequently it’s also labeled “radical” and thus made inaccessible to both youth and adults. The reason for this is that radical democracy calls all children and youth to action throughout society as critical agents of our collective goals in cultural, educational, scientific, ethical and social aspects.
Radical democracy can give us a useful lens through which to re-envision the roles of youth in society, which is my ultimate goal. We should all consider it as a way to move our efforts forward.