Continung on my writing spree of late focused on youth work, I want to explore the notion of “these people”, and how that idea is antithetical to meaningful youth involvement.
Sitting in the Washington State Service Summit today I heard a speaker talk about “these people” in response to the folks who need the services their community provides. Well, I must say that “these people” are US, and we need to recognize their problems are our problems. Noblese oblige doesn’t make patriarchial attitudes okay, no matter how high-minded or well-intended they are. These beliefs can poison or sully otherwise good folks’ perspectives and actions, particularly when working with children and youth – they can often see right through the myth into the realities of the situation.
This belief is the premise behind much of the work surrounding meaningful youth involvement, in two ways:
1. Young people are members of every conmunity and need to be treated as such.
2. Don’t do for people what they can and should do for themselves.
I am not the first to say this either: Ivan Illich, bell hooks, Paulo Freire and Eduardo Galeano have all influenced me. I challenge that while we must consider all oppressed people, it’s those young people who’ve been historically disengaged that are most affected by this mentality of “The Other.”
There’s an assumption among many well-meaning adults who work with children and youth that young people are inherently in need of our assistance. Let me say that while it’s true all young people are in need of adults throughout their lives, the simple fact of the matter is that they might not need YOU specifically.
Identify your motivation for this work and explore whether you are doing your work *with* or *for* young people; look at who you see as “The Other” and identify your connections and disconnections with them; then tell me about how you’re going to help “those people.” Or not.