GO TEAM YOUTH! Towards a Future Beyond Boosterism

This morning I read a story about a 14-year-old named Jacob Barnett who might be smarter than Einstein. As I watched it, I had the thought of sharing his story with others.

However, I’m generally reluctant to do that. As I’ve written in the past about Michelle Obama and Taylor Wilson, I think adults who are trying to engage young people in changing the world need to aim higher than the boosterism and jingoism for these high-achieving young people that so often undermines the “Every Youth” who attends our schools and programs everyday.

However, in media environment that routinely thwarts the good deeds of children and youth who are making actual positive differences all the time by over-reporting violence and disparities among young people, maybe boosterism has an important role.

What would a project that highlighted the good things young people do look like?

These are all good things – being smart, inventing things, doing stuff, making things, creating, coalescing, developing, teaching, writing, speaking, all that.

Would it have to be gross boosterism that [blindly] highlights positivity, or would there be a higher course of analysis that could be made explicit, i.e. “Popular conceptions about young people are all wrong, and here is a great amount of evidence to the contrary”?

Similar to my Freechild Project, there is a bit out there that attempts to take steps to that effect, like What Kids Can DoPro-Youth Pages, . There are other sites that try to program-itize youth action to change the world, and in their need for funding they claim the work of young people as their own. These groups include Do Something, Youth Venture, and Youth Service America. All of these groups- mine included- explicitly tell stories about young people who are changing the world.

There are re-activists among the sources that promote young people, too. The National Youth Rights Association has been fighting negative perceptions of youth for more than a decade, and Mike Males youthfacts.org is a great fighter of status quo attitudes towards young people. Academics like my mentor, Henry Giroux, and others like Alfie Kohn and Jonathan Kozol have been fighting askew perceptions of young people for decades, while advocates like including Marianne Wright Edleman have claimed to advocate on behalf of young people while promoting the problems they face ahead of their capacities to deal with those problems.


But there’s something missing in all that work. The needle hasn’t really moved in the way mainstream society sees young people! The choir is getting preached to and the good ideas are rolling around out there in the fields of Young America, but USA Today, The New York Times, almost all the mainstream and cable news shows, and even the so-called progressive Left media sources routinely and loudly disparage children and youth. When they do mention the good work of young people today, they routinely dismiss or tokenize it.

5 Essential Elements of Go Team Youth (A Future Beyond Boosterism)

  1. Popular appeal
  2. Bold + direct language and concepts
  3. Focused on youth changing the world
  4. Clearly addresses discrimination against young people
  5. Makes next steps plain

We need a popular, loud, and explicit analysis that makes plain the challenges facing young people and their ability to be solutions in facing those problems. Critical thinking, cultural acknowledgment, and systems change must be inherent in any solutioneering that is proposed.

What could “Go Team Youth!” engine look like? That’s the future I’m most interested in right now.

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