In my own restlessness, I find myself craving something different these days.
I’m increasingly dissatisfied with isolated experiences of “youth-led” activity that is seeded and driven by adults. I have come to see that the majority of this work is largely disingenuous and ultimately incapacitating for the young people who participate in these activities. I say that very cautiously, as I personally know and am professionally aware of the immediate feelings of empowerment that are inherent in this type of action.
Today, I’m coming to understand that we need approaches to this work that more deeply situate young people as full members of currently existent society. That way they can be partners in what already exists and transform situations in deeply sustainable, deeply transformative ways.
This has to happen by working with the institutions we already have in place. It has to happen with the attitudes we already have at work. This is where my writing on meaningful student involvement comes from: Students working in the places they already occupy with people who are already committed to working with them. There are attitudes, cultures, structures, and connections to transform, but those are sustained changes that won’t go away with passing generations.
Here’s what the difference I see looks like visually:
Traditional Approaches to Engage Young People in Social Change
May be exclusively youth-led
May partner with adults
May be led by adults
May include equity
May have explicit learning connections
May include adults
May be focused on sustained change
May have sustained funding
May position youth as “outsiders” versus “insiders”
New Approaches to Engage Young People in Social Change
Infuse youth as full members
Recognize mutual investment by youth and adults
Focus on sustained change
Make explicit learning goals for youth and adults
Focus on systemic and cultural transformation
Requires equity between youth and adults.
Respond and let me know what you think about a new approach to youth action – I’d love to hear what you think!