Don’t Mimic The Monster: Engage Everyone

You know the state of the world today. We say we’re going to engage the masses, but fail miserably. We want to retain everyone, but they still don’t show up or quickly drop out. We want to connect everyone, but everyone says or acts too busy. We want to empower people, but still they stare at their phones and dance to pop music.

Does that make them bad or wrong? Does that mean they are lost causes? Do we have to leave them behind and simply move ahead? I believe the answer is no.

Freechild Project youth in São Paulo, Brazil.
Youth in São Paulo, Brasil, working to change the world in positive ways.

What’s the Monster?

We’re struggling to defeat a beast.

The monsters of apathy, disregard, disconnection and disgust have led our society around for hundreds of years. They’ve forced friend against friend, neighbor against neighbor, and family member against family member.

The way things were are over now and we’re moving ahead. In the past…

  • Education systems routinely left behind students who weren’t learning the ways they were being taught.
  • Social services stopped supporting people who apparently refused to support themselves.
  • Neighbors on the block quit knocking on the door of the old house where nobody ever answered.
  • Customers were seen solely as consumers who simply pick a color and pay on their way out the door.
  • The legal system stopped trying to work with people who resisted their authority and started punishing them instead.
  • Politicians were allowed to make decisions on a hierarchy of financial impact, as if that was the prime and sole relevant determinant of value, purpose and belonging.


When we leave behind the young people and adults who don’t come along with our agendas we are simply perpetuating those systems, actions and beliefs.

Sometimes, life situations cause us to become the monster so the monster doesn’t break us. When we settle for engaging some people instead of everyone, everywhere, all the time, we’re mimicking the monster. We might believe we’re not the monster, whether that’s formal systems, “the Man,” or social trends. Unfortunately, we might be by accident.

A lot of us are following Einstein’s formula for insanity by doing the same things we’ve always done and expecting different results. Just because we dress up ugly programs with fancy words and phrases or storm the same meetings and conferences with radical new ideas that have no actions behind them doesn’t mean we’re changing anything.

Arizona youth teaching Freechild's Adam Fletcher how to change the world. Photo by Slingshot Photography.
Arizona youth teaching Freechild’s Adam Fletcher how to change the world. Photo by Slingshot Photography.

Quiz: Are You Mimicking the Monster?

If this bothers you or sounds a little too close to home, I want you – I implore you – to ask yourself:

  • Is my shiny new engagement project just like traditional leadership programs that benefit the few instead of the masses?
  • Does the group of people I’m leading look, talk, act or think just like me?
  • Can my school or organization do more to engage more people, but just not know how to do it?
  • Is there a possibility that I’m causing things to continue existing like they always have instead of creating new possibilities for different realities?

If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, I want to congratulate you. Its hard getting honest about our inadequacies, and if you said yes to any of those, you’re acknowledging that you or your organization has been inadequate in engaging diverse and broad numbers of people.

If you didn’t answer “yes” to any of those questions, then you can rest securely today knowing you’re doing all right.

Mimicking the monster can be a self-protective measure designed to help you feel better about yourself and the effort you’re putting into changing the world. However, feeling better about yourself isn’t a new thing for the world; and the world needs new ways of being, not more of the same.

The new ways of being can include…

  • INNOVATION: Understanding that “a new world is possible” is a practical, plausible way of planning programs, and without that as a guiding idea we’re likely continuing to harbor the past in the cracks and crevices of our activities, attitudes and outcomes;
  • CAPACITY: Generating bold, assertive and intentional outcomes that satisfy goals without compromising democracy, education, community  or interdependence along the way;
  • UNITY: Creating new ways of doing things that bring people together, build on both/and approaches rather than supporting either/or mentalities, and create new pathways that rebel against dominant culture;
  • ENGAGEMENT: The old way of being focused on seeing people as the passive recipients of decisions made by others for them. The new ways of being compel everyone to see everyone else as an active partner throughout their own lives, to the point of self-exhaustion and community completion, and yet striving forward from there, too.
Adult allies of youth explore what they need to learn for themselves.
Adult allies of youth explore what they need to learn for themselves.

Breaking the Monster

Right now, we’re moving beyond the past and into the future by creating new human technologies that engage vastly new people in dynamic ways to foster broad, bold new outcomes for the future.

We have to create new responses that acknowledge the differences, resistances and separations between “us,” the people trying to catalyze transformation, and “them,” the people who we want to engage in our efforts. If we don’t do that, we’re not actually transforming anything; we’re just giving the old ways of doing things permission to continue and even causing that old way of doing things.

If all of that looks good to you and if you want to move forward, then I would suggest you discover what you can do in communities and schools. If you immediately think of barriers and limitations, I would suggest you check out this and this. If you want to know what’s available for you to DO SOMETHING in these ways, check this out. If you want to talk about it, reply to this or get in touch.

This isn’t inevitable, but it’s also not elusive. The transformation of our society is underway right now, and has been. Let’s move ahead together!


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Radical Transparency With Children and Youth

Youth in Seattle with a Freechild Project summer camp

After 15 years of promoting youth/adult partnerships, The Freechild Project has decided that one of the most important elements of them, including Youth Voice, Youth Empowerment and Youth Involvement, is transparency. Here are some thoughts on radical transparency with children and youth.

“If you want to lift yourself up, lift up someone else.” ― Booker T. Washington


How To Be Transparent With Children and Youth

  1. Start when they’re young. While young people are still young, that’s the time to make be radically transparent with them. Having a transparent conversation with a 17 or 18 year old can be difficult, if only because they’re conditioned to accept adults obfuscating. By starting early, you weave into your relationships with young people your own ability to be honest, and show your expectation that your relationships with children and youth are motivated by fully mutual accountability.
  2. Take issues one at a time. When creating a radically transparent relationship with young people, go in steps. Being completely open and honest all at once can be really difficult and daunting. Every time you would typically keep information to yourself, ask yourself, “Why can’t I share this with young people?” Unless you come up with a strong argument against it, opt for openness. But in increments.
  3. Make time to explain your logic. As a radically transparent adult ally, you must be honest and fair. Young people need to understand how you came to your decisions and why. Be ready to spend a huge amount of time with children and youth explaining everything. The extra time will pay off, when ultimately, your effort will inspire trust and respect.
  4. Clearly outline the steps for action. Radically transparent organizations need clear ways for young people to take action. You might set specific goals or show young people which skills and outcomes they can be developing. Being fair in this process prevents you from expecting any young people to do something beyond their abilities. Make sure your organization is focused on process more than product, and let young people know that’s the case.
  5. Question your own discomfort. Making traditionally adult-only information available to young people naturally stirs up discomfort. A lot of the time its uncomfortable because it’s never been done before. Whenever you hesitates, ask yourself if sharing that information would help or engage the young people you’re working with. If it would, do it. Once it’s out in the open, discomfort quickly fades. If it doesn’t, its trying to show you more.

What Transparency Means

There is no such thing as genuinely non-coercive relationships with young people. The best writing about that topic is full of coercion and attempts to get kids to do things, but from particularly obtuse or obfuscated angles. There’s are political causes behind everything- not party politik, but philosophical politics.

Those philosophical politics inform all our ways of being, including and especially our relationships with young people. Its from this place that philosopher/theorists like Freire, Illich, and even Neill become so relevant. However, they represent different perspectives, and as a critical theorist I hang my hat closest to Freire.
It is from this perspective that I find myself wondering lately about the notion of radical transparency with children and youth. Growing up in the mire of post-naive capitalism, I have grown to deeply appreciate attempts to reveal the political considerations of the systems and society I occupy and participate in. The dark forces of gross consumerism routinely pile up cheap plastic crap around us in piles so big we can’t see what’s going on around us.
Those piles are formed of the detritus of our lifestyles, including the stuff we buy and the places we attend. However, they’re also made from the shady forces of popular culture which seek to block us from seeing why things around us happen the ways they do.

Why Transparency Matters

Given an opportunity to identify clearly what they see in the world around them, I believe young people have the innate capacity to discover and examine why things are the way they are. They can also identify how things operate, and how they can be transformed. With consistent and relevant exposure throughout their lives, all children and youth could gradually, purposefully, and truly become operative democrats—that is, fully engaged citizens in a democracy—at much younger ages than we afford people now.
The believe that there’s a static experience of childhood that should be preserved through ignorance and limited exposure to the world is idyllic and has been proven misguided, if only because we know that for all intents and purposes, that experience is limited to so few young people. Right now it seems as if the domineering modus operandi in society is to “throw them to the wolves” of pop culture consumerism that defines their identities for them. I want young people to be able to choose their identities, connections, and engagements, rather than allowing corporations to choose for them.I don’t think transparency equals full access or authority. It may lend itself to that, and when it’s appropriate it will. But I’m not inclined to hand over the keys to the house and invite everyone in, as it were. If a young person wanted more of an institution at will and of there own volition, that’s something different. But rather than foist everything upon every young person all at once, I wonder of there’s a need for degrees of transparency. Is transparency only necessary/appropriate when young people request it? If that choice isn’t radical transparency, then what is? Cynicism is popular in some communities, while in most others there’s gross apathy. What other options are there?

I’m thinking mostly about social institutions like families, schools, policing, the economy, government, nonprofits, religions. What if Toto ran up and pulled back the curtain on any of those institutions? What would young people themselves see? Can we be that revelatory and transparent?

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Get Involved

Freechild Project youth in São Paulo, Brazil.

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Youth, Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault

Adult allies of youth explore what they need to learn for themselves.

Young people around the world are standing against sexual abuse in many ways. They are joining forces for policy change at state and federal levels; educating their peers and adults; and creating new cultures within families, throughout schools and across communities that do not tolerate abuse, victimization or discrimination against children, youth or adults who are sexually abused.

Sexual abuse is an abuse of power and a betrayal of trust. Sexual abuse happens when anyone is forced or tricked into sexual activity by anyone else. Sexual abuse can be physical, visual and verbal. Examples include sexual touching, oral-genital contact, rape, incest, any penetration with objects or body parts, making a child touch someone else’s private parts or play sexual (“pants down”) games, exposing private parts to a child, showing pornography/making child watch sexual acts, taking sexual pictures, watching a child undress or go to the bathroom and obscene/sexual language.


Ways Youth are Changing the World Focusing on Sexual Abuse

Youth as Advocates — Standing up for what they know is right requires youth stand against what they know it wrong. As advocates, youth are making the issue of sexual abuse obvious, apparent and meaningful to policy-makers, law enforcement, the courts, and others everyday. They are letting their stand inform land-lasting conversations and moving essential ideas into the mainstream.

Youth-led Training — By training their peers, younger people and adults, youth are leading the education revolution focused on sexual abuse. They are helping their siblings, parents, and teachers understand youth voice in this area, and moving the agenda forward.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Forming and sustaining equitable youth/adult partnerships is a vital key for a lot of youth engagement activities focused on ending sexual assault and sexual abuse. Through transparency, mutual respect, trust and constantly meaningful involvement, young people and adults learn to work together to transform the world.


Things Youth Need to Change the World Focusing on Sexual Abuse

Education — Young people want to learn what it takes to successfully challenge and hold back sexual abuse and sexual assault. Through comprehensive sexual education and learning not to assign males roles to assault girls and women, education can change the world.

Research — Substantive research of all sorts can empower youth to take action to against sexual assault and sexual abuse. Learning how to read research, utilize it most effectively and interpret it for others can be essential.

Motivation — Simply changing youth to make a difference isn’t enough. Instead, we’ve found that young people need four pillars to change the world: Policymaking; Targeted educational activities; Substantial assessment, and; Practical culture transformation activities that honor older knowledge and infusing younger innovation.


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Elsewhere Online



Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement ending sexual abuse in your community or organization, contact us.

The End of Grades and Grading

The practice of teachers assigning students letter or number grades to illustrate how students are performing is an outmoded method, left over the times when schools were regarded as factories, teachers were supervisors, and students were workers. Not only is grading just outdated, research has shown that grading students is damaging as well. Research has shown that grades can:

  • Cause students to regard learning as a chore
  • Avoid challenging tasks
  • Think less deeply
  • Fall apart when they fail, and
  • To value ability more than effort.

In today’s society the process is as important as the outcome; schools should reflect that.



“The students, motivated/rewarded (or not) by grades, try to shape their writing so as to get a better grade, and that may become their primary goal in some cases. In turn, the teachers feel grading forces them to give up some of their role as “fair-minded judges and sympathetic readers.” – Lotto and Smith in College Education.


Ways Youth Can Change the World Without Grades

Teaching Classes — One of the best ways young people can learn is through teaching. Young people of all ages can teach people younger than themselves, the same age and older than themselves.

Reforming Schools — Becoming actively engaged as partners in school reform at the local, district, state and federal levels can allow students to advocate against grades in powerful, effective ways.

Youth as Education Advocates — If youth stand against grades, they should make student voice heard to education decision-makers everywhere. Providing substantive alternatives and stepping into action are priorities.


Tools Youth Need to Change the World Without Grades

Inspiration — Children and youth need stories to motivate them against grades, while teachers and school leaders need the vision to eliminate them.

Education — Leaving the traditional grade structure of schools can be challenging, but with education and training in alternative scoring teachers and students can become committed to not relying on these false measures of academic success.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Working in classrooms, across schools and throughout the education system can be a key to eliminate grading forever. Fostering and sustaining substantial youth/adult partnerships throughout the education system can be a powerful way to do that.


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Elsewhere Online

  • Adultism in Schools on the SoundOut website
  • The following schools are models of successful learning without grades and grading.
  • Alternatives to Traditional Grading” – A summary of different practices from the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning at Kansas State University.
  • Grading Alternatives” – From the Indiana  Department of Education.
  • SoundOut Student Activism Map – Find out where students are organizing to challenge schools to listen to student voice and engage students as partners in school improvement. Includes examples and organizations from across the US.
  • Rise Against Terrible Schools – While there are many different ideas on how schools should work, we share one common goal: changing schools for the better. Whether that means getting students to unschool or homeschool or just simply campaigning for some rights of students in schools, the goal of RATS is to students work together so they can be more effective.
  • Students Against Testing – Students Against Testing was created to be a strong force against the score-obsessed education machine known as standardized testing. At the same time, SAT also exists as an advocate for bringing positive, creative and real-life learning activities into the schools. SAT believes that for the reasons stated below urgent action from the student body itself is the most direct way to counteract the boredom and petty competition that currently plagues the schools.
  • Alternative Education Resource Organization – AERO advances learner-centered approaches to education. AERO is considered by many to be the primary hub of communications and support for educational alternatives around the world.





Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support eliminating classroom grades in your school or community, contact us.