The Voices We Don’t Hear

  • Who talks that we don’t listen to?
  • What’s said that isn’t heard?
  • Why do we say that all youth voice matters, but then only listen to the voices that sound like our own?

With the visible outpouring of support for youth voice across the US in the last month, it can be easy to feel like youth voice is finally being heard. Years of standing up to shout and being ignored are finally being leveraged against the power of the internet and the will of a generation that’s been denied, ignored and otherwise rejected from joining the public dialogues that affect them most.

But while that’s happening, there’s another group of youth who feel even more repressed and oppressed in their attempts to express their voices. These young people live in areas where pain and trauma are almost as constant as the denial of their place, space and race at the table.

These youth aren’t courted by major national nonprofits and foundations who are handing out resources and money to support youth voice while its trending. They aren’t given passes from school to attend rallies and they don’t have parental permission slips to get on buses going to capitals for protests.

Instead, the youth I’m talking about are going to their evening jobs, or going home to watch their brothers and sisters after school and can take a day off. They’re literally in juvenile detention and in school suspension, waiting as prisoners at the whim of adults to set them free. They’re struggling to get passing grades in school, struggling to make and keep good friends, and struggling to stay safe tonight when they’re walking from the bus stop to their homes.

This is the reality: There are many youth voices that aren’t being heard right now. This moment isn’t being shared by all youth everywhere, even if we’re pretending and being told it is. Some young people are actually being suffocated by this particular pop culture moment that’s supposedly uplifting youth voice because their voices are being stifled in the midst of it all.

So, adults: Do youth have things to say that we don’t want to hear, but should regardless. Yes is the answer. Here’s a space where you can share those things, in the comments below.

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Youth and Gun Control

Guns are everywhere across the United States. After being massacred in schools and neighborhoods throughout the nation’s cities, suburbs and rural places, youth are upset about the absence of gun control. Luckily, today young people are taking action to make a difference. They are working with adults and on their own to change laws, change hearts and minds, and make a difference throughout the country. Here is some information the Freechild Institute has collected regarding youth and gun control.


Ways Youth can Change the World through Gun Control

Youth-Led Activism — Taking direct action to raise awareness, challenge assumptions and change the country’s opinions about gun control can allow young people to change the world. Youth activism allows children and youth to be democratically represented in the media, at home, in legislatures and throughout every discussion across the country, even in places that would deny them.

Running for Office — Whatever age they are, young people can run for office; making a stand and drawing attention to gun control is the point, always. Building momentum requires young people stay committed to gun control throughout their campaigns and if they are elected. Staunch adult champions for engaging youth in politics to build support for gun control is necessary too, whether they are young people or adults.

Youth as Voters — Demanding youth rights and fighting for youth suffrage can transform gun control. Whether using a protest vote by going to a voting place and casting a blank ballot to show youth dissatisfaction with the current gun laws, practices and attitudes across the country. Youth as voters can also vote for a youth candidate who is capable of sharing youth voice.


Things Youth Need to Change the World through Gun Control

Learning — In order to become engaged in changing the world through gun control, young people can learn about political systems, political actions, political issues and other realities within and around the political system. They can also conduct learning activities to leverage social change beyond laws.

Training — Training young people to change the world through politics means teaching them the skills they need to become involved in gun control. These skills can include communication, problem-solving, change management and conflict resolution skills. It also means participating in knowledge-sharing activities designed to build their capacity to take powerful action for gun control.

Inspiration — After 12, 14, 17 or 21 years of being told their voices don’t matter in gun control, young people may need inspiration to become engaged. Never in history have children and youth been seen or treated as serious political actors; given the opportunity, they will be. Inspiration from stories, parables, biographies and other sources can help prepare and sustain youth in gun control and beyond.


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

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

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 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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