Book Reviews

Freechild Institute reviews books related to youth + social change. They are generally for youth activists, adult allies, and about community involvement, young people, promoting social change, changing education, supporting youth rights, and more.

We welcome unsolicited submissions, but can’t guarantee a review. For more information, contact us.

Book Reviews

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A Review of How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office

A review of How to Get Stupid White Men Out of Office by Billy Upski, et al

In the sea of books out about the today’s political situation, few if any ask anything substantial of their readers and many leave a person feeling more cynical and helpless than before they started reading. At first glance, I threw How to Get stupid White Men Out of Office: The Anti-Politics, Un-Boring Guide to Power into that pile. However, I soon realized that this book offers something to its audience and asks something from its audience that isn’t found often.

The success stories found in this book offer examples of ways that young people from all areas of the country turned their anger into action and created change in their communities. That gives this book the potential to speak to an audience that is all too often ignored by politicians and lobbyists: real live young people. It has the potential also to speak to a wide range of brown, black, white, suburban, urban, and even rural youth who have been turned off by politics. From those who have never thought they could become involved in changing their community to those who through years of being tuned out by those in power have become cynical about the electoral system.

“Increasingly, the Greens are realizing that local elections provide the best opportunities to build up their base and mount a real challenge to the two party system. Progressive people across the country are parlaying activist energy into electoral victories.” (p 48)

Miram Markowitz, in her article titled, “Two Greens,” tells the story of how two young Greens made into office. This story, like many in the book focuses on local elections and brings to light the idea that working locally is the best and possibly only way to build a strong base of progressive voters in this country.

The only thing Stupid White Men doesn’t do is provide an actual “guide to power. While the potential for waking up many young and not so young people across the country is great, it isn’t particularly radical to say, “Get off your ass and get out the vote.” P. Diddy did that.

Maybe that’s a good thing though; every community has different needs and every person has a different set of abilities. What this book does offer is the message that whatever you decide to do, do what you can and do it relentlessly.



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Kari Kunst was a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington when she wrote this. She was involved in several activist campaigns, and was The Freechild Project Education Coordinator from 2002-2005.

A Review of The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear

A review of The Abandoned Generation: Democracy beyond the culture of fear by Henry Giroux

The most important contribution to our collective work for social change by and with young people in recent years is not being talked about. Perhaps because it is the most dangerous. Truth is told, lies exposed, agendas revealed, and purpose questioned.

The Abandoned Generation: Democracy Beyond the Culture of Fear was written by cultural theorist and Freechild Project advisor Henry Giroux. Giroux has been a scholar for 25 years, publishing more than 30 books and 250 scholarly articles. Some people refer to his work as socialist, dissident, and revolutionary; all very stand-offish terms for a man dedicated to revealing the various agendas against young people, democracy and social justice today. And reveal plots he does.

In this latest book Giroux carefully outlines several competing agendas for America’s children and youth, including that of the “Compassionate conservatives” of the Bush Administration destroying the federal funding base for several social programs designed to support low-income children and youth across the nation; Corporations fighting for a chance to run America’s schools, determined to indoctrinate the values of patriotic consumerism in school students by taking the “public” out of public schools, and; Mass media’s continued assault on mass culture’s perceptions of youth by consistently portraying young people as apathetic, trashed out waste who are only motivated by punishment and rewards.

Giroux speaks directly to young activists today, recognizing the power behind a lot of different groups, and offering a challenge for young people to connect with larger movements for social justice, like fighting for a radical, inclusive democracy instead of simply an end to sweatshop labor.

He also addresses educators, continuously calling for social justice, empowerment, and action in classrooms. Giroux shows how standardized tests serve multiple gods, enforcing racism, consumption, and class segregation in the name of “high performance.” There is a constant thread throughout the book calling for educators to teach critical thinking, active democracy, and community action for social change.

At a time when a lot of people see hope as a dirty word, Giroux calls it front and center. He challenges the reader to examine the power of Hope for themselves, and calls for us to remove Hope from a silly, idyllic notion of someday faraway to a present, guiding, active notion that can guide and engage people, young and old, everyday.

In my continued effort to explore the depth, purpose, and effects of youth-led community action, I have not found another book that is so determined to tell the truth; the challenge now is to get people to read it. I thoroughly recommend The Abandoned Generation to anyone dedicated to promoting social change by and with young people around the world, and eagerly await for the action that will follow.


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A Review of Letters to a Young Activist

A review of Todd Gitlin's Letters to a Young Activist by Kari Kunst for The Freechild Project

I set out to read Letters to a Young Activist with an open mind, even though the title made me cringe – I thought I might be in for a long lecture. As a young person, I welcome new knowledge and wisdom, but, I don’t need another lecture on what and how I should or more likely should not do as an activist.

The first paragraph set the tone for the rest of the book:

“Let’s agree to overlook (maybe even enjoy) the absurdity that joins us: You agree to indulge my lecturing on matters I didn’t quite understand until I was older than you, and I make every effort to connect to your passions and objections- to take your arguments seriously, even though you’re too young to have had the experience I draw on.”


With this Gitlin successfully alienated me and the majority of his “young activist” audience with condescending and obviously ignorant banter. This opening alone made me want to set down the book. It seemed as if Gitlin was saying “You should listen to my lecturing even though you couldn’t possibly understand it with your young mind and I will pay lip service to your idealistic and fantastical dreams.” Immediately I wondered who the target audience for this book really is.

Gitlin shared some useful insights about the not so glamorous struggles of the 1960’s anti-war movement. Including how it took shape and the opposition the movement faced from mainstream America. These facts often get left out when the media talks about the 60’s. He also gave his young activist audience some heartwarming though over heard statements about being the “future” and not giving up.

Unfortunately, Gitlin shows surprisingly little knowledge or understanding of the activist movements of today. The little he does care to investigate falls in the realm of campus activism leaving out some of the most exiting and inventive activist movements of today simply because those involved are not of the privileged class that can attend college or because they are too young.

It seems that Gitlin has no intention on starting a real dialogue with young or new activists of today and instead is writing these letters to relive and come to terms with his own activist past. What comes is a series of letters that read as letters of advice to his younger self, criticizing idealism and radical politics. This book may be better titled as Letters To a Young Democrat, for he warns us youngsters to settle for the lesser evil and “…either vote Democratic, or submit to the rule of the Republicans.”

What ever happened to the idea of voting your conscience or fighting for an end to the two party system whose candidates are barley distinguishable from each other? Gitlin called the idea of the formation of a truly radical party as “narcissism wearing a cloak of ideals.” I don’t think that it is selfish to want a government that truly speaks for the people; in fact I think that is what democracy is meant to be. It seems that Gitlin has become too cynical to accept the need for a certain amount of hopeful idealism in any movement.

What Gitlin fails to see, even though he claims that he does, is that new and young activists of today have learned from the sixties, and we are using our knowledge coupled with our idealism, to forge a new kind of activism, one that crosses generational gaps and that works on multiple levels at once; for policy changes within the system and against the underlying and deeply rooted flaws that allow for such policies to be implemented. These are movements were older activists are at once imparting wisdom to and gaining insights from younger and newer activists.

Maybe Gitlin cannot see this because he is not in touch with the activist movement of today. He is an accomplished media critic and historian but has separated himself form the very people who he is looking to inform with this book. I would not recommend this book to any young activist that I know unless I thought they needed fatherly lecture on compromising their ideals, but I might recommend it as great reading for any older former activist that could use a nostalgic look at their youth.


Book Details

  • Title: Letters to a Young Activist
  • Author: Todd Gitlin
  • Publisher: Basic Books


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ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Kari Kunst was a student at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington when she wrote this. She has been involved in several activist campaigns and was The Freechild Project Education Coordinator from 2002-2005.



A Review of Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution

A review of Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution by Derrick Jensen

One of the most important components of both education and activism is contextualization. As Paulo Freire argued, learning must be rooted in the context in which education takes place. For a sixth-grader in the US, that would be their local community; for a elderly person, that might be their family. For Derrick Jensen, that place was in classrooms at a university and a maximum security prison, where he was taught creative writing to Washington state college students and prisoners convicted of robbery, rape, and murder. In this book Jensen shares stories from those places as a guise and guide for the larger lessons, both hinted at and carefully detailed throughout this book.

The lessons here are truly revolutionary. The author begins by writing,

As is true for most people I know, I’ve always loved learning. As is also true for most people I know, I always hated school. Why is that?


With this opening line, Jensen begins a more-than-casual assault on traditional schooling, railing on everything from classroom seating arrangements to grading; from teaching methods to attendance. The lessons here a resonant of the teachings of both John Holt and John Taylor Gatto, the latter of whom Jensen credits greatly, and they give anecdotal meaning to some of the wisdom of by Grace Llewellyn and William Upski Wimsatt.

Through his lessons, Jensen gives substance and validity to many peoples’ feelings of alienation and disconnectedness in school, and offers a brilliant guide to creative writing along the way. Jensen writes,

Throughout our adult lives, most of us are expected to get to work on time, to do our boss’s bidding…and not to leave till the final bell has rung. It is expected that we will watch the clock, counting seconds till five o’clock, till Friday, till payday, till retirement, when at last our time will again be our own, as it was before we began kindergarten, or preschool, or daycare. Where do we learn to do all of this waiting?


The answer, of course, is school. School, Jensen says, is the “day-prison” where we learn to be “a nation of slaves.”

He then follows this daring declaration with another story from his prison experience, where he created “an atmosphere in which students wish to learn…”, which included asking both prisoners and college students to be uncomfortable in their search for meaning through writing. Throughout this book Jensen includes several useful writing tips that offer a unique twist to this book: while a significant diatribe against historical approaches to education, it provides useful methods for self-education and learning through life.

Ultimately Jensen achieves Freire’s challenge of sharing with students the goal of “reading the word through the world,” and in that is Jensen’s greatest success. This book is vitally important to any person seeking inspiration for learning outside the lines, both for its practical advice, and for the fact that it is coming from a seasoned educator.

I believe that it can also be important to young people particularly, because through his intelligent, accessible thinking, Jensen acknowledges what many youth believe: school isn’t relevant to young people today because teachers can’t be relevant to learning today. They just don’t know how. However, more importantly, Jensen himself disproves that, and may actually inspire young readers to look into places of higher education for the vital allyship and mentorship that adult educators can potentially offer.

As Jensen ponders the weight of the world throughout the book, including wrestling with conservatism, hopelessness and apathy, war, and many other feelings, he leaves readers with a challenging thought that easily summarizes the motivation of this book, and lends this book its essentialness in the activist library:

There is much work to be done. What are you waiting for? It’s time to begin.


It is time to begin. Thank you, Derrick Jensen, for giving us a roadway to get started.


Book Details

  • Title: Walking on Water: Reading, Writing, and Revolution
  • Author: Derrick Jensen
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing Company (2004)
  • ISBN: 1931498482


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A Review of Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era

A review of Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era by Giroux and Searls-Giroux

In Take Back High Education, Giroux and Searls Giroux take a continuing analysis of the neo-liberalization of American education one step further by going for the heart of the academy. They begin this journey by acknowledging that schools should not be narrowed out as “the key to revitalizing a waning political democracy.”

However, consistent with more than 25 years of critical reflection, the authors contend that higher education should be partners in the struggle for social justice, and that academics have a responsibility to engage young people in that struggle.

Giroux and Giroux charges the reader to look farther than schools by openly wondering “How do we invent a language of community or dare to asset a notion of public good…?” Throughout this book they return to this question, offering challenges to students, academics, and professors alike. The authors readily call on educators to build courses by combining,

“democratic principles, values, and practices with… the histories and struggles of those often marginalized because of race, class, gender, disability, or age” (p99).


Giroux and Giroux portray colleges and universities as being more than neglected by a public that denies their relevance; because of that, higher education is surrendering academic freedom and judiciousness to the highest bidder: namely, the corporate gods of the US. This new education-market economy is turning once prestigious institutions into psuedo-companies, bent on the “bottom line” and profit margins. However, the responsibility for the “take back” of higher education falls equally on administrative, political, and academic shoulders.

Giroux and Giroux call on educators to move beyond the land of academia and to integrate- personally and academically- into the larger spheres in the community, where culture and politics are truly learned and made relevant. They also implore educators to work collectively with other academics and with the larger community as partners- not experts- in important domestic problems. [In a particularly important honor to our work, Giroux and Giroux cite The Freechild Project as an example of academics becoming engaged as allies with resources to share (p115).]

Continually hammering the faults of profiteering in higher education, the authors write,

Neoliberalism, fueled by its unwavering belief in market values and the unyielding logic of corporate profit-making, has little patience with non-commodified knowledge or with the more lofty ideals that have defined higher education as a public service.


While this sounds specific to the settings of the community colleges, state colleges, and universities we might or have attended, there is truth within this statement that affects many workers in the nonprofit sector. The frightening indifference of neoliberalism to the mission of nonprofit service work has been tearing at the heart of this field in the last fifteen years that I’ve been in it. However, there is more on this in Henry Giroux’s next work.

At the end of the book the authors pose the question of whether there is a hope for democracy in higher education. After reading their thorough examination of the onslaught of neoliberalism against public goods, services, and civic freedoms in education, readers may think that Giroux and Giroux may think otherwise. Rather, they offer a different, more hopeful future. Highlighting the work of student activists across the nation, they offer the strikes, demonstrations, rallies, and other protests young people have led in the past ten years as evidence of the insurgent call for democracy in schools.

Coupled with the allyship of professors and the larger community, there is a possibility for better higher education. According to Giroux and Giroux that possibility is none other than the “promise of an unrealized democracy – a democracy that promise a different future, one that is filled with hope and mediated by the reality of democratic-based struggles.” That’s the future that we work for everyday – and the reason why you should read this book.


Book Details

  • Title: Take Back Higher Education: Race, Youth, and the Crisis of Democracy in the Post-Civil Rights Era
  • Authors: Henry Giroux and Susan Searls Giroux
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan


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A Review of Proto-Fascism in America: Neoliberalism and the Demise of Democracy

The Freechild Project advisor Henry Giroux

“War is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.” – George Orwell in 1984


This book is an intelligent, defining account of our times. Scholar and Freechild Project advisor Henry Giroux effectively and concisely exposes the tyranny of the Bush Administration, and indisputably links corporations to the highjacking of American democracy. Throughout this publication Giroux draws powerful correlations between news accounts and critical analysis, without oversimplifying or patronizing the reader. He offers a necessary guide to how the issues tie together: prisons, police, spies, weapons, soldiers + racial discrimination, demonizing youth, targeting young people of color for the military + defunding public services, defeating the Clean Air Act, Christian conservatism = neoliberal terrorism in our times. Most importantly though, Giroux details our need to develop a new way of approaching democracy that embraces democratic action and engagement for all people, especially young people.

Giroux explains that part of this new approach is connecting the apparent intransigence of the public today to the larger forces of the anti-community: crass consumerism and the multi-national corporations which have driven the marketplace into every aspect of public life: education, health care, and the duties of the government across the board. Giroux has gone beyond his former analysis of public education and popular media. Instead, his critical eye turns now towards the entities that democratic society insists we all be responsible for: government, community, and our social fabric.

Through this lens Giroux identifies the Bush Administration as hostile towards young people, by militarizing public schools, over-incarcerating young people of color, and defunding youth programs. He writes,

…[F]ear, punishment, and containment continue to override the need to provide health care for… children, increase the ranks of teachers… repair deteriorating schools, and improve youth services that for many poor students, would provide an alternative to the direct pipeline between school and the local police station, the courts, or prison.


Giroux particularly identifies George Bush’s refusal to ratify the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, and carefully deconstructs the effects of education systems that serve as the deliverers and enforcers of a neoliberal agenda intent on taking freedom away from children and youth, people of color and working-class communities. By exposing a school reform agenda intent on taking away the rights of youth, Giroux exposes,

the not-so-hidden curriculum… that kids can’t be trusted and that their rights aren’t worth protecting. At the same time, they are being educated to passively accept military-sanctioned practices organized around maintaining control, surveillance, and unquestioned authority.


Giroux contends that this agenda, doubled with the agenda of the “military-industrial-education complex,” reinforces the work of Army recruiters who are speaking directly to youth today. By “discover[ing] hip hop and urban culture,” and disregarding the problems young people, particularly urban and low-income youth, face at home today, the Army lures young people with “the Hummer, where they can pep the sound system or watch recruitment videos.” Giroux explores the effects this has on marginalized youth, as “school becomes a training ground for their ‘graduation’ into containment centers such as prisons and jails.” One is that “young people no longer learn military values in training camps or military-oriented schools.” They are learned through popular media and people: movies, MTV, music, friends, and family.

Young people are not islands from themselves, disconnected from larger concerns in society. Through action for social change all young people can become actors in the larger spectrum of society. It is through these actions that youth can become engaged in democracy and effectively learn from their life experiences. Neoliberalism is the attempt of consumerist, corporate America to steal politics, history, and culture from popular society, instead replacing them with an economy of greed, and consumption. This book provides an critical bridge for facilitators of youth action to connect young people to the fight against modern American fascism, and challenge young people with a powerful, accessible call to action.

In the end, Giroux calls on us, individual people, to fight neoliberalism in our lives and to end its widespread grips on our society. Young people are central to this challenge. He ends the book with a call to “act… now because the stakes have never been so high and the future so dark.” With George Bush continuing to damn young people and escalating the war against youth, young people and their allies are faced with no choice but to take action. These are our times, and as The Freechild Project has exposed, young people have the capacity. This book can serve as a powerful weapon in the fight.


Book Details

  • Title: Proto-Fascism in America: Neoliberalism and the Demise of Democracy
  • Author: Henry Giroux
  • Publisher: Phi Delta Kappa Education Foundation


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A Review of The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy

A review of The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy by Henry Giroux

Every person who works with young people should know that politics is more than the Democrats or who you are voting for in the next election. Much more. Dozens of people have spent hundreds of hours speaking and thousands of pages writing to explain how politics underscores everything that we–as individuals and as a society–do every moment of every day of our lives. This kind of politics helps us make up our minds about what clothes to wear to work; what job to work at; who we work for; and, most importantly to youth workers and educators, what work we actually do.

A new book illustrates how a hellacious political reality is actually altering the society we live in right now. In The Terror of Neoliberalism: Authoritarianism and the Eclipse of Democracy, scholar Henry Giroux outlines how neoliberalism – the belief that the private sector should be wholly responsible for the public good – is about more than money. Throughout this book, Giroux explains how neoliberalism is actually a set of values, ideologies, and practices that is actively recreating America today–for the worse. Of course, CNN, the presidential elections, and the never-ending war in Iraq have proven that the political and economic reality of democracy in the US has changed. But Giroux exposes a more terrifying plot.

Neoliberalism is changing the very meaning of democracy today. Where democracy once depended on people becoming socially and politically involved throughout their communities, today that is an option. The schools, youth programs, community centers, and agencies where many young people spend the majority of their days have lost their place at the table of democratic importance. Do you want to understand the onslaught of high-stakes testing in schools? The defunding of programs for children and youth? The ongoing newspaper stories about so-called youth apathy? The seeming disregard for children and youth that fills our communities today?

Giroux cites the resistance against neoliberalism in all of its forms around the world today. The work of The Freechild Project, the mass movement against globalization, and the struggle for social justice in education each epitomize the struggle; but individually none summarizes the whole effort. Giroux writes, “…[Activism is] not limited to identity politics focused on particularized rights and interests.” Instead, the interests of young people and their communities, as well as those of the anti-globalization movement and many others are put into the larger context of building democracy. As Giroux explains,

“Democracy in this view is not limited to the struggle over economic resources and power; indeed, it includes the creation of public [places] where individuals can be educated as political agents equipped with the skills, capacities, and knowledge they need…”


With that premise established early in the book, Giroux proceeds to dissect and examine the realities of neoliberalism. He details the ability of the government to extinguish the capacity of society to make significant change in society by examining the effects of September 11, 2001, and the militarization of America. Giroux also outlines how neoliberalism has created a “new racism,” evidenced by the corporate powers that control law enforcement, education systems, and increasingly, community governments.

However, with his emphasis of the effects of neoliberalism across the spectrum, Giroux pulls a coup by reintroducing his ongoing analysis of youth in the US today with a chapter entitled, “Class Casualties: Disappearing Youth in the Age of Market Fundamentalism. What the chapter essentially proposes is that children and youth are subject to the whims of society, despite (or because of) the reality that young people “embody the project dreams, desires, and commitment of a society’s obligations to the future.”

With this premise, Giroux sketches out how the American War Against Youth continues, as the programs and services which once benefited children and youth are slashed across the board, and as popular culture increasingly erases any optimistic expectations society may have of young people. Giroux explains,

“Rather than being cherished as a symbol of the future, youth are now seen as a threat to be feared and a problem to be contained… Youth are currently being framed as both a generation of suspects and a threat to public life.”


Giroux details how “the ongoing war against justice, freedom, citizenship, and democracy” is focused at young people today. He thoroughly explores how curfews, physical searches, profiling, and drug testing are heaved upon schools, youth programs, and communities as solutions to the “youth problem.” Poverty, childcare, healthcare, and education are all challenges that must be meant by an ever-growing private sector.

Meanwhile, the number of children and youth who struggle to survive in low-income communities and communities of color grows, while federal policies increasingly legitimize “tough love” policies for all of America’s youth. Giroux also examines how juvenile detention for youth and lock-up rooms for 8-year-olds typify the norm, not the exception. This is neoliberalism at work in the lives of young people today.

Neoliberalism is seeping “into every aspect of American life… It thrives on a culture of cynicism, insecurity, and despair.” But the solution is as complex as the problem. “Democracy is too weak,” Giroux quotes Benjamin Barber as saying. When culture combines with politics to become entertainment (Giroux says think of the California governor), and when corporate powers– instead of the democracy– control the media, we’ve got a serious problem. And it is not an issue of whether education (and youth programs, or community organizations) has “become contaminated with politics; it is more importantly about recognizing that education is already a space of politics, power, and authority.”

Giroux proposes that we, as young people, youth workers, and educators “appropriate, invent, direct, and control” the politics within our efforts. Whether you facilitate after school activities, work with youth-led community organizing programs, or teach in a middle school classroom, you have the opportunity– or more appropriately, the responsibility– to “work against a politics of certainty, a pedagogy of censorship, and an institutional formation that closes down rather than opens up democratic relations.”

The one of his most directive moments yet, Giroux implores educators to “teach students to be skilled citizens… learn how to use the Freedom of Information Act, know constitutional rights, build coalitions, write policy papers, learn the tools of democracy, analyze social problems, or learn how to make a difference in one’s life through individual and social engagements.”

In the final chapter of this book Giroux deeply explores the implications of the work of Edward Said, renowned a renowned theorist, activist, and author. Giroux explores the implications of Said’s work on neoliberalism, sighting his recognition that “the war on terror has become a rationale for a war on democracy… against any movement that fights for justice, liberty, and equality…” Giroux offers Said’s life and work as a “model and inspiration for what it means to take back politics, social agency, collective struggle, and the ability to define the future.” He repeats Said’s call for “academics, students, and other cultural workers” to activate, mobilize, organize, and agitate society by “educating the public to think and act as active citizens in an inclusive democracy.”

But the conclusion the book holds the gauntlet over our heads, collectively, as people who are committed to young people, social change, and justice. Giroux cites Said’s call for groups to “put aside their petty squabbling over identities and differences and to join together collectively… [as a] coalition against those forces of totalitarianism lite, without anyone much noticing, or for that matter complaining.” This call for awakeness resonates with Dr. Martin Luther King’s message in his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?, where he wrote:

“One of the great liabilities of history is that all too many people fail to remain awake through great periods of social change. Every society has its protectors of status quo and its fraternities of the indifferent who are notorious for sleeping through revolutions. Today, our very survival depends on our ability to stay awake, to adjust to new ideas, to remain vigilant and to face the challenge of change.”

In The Terror of Neoliberalism Henry Giroux reissues this call, reemphasizes Said’s mission, and issues a new demand for all of us to become active, engaged, and effective allies in our collective struggles against neoliberalism, and for democracy. It is up to you to hear this call.


Book Details


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A Review of Making Space – Making Change

Making Spaces Making Change by the Young Wisdom Project of the Movement Strategy Project

Responding to a crisis is not easy work. People who spend day in and out working for the good of other people are often taxed to the extremes: selflessness and empathy override their commitment to themselves.

That is why it is so rare to capture a succinct yet powerful overview of youth activism today: democracy is in crisis mode, and those who are struggling for its life are being pushed to the extremes. That is why Making Space – Making Change is the most important document focusing on young people and social change to come out in recent times.

This new publication from the Movement Strategy Center in Oakland profiles five youth-led and youth-driven organizations from across the U.S. It provides insightful details on how these organizations started, how they build youth leadership and power, deal with challenges, and how they make real change in their communities.

For readers of Paulo Freire, bell hooks, Peter McLaren, and other critical educators, there are many familiar points- but with an important focus on social change led by young people. Early in the introduction to youth-led action, the authors state,

“Instead of approaching the question of youth-led organizations as an either/or situation, it’s helpful to think about youth leadership and governance as a continuum with a spectrum of possibilities – something that can develop and change over time.” (p 15)


This echoes bell hooks recent book, Teaching for Community: A Pedagogy of Hope, where hooks extols readers to look beyond either/or and towards with/and. The authors of this report provide an important bridge to many critical thinkers, applying much-needed theory to the powerful, practical work of youth activists.

Rather than simply providing another toolkit, this report allows the details to tell the stories. The feature on the Lummi CEDAR Project, as all of the stories, paints a vivid portrait of a community responding to the dilemma of keeping cultural pride and community alive by engaging youth. This project highlights the power of belonging and identity, a trait that consumerist culture increasingly denies to many young people. As in other stories, the report is frank about the challenges facing the CEDAR Project: Creating a youth-led structure for an indigenous context; adapting organizational development models; and creating a culturally relevant youth organizing model in a rural Native community.

However, the summaries are always hopeful – realistic, for sure – but hopeful. As one of the youth directors said,

“It’s really awesome to me because our community is a small tribal community, and we have eighty young people trained now. So we have a broad network living a healthy lifestyle, caring about their community, inspired, motivated, and have this drive to make a positive change in their community. And that impacts their family… We’re just building a collective movement…” (p 41)


Making Space – Making Change is an important tool for young people and adults allies who are ready to put their principles into practice. It is a more important tool in the growing library of publications that support young people leading social change. Important analysis, detailed findings, and powerful personal connections can only promote a stronger, more effective future for social change led by and with young people. Thank you to the Young Wisdom Project – we’re all moving forward because of your work.


Book Details


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A Review of Eliminating Corporal Punishment

Eliminating corporal punishment: The way forward to constructive child discipline Authors: Edited by S. Hart with J. Durrant, P. Newell, and F.C. Power

Spanking, slapping, smacking, pulling ears, pinching, shaking… Hitting with rulers, belts, wooden spoons, extension cords, slippers, hairbrushes, pins, sticks, whips, rubber hoses, flyswatters, wire hangers, stones, bats, canes, or paddles… Forcing a child to stand for a long period; hold an uncomfortable position; stand motionless; kneel on rice, corn, floor grates, pencils or stones; retain body wastes; perform strenuous exersize; or ingest soap, hot sauce, or lemon juice… THIS IS CORPOREAL PUNISHMENT. Anytime a young person is subjected to this treatment they are being abused. These forms of abuse are the cruelest, most unjust, and most ineffective treatment young people can receive.

Earlier this year the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO, released the seminal publication available for anyone interested in securing the most basic right of any person today: that is, the right to live in peace. While it sounds simplistic and naive, violence is a daily reality for almost every young person in the world today. There is physical violence, like war, family abuse, bullying, and gang violence. There is mental abuse, like parental abuse, teacher abuse, or verbal put-downs. But there is also the abuse of being neglected everyday by the institutions that purportedly are designed to empower children and youth, such as schools, hospitals, and governments. There is violence hurdled through popular media, like television shows, songs on the radio, and video games. And there is the violence that surrounds young people everyday, seeping into everyone’s hearts and minds without us being aware of it: another bombing overseas, another vicious attack on public funding, another slander against youth in the paper…

These abuses add up. As the book notes,

“Corporal punishment of adults is prohibited in well over half the world’s countries, yet only 15 of the 190-plus nations have prohibited all corporal punishment of children, including in the family.”


There is little wonder in my mind about why young people appear “apathetic” and “disenchanted” with a world so intent on numbing them to pain, hatred, cynicism and violence.

That is why this book is so important. For the first time my Americanized eyes are beginning to fully comprehend the global imperative any ethical person faces when dealing with the situation of young people today. That is, we must stand with young people to change the situations that they face, and that our world faces. While I’ve always believed that, I’ve never been fully able to describe why – until now. Now I’m beginning to understand the larger picture.

By situating its premise in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, or the CRC, Eliminating Corporal Punishment serves as a powerful international wake-up call, shattering any formerly sentimentalist or naive perceptions about the need to fight with young people for their rights. The CRC boldly declares that,

“Young people must be meaningfully involved in promoting and strategizing action on violence against children… Children… need to be well informed about their rights, and fully involved in the life of the [community and] school…”


This call situates corporal punishment as a fully-authorized premise for social action in 198 countries around the world- minus the US and Somalia- and even they have signaled their intent to sign on. There is no other convention, consensus, or constitution in the world that is more widely accepted.

So the majority of global society aggress that corporal punishment is a significant premise social change. I believe that corporal punishment is the root of all discrimination in society. Sure, its premised on the hatred of young people, on adultism, on the self- and cultural repression of childhood… and its exacerbated by dozens of other factors, including socio-economic class, gender, race, ethnicity, and more… but I wouldn’t have been able to confirm that for you without this book. Today I understand that corporal punishment is at the heart of all this, and more.

What this book essentially does is provides an astoundingly comprehensive, yet relatively simple summary and analysis of corporal punishment, its background, and the effects and outcomes on our society. Then it carefully proposes culturally-relevant, socially-progressive responses to developing holistic, caring, and supportive responses to discipline that all adults – parents, teachers, youth workers, and others – can stand to learn from. A variety of illustrative anecdotes and a massive research scan all confirm that this is the most powerful, positive change that can possibly affect young people in around the world today.

There is so much I can say about this book. My own copy is almost completely marked-up on many pages, and I have dog-eared dozens of pages to reference and return to in the future. I would strongly suggest this book to anyone who wants an introduction to corporal punishment; to anyone interested in understanding the larger societal influences, impacts, outcomes, and forces at work behind corporal punishment; to anyone who wants to discover the international affects of corporal punishment; and to anyone who wants to understand the relationships between corporal punishment and adultism, ageism, and discrimination of all sorts. In short, I highly recommend this book to anyone who cares.


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