Youth Action Planning

Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World by Adam Fletcher for the Freechild Institute

Do you want to take action with young people? Children, youth and adults around the world are working together more than ever to make a difference. It can be hard figuring out the process though!

After almost 20 years of launching youth action projects around the world, Freechild thinks we should share what we’ve learned. In addition to our workshops and books, we want to make sure anyone can take positive, powerful action to make the world a better place.

Here is the Freechild Institute’s youth action planning process.

Steps for Planning Youth Action

  1. Find history. Young people have been making positive, powerful change for a long time. Learn about it, read stories, ask older people and get connected. Read about the history of youth action here »
  2. Explore power. In a world run by the powerful, it’s important to rise above being powerless. When we work together in community to make a difference, children, youth and adults can create power and challenge those in power. Read a focus on youth power here »
  3. Define the issue. What do you want to change? Research what matters to you, explore how to make a difference, and get info. Read about the issues here »
  4. Build community. The powerful want to cut off youth from each other and adults. Challenge that by rallying your friends, strangers, older and younger people, and people who are different from you. Get everyone involved in taking action. Read about youth organizations here » 
  5. Network. Find people who aren’t invested in your issue who’ll be your allies and build coalitions to for them to share space, ideas, knowledge and strength with you. Read more about the youth movement here »
  6. Map engagement. Match action to your issue, map out the steps to making a difference, name your communication strategy, and get to work. Read how to create a youth engagement map here »
  7. Celebrate. Reach out to the people, organizations, elected officials and others who are your allies, as well as people in your networks using social media and in-person contacts. Tell what’s happening, gather ideas and support, and keep moving. Read stories of youth changing the world here »
  8. Reflect on it. Look back on what’s happened, explore what you have done and could do, and plan your next steps using your new learning. Read about how to reflect here »

Once you’ve planned action, take action! Remember Freechild’s motto: “Once through action do words take power!”


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Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World by Adam Fletcher for the Freechild Institute
Freechild Youth Handbook: Get Engaged and Change the World

Quotes about Critical Pedagogy

Critical pedagogy is a revolutionary approach to teaching and learning, as it strives to create an equitable, just and fair world through the radical facilitation of social justice within communities of learners. A growing tradition among youth engagement facilitators, critical pedagogy is sometimes referred to as problem-posing education or popular education.

Following are some quotes related to critical pedagogy. It can be dangerous to take these quotes out of context or to minimize what is being said. As Paulo Freire wrote in Pedagogy of the Oppressed, “Manipulation, sloganizing, “depositing,” regimentation, and prescription cannot be components of revolutionary praxis, precisely because they are component of the praxis of domination.” If you’re serious about learning about critical pedagogy we suggest you learn more and take critical, conscious action. The following are quotes that inspire Freechild Institute; maybe they’ll inspire you, too.

 


Quotes on Critical Pedagogy for Youth

“We make the road by walking.” ― Paulo Freire and Myles Horton

“This movement of inquiry must be directed towards humanization — the people’s historical vocation. The pursuit of full humanity, however, cannot be carried out in isolation or individualism, but only in fellowship and solidarity; therefore it cannot unfold in the antagonistic relations between oppressors and oppressed.” — Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“The classroom remains the most radical space of possibility in the academy.” ― bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“Critical pedagogy is a movement and an ongoing struggle taking place in a number of different social formations and places.” ― Henry Giroux

“The educator for liberation has to die as the unilateral educator of the educatees, in order to be born again as the educator-educatee of the educatees-educators. An educator is a person who has to live in the deep significance of Easter.” ― Paulo Freire as quoted by Paul Taylor in The Texts of Paulo Freire

“As a classroom community, our capacity to generate excitement is deeply affected by our interest in one another, in hearing one another’s voices, in recognizing one another’s presence.” ― bell hooks, Teaching To Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“Getting ahead cannot be the only motive that motivates people” ― Henry Giroux, Youth in a Suspect Society: Democracy or Disposability?

“Freedom is acquired by conquest, not by gift. It must be pursued constantly and responsibly. Freedom is not an ideal located outside of man; nor is it an idea which becomes myth. It is rather the indispensable condition for the quest for human completion.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Home was the place where I was forced to conform to someone else’s image of who and what I should be. School was the place where I could forget that self and, through ideas, reinvent myself.” ― bell hooks, Teaching To Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“I have not forgotten the day a student came to class and told me: ‘We take your class. We learn to look at the world from a critical standpoint, one that considers race, sex, and class. And we can’t enjoy life anymore.'” – bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“The stories a society tells about itself are a measure of how it values itself, the ideals of democracy, and its future.” ― Henry Giroux

“Many of these leaders, however (perhaps due to the natural and understandable biases against pedagogy) have ended up using the ‘educational’ methods employed by the oppressor. They deny pedagogical action in the liberation process, but they use propaganda to convince.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Dialogue further requires an intense faith in humankind, faith in the power to make and remake, to create and recreate, faith in their vocation to be more fully human (which is a privileged of an elite, but the birthright of all).” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“When everyone in the classroom, teacher and students, recognizes that they are responsible for creating a learning community together, learning is at its most meaningful and useful.” ― bell hooks, Teaching Critical Thinking

“The central element of teaching for social justice is intended to address the supposed tyranny of the banking model – teachers must learn from their students, much as well-heeled revolutionaries must learn from the oppressed people they wish to liberate.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Power is never so overwhelming that there’s no room for resistance.” ― Henry Giroux

“Worse yet, it [banking model] turns them [students] into ‘containers’ to be ‘filled’ by the teacher. The more completely she fills the receptacles, the better a teacher she is. The more meekly the receptacles permit themselves to be filled, the better students they are.” ― Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“The school system is mostly geared to the interests, skills, and attitudes of the middle-class child. Though I also argue that the system is failing to educate middle-class students, it is the children of poverty who really suffer, being streamed into courses that prepare them for a life of temporary, dead-end, underpaid, undignified, and menial jobs.” ― Peter McLaren, Life in Schools: An introduction to critical pedagogy

“The teacher presents the material to the students for their consideration, and reconsiders her earlier considerations as the students express their own.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Critical pedagogy is concerned with teaching students how not only to think but to come to grips with a sense of individual and social responsibility, and what it means to be responsible for one’s actions as part of a broader attempt to be an engaged citizen who can expand and deepen the possibilities of democratic public life.” ― Henry Giroux

“Any situation in which some individuals prevent others from engaging in the process of inquiry is one of violence. The means used are not important; to alienate human beings from their own decision-making is to change them into objects.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

“Engaged pedagogy does not seek simply to empower students. Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process.” ― bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom

“Through dialogue, the teacher-of-the-students and the students-of-the-teacher cease to exist and a new term emerges: teacher-student and student-teachers’ who are ‘jointly responsible for a process in which both grow.” – Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of the Oppressed

 


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Youth/Adult Partnerships: Nothing About Us Without Us Is For Us

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 + Social Change through Radical Transparency With Children and Youth

Youth in Seattle with a Freechild Project summer camp

After 15 years of promoting youth/adult partnerships, Freechild Institute 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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Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how Freechild Institute can support radical transparency in your community or organization, contact us.

The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher
The Practice of Youth Engagement by Adam Fletcher!

Why Play Games When There’s Work To Do? Fun, Games and Social Change

SoundOut Summer Camp Participants

“There are at least two kinds of games.  One would be called finite, the other infinite.  A finite game is played for the purpose of winning, and an infinite game is played for the purpose of continuing to play.  The rules of a finite game may not change; the rules of an infinite game must… The finite game player aims to win eternal life; the infinite player aims for eternal birth.” – James P. Carse, as quoted by Dale LeFevre*

 

“We must abandon completely the naive faith that education automatically liberates the mind and serves the cause of human progress; in fact we know it may serve any cause. It may serve tyranny as well as freedom, ignorance as well as enlightenment, falsehood as well as truth. It may lead men and women to think they are free even as it rivets them in chains of bondage… In the course of history, education has served every purpose and doctrine contrived by man; if it is to serve the cause of human freedom, it must be explicitly designed for that purpose.” – George Counts*

 

There’s so much to do!  Communities seem like they’re falling apart; and young people, old people, brown people, black people, poor people, and lots of other people aren’t getting the respect or power they deserve.  Why play games when there’s so much work to do?  There’s a lot of reasons to look at, but first let’s define what we’re talking about.

 

What Are Cooperative Games?

Cooperative games emphasize participation, challenge and fun rather then defeating someone. Cooperative games focus on fun and interaction rather than competition and alienation. Cooperative games are not new.

Some of the classic games we played as children are classic because they focused on play. There may be competition involved, but the outcome of the competition is not sitting out or losing. Instead, it may involve switching teams so that everyone ends up on the winning team.

 

What Are Initiative Games?

Initiative games are fun, cooperative, challenging games in which the group is confronted with a specific problem to solve. Initiative games can be used for several reasons.  The games can be used to demonstrate and teach leadership skills to people, which helps to promote the growth of trust and problem-solving skills in groups.  Games demonstrate a process of thinking about experiences that helps people learn and practice responsibility.

Some people avoid calling them “games,” choosing “activity,” “challenge,” or “problem” instead.  Whatever a group chooses to call them, these games can boost our efforts to create powerful, lasting community change.

 

Why Play Games?

When a group of people are preparing to participate in social change, there needs to be some breaking down of inhibitions before they become group participants.  “There is no ‘I’ in T-E-A-M” and all that.  Before a group can build effective solutions to the problems facing their communities, they need to trust each other and communicate.

Cooperative games also help set the tone of an action.  Social change work is often hard-driven and energy-consuming.  Many groups find that cooperative games offer a brisk, friendly way to couple passionate task-oriented goals with driven, group-minded teambuilding.  In other words, fun and games help propel social change.

Another purpose of games is to get people to think together, as a team, so that everyone in the group has input and shares ideas.  When we have input we have ownership, and when more people have ownership there is more success.

 

Aren’t Games Distracting?

When used right, games can actually accentuate the purpose of your day’s work or your group’s purpose.  Through a technique called “framing,” games become relevant and powerful tools to break down barriers, build up focus, and make your group’s process more effective and inclusive of all involved.

In all settings games should be used to build a sense of purpose, passion, and opportunity.  Without those pieces as goals, games become pacifiers for the grown, as their potential to stave off the appetite of a group that hungers for power is immense.  In classrooms where teachers use games as “fillers” the students mope lazily back to their desks, as they know the grueling pain of continuity is about to continue.  In classrooms where teachers use the games in context of the lessons, students aim to learn with eagerness and a sense of purpose.

The purpose of the games is often set during the introduction, or framing, of the activity.  Participants may be forewarned of the deeper meanings, or the activity may be introduced as a metaphor.  Another way to inject purpose into activities is in the reflection or debriefing of the activity.

An easy way to see the relevance of reflection is to picture games as a circle: you start with an explanation of the activity, framing its purpose and goals to the group.  The activity progresses, with the facilitator taking a more hands-on or less guiding approach as needed.  Finally, the group reflection helps participants see how they met the goal, and to envision the broader social change implications.  Then the group has come full-circle.

 

What Games Should We Play?

Games can be chosen to meet almost any purpose.  The following games mentioned are all in the book mentioned below. Does your group need to develop its teambuilding skills?  Try the Caterpillar.  Do you need to work closely and get used to each other’s physical space?  Try Sardines.  You’ve been inside all day, sitting on your butts and thinking, and you just want to play?  Check out Blob Tag or Human Scissors-Paper-Rock .  Your group needs to trust each mentally, emotionally, and physically?  Use the Trust Circle.  Learning, trusting, feeling and thinking together are the goals of these games.  Its helpful for every group to remember that.

 

Many people use games as an introduction or a closing to their activities.  However, its a good idea to add them throughout your day, between or as a part of a larger event.  Games are a great way to break up the monotony of a long day’s learning, or a hard day’s work.  They are also a great way to keep small children busy, and big children happy.  You may want to play a game to reinforce teamwork after a sucky day (because they happen) or play a game to relieve some group stress or build the scenario to work through a problem.  Games are actually tools that a skilled facilitator has at their fingertips in a time of need.

 

Great! How Do We Get Started?

Below is a list of easy-to-use games.  They come from a wide collection of games available from the Freechild Project’s FireStarter Youth Power Curriculum.  Check out this list and go visit FireStarter for more!  You can also look up the bibliography listed under the Facilitator’s Guide there.

For many more resources on cooperative and initiative games, visit the links on the right, and read some of the great books available (especially those by the greats Karl Rohnke and Dale LeFevre.  Play safe, play purposefully, play fun and play hard!

 

Selected Games

Check out our free book, The Freechild Project Guide to Cooperative Games for Social Change. This insightful new guide will help community workers, teachers, activists, and all kinds of people find fun, engaging, and powerful activities that promote teamwork, communication, and social justice.

Sources
  • LeFevre, Dale (1988) New Games for the Whole Family. New York: Perigee Books.
  • Counts, George S. (1963) Education and the Foundations of Human Freedom. Out-of-print.

 

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Share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support cooperative games and teambuilding in your community or organization, contact us.

Defeating Adultism

Our society is deeply entrenched in adultism, which is bias towards adults and consequently, discrimination against young people. It is prevalent throughout the institutions of our society. In order to re-negotiate adultism, we have to identify what support has to exist throughout society. I call this support “scaffolding”. I call this re-negotiating “youth integration”.

Youth integration will occur in two steps:

  1. The first step is desegregation of youth, which is deliberately ending the segregation of young people throughout society. Today, segregation happens implicitly and explicitly throughout society, including schools, at home, in commerce, and in law-making, enforcement, and courts. Desegregation will address the tools of segregation, including policies and practices, as well as the attitudes and opinions that reinforce them.
  2. The second step is integration of youth. When young people are re-established in equitable relationships throughout society, including their relationships with parents, teachers, youth workers, police, and others, integration is present. It is a deliberate step meant to stop and reverse segregation.
IfightAdultism

Scaffolding Against Adultism

Supporting young people as adultism is defeated  throughout society has to be done with deliberation and determination. Challenging adultism and fighting discrimination against youth must be situated in the larger struggle for nonviolence and social justice across our society. Awareness of these struggles and attuning with great legacies of transformation positions young people as the substantive leaders in social change they have been for more than 100 years.

Following are three central elements in the scaffolding.

Element One: Culture

The first column of scaffolding for youth integration is Culture. Culture is made of the beliefs, habits values, visions, norms, systems, and symbols within a specific and definable community. Adultism is made in the fiery furnace of culture, as groups of people work together to define and reinforce stringent perspectives that re-enforce adultism. In the same way, culture can help examine those assumptions and redefine them in line with social justice through youth integration.  

adultismaffectsprogramoutcomes

Element Two: Structure

The named activities, policies, strategies, processes, allocation, coordination, and supervision of people throughout a community happens through the structure of a definable group of people. In schools, structure includes school rules and curriculum; in society, it includes laws and policing. Structure makes things happen, enforces those things, and encourages them. Structural change promoting youth integration requires deliberate action for transformation. It should actively engage young people in equitable relationships while establishing and maintaining adult allyships.

adultismaffectsadultattitudes

Element Three: Attitude

Where culture and structure belong to a group, attitude belongs to individuals. “Your attitude determines your altitude” applies to adult understandings of youth: “Adult attitude determines youth altitude.” In our adult-dominated, adult-driven society, young people are subject to and subjugated by adult opinions, actions, attitudes, knowledge, and beliefs. This is the full effect of adultism. In order to counter this effect, we must change our own attitudes and provide opportunities for the people around us to change theirs, including youth and adults. This takes new ways of communicating, interacting, and being. It takes personal engagement within our selves and throughout the worlds around us.

adultismaffectsyouthprogramdesign

We must address each of these elements when we seek to integrate young people in any part of society. Each is present throughout all the formal and informal institutions throughout our society. You can find culture, structure, and attitude in individual homes, schools, governments, and other places. By creating scaffolding for youth integration, we can re-negotiate adultism throughout our lives.

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Cultural Adultism

Cultural adultism is a very ambiguous, yet very prevalent, form of discrimination and intolerance towards youth. It is one of the pillars of adultism that informs our society’s conception of adulthood.

Adultism informs our society’s conception of adulthood through our cultures, structures, and attitudes.

Any restriction or exploitation of people because of their young age, as opposed to their ability, comprehension, or capacity, may be said to be adultist. These restrictions are often attributed to “better judgment”, the “wisdom of age”, or other popular age-related euphemism that is afforded to adults simply because of their age. Examples of where this plays out include:

  • Portrayal of youth as apathetic by media
  • Anti-youth store rules
  • Child abuse
  • Academic misconceptions of youth, supported by bad research
  • Ongoing commericalization of the culture young people partake in
  • Online filters
  • Corporal punishment
  • Literature
  • Child labor
  • Mass marketing of pre-packaged youth culture to youth and adults
  • Peer pressure
  • Child prostitution
  • Fashion controversies
  • Political and sociological scapegoating of youth
  • Stereotypes about youth subcultures
  • Teen sex
Time Magazine Cover
A very adultist magazine cover reflecting cultural bias towards adults, and discrimination against young people.

Causes of Cultural Adultism

Adultism is bias towards adults. Bias towards adults happens anytime the opinions, ideas, knowledge, beliefs, abilities, attitudes, or cultures of adults are held above those of people who aren’t considered adults because they’re not considered adults. Because of this, our very conception of childhood itself is adultism at work. Anyone who works professionally or lives in society with young people as an adult is inherently adultist.

Our adultist attitudes are primarily demonstrated as discrimination against children and youth. This comes across in our national, state, and local laws; educational, health, nutritional, and social policies; family norms; religious and spiritual beliefs; and social customs. Everything from the height of dinner tables to compulsory education passively and actively reflects adultism. Seeking to make the world into our vision of things, adults invented the phenomenon of childhood to ensure that kids were comprehensible and controllable. Because of that, the status of children has become passive, static, and predictable.

Does that make adults wrong or bad? Not all the time and not everywhere. There are times when, as an adult, I am discriminated against. Legally, I cannot go into a hospital and operate on someone, nor can I drive an 18-wheel semi-truck. Culturally, it is inappropriate for me to use a women’s changing room at a store or attend a self-help group for narcotics. None of those examples are inherently bad or wrong. They are intended to keep myself or others safe. Its the same with much well-meaning adultism that is intended to keep young people or others safe. If a building is burning down, as an adult I feel its my responsibility to grab everyone and make sure they’re out of the building, regardless of age.

However, in our society adults always act like the building is burning down. That’s what must change. People who want to change the miserable state of affairs facing the world must take action to stop adultism now. We must challenge the ineptitude of adults and their intransigence towards the changing abilities and roles of young people throughout society. We must push back against age-based assumptions that have nothing to do with the capacity of young people.

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Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!

Attitudinal Adultism

Students in the SoundOut Summer Camp in Seattle

Attitudinal adultism, also called internalized adultism, is the deeply personal attitude of children, youth and adults that is biased towards adults.

Adultism informs our society’s conception of adulthood through our cultures, structures, and attitudes.

In his booklet called, Adults as Allies, [PDF] Barry Checkoway of the University of Michigan School of Social Work writes that

adultism causes youth to “question their own legitimacy, doubt their ability to make a difference…” and perpetuate a “culture of silence” among young people.

In his article called “Understanding Adultism A Key to Developing Positive Youth-Adult Relationships”, John Bell expands on that assessment, with a series of examples of what internalized adultism looks like. I summarize and expand on them as:

  • Adults envying the “personhood” of young people
  • Adults discounting or underestimating the ability of young people
  • Young people seeking constant approval from adults
  • Young people denying solidarity with their age-similar peers
  • Peer-to-peer violence
  • Corporal punishment
  • Sexual abuse
  • Verbal abuse
  • Forced religious attendance
  • Home curfew rules
Adultism is 1) Bias towards adults; 2) Addiction to adults; 3) Discrimination against youth

Exploring Internalized Adultism

What makes internalized adultism so terrible is that it is so pervasive. Everywhere we look, every time we see adults and children and youth interacting, it is there. Stores, daycares, schools, restaurants, playgrounds, city halls… Internalized adultism is so pervasive that I often hear myself in the middle of saying something adultist to my own child before I catch myself and stop.

Unfortunately, adultism is supported by a scaffolding in our society that does nothing more than reinforce and extend the effects of adultism on children and youth. In workshops, The Freechild Project defines adultism as bias towards adults. This definition is supported by the attitudes, behaviors, and practices that many individuals – young and older – take against young people.

Internalized adultism is the way that children and youth use adultism against other children and youth. Being a “tattle tale” or a bully are obvious ways this happens; more subtle ways include what Alfie Kohn calls “parroting,” when young people repeat what adults say in their own language simply to gain that adults’ acceptance.

Another way is much more popular, and I believe, a lot more harmful. What students call “cliques” are social groups that form in community settings throughout young peoples’ lives, including schools and community centers. Sociologists sometimes call cliques “youth subcultures,” but I believe that labeling is adultist itself. Cliques are internalized adultism because they are prescribed to happen by adults through mass marketing and commercialism. Shortly thereafter, youth start to believe these negative stereotypes of themselves, suddenly joining through language, clothes, music, attitudes, and behaviors that were prescribed for them by whatever adult-driven mass media brought them there originally.

The reason I say cliques as a form of internalized adultism are so harmful are the social and economic impacts of cliques throughout society. In every community where I have worked intensively — including African American, middle class white, low-income Latino, rural, and urban — cliques have had their place among young people. In some areas they were gang-related; in others, popularity-driven; in still others, they were motivated by clubs or athletics or other stuff.

In sociology these are sometimes called “ingroups” and “outgroups.” Ingroup bias drives young people to oppress one another, both by alienating some at the expense of others, and reinforcing membership through clothing, music, and attitude. The first two suck, particularly because they support the last. It is that last affect – attitude – that is the kicker. The attitudes of ingroups inform how we behave all of our lives. Our consumer behaviors, our social norms, our cultural acceptance – those are all evidence of our attitudes when we are young. Even if our attitudes change drastically as we mature, they are still respondent to our exposures when we are young.

Ingroups also inform both why young people perpetuate adultism towards other children and youth, and why young people become adults who perpetuate adultism towards children and youth. What a vicious, ugly cycle.

(I will admit that in itself may be an adultist view, particularly because I allude to young people not making conscious decisions about joining cliques. However, that is not what I’m saying; instead, I am saying that what they are joining was prescribed by adults, and is not youth-driven itself. I do not believe that there is any “authentic” youth culture in America today. Instead, this country is so media saturated that we have lost authenticity, and any so-called youth-driven culture today is merely a response to some other adult-driven cultural assignment. That is a sucky situation.)

Adultism drives us to do many things. In order to stop it, we have to train adults to identify and fight their own behavior, and to challenge the adultist behavior of their peers. At the same time we need to facilitate learning experiences for young people to identify adultism, challenge it among their peers, and effectively challenge it among the adults in their lives. Only then will true social progress in the war against adultism (and ephebiphobia) be made.

ALL Adults Are Adultist.

Challenging Internalized Adultism

The tendency of being dismissive or disregarding of adultism by both young people and adults reflects one of the core, unspoken strategies inherent in the dominant relationships between children, youth and adults in our society.

Taking in that discrimination so deeply that it silences a child or youth is one effect; encouraging a young person to lambast themselves or their peers or younger people is another. This internalization disables young people from being able to form a positive identity based in their age, and further promotes the inability of young people to become effective agents for social change throughout our society.

Much needs to be written about identifying internalized adultism and drawing out its causes and effects on their lives of both young people and adults. I have found very little literature that does this in a sophisticated enough way to warrant response. In the meantime, I would suggest the following questions can be essential for challenging internalized adultism. They are good for any age, and only need to be adjusted for each individual’s usage.

  • What has been or is good about being a young person?
  • What makes me proud of being young?
  • What are children and youth people really like?
  • What has been difficult about being young?
  • What do I want other young people to know about me?
  • Specifically, how have I been hurt by other young people?
  • When do I remember standing up against the mistreatment of one young person by another?
  • When do I remember being strongly supported by another young person?
  • When do I remember that another child or youth (unrelated) really stood up for me?
  • When do I remember acting on some feeling of internalized adultism?
  • When do I remember resisting and refusing to act on this basis?

  We must examine these questions for their outcomes in our own lives and the lives of those around us, simply because they begin to allow us to go further.  In order to effectively challenge adultism we each have to examine its effects throughout our own lives. This is one attempt to encourage each of us to do that.

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Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!

Introduction to Adultism

Adultism is 1) Bias towards adults; 2) Addiction to adults; 3) Discrimination against youth

Definition of Adultism

There are three parts to the complete definition of adultism, from Adam Fletcher’s book Facing Adultism:

  • Adultism is favoring adults by dismissing young people.
  • It is also the addiction to the attitudes, ideas, beliefs, and actions of adults.
  • Because adultism is bias towards adults, it inherently and obviously leads to discrimination against children and youth.
ALL Adults Are Adultist.

Where Adultism Happens

It is a major factor in how society is organized: By assuming children and youth do not have anything of substance or value to add to the majority of social activities, adults keep their power intact. Adultism happens in government, education, social services, religious communities, and families. It is present in our laws, legal practices, economic activities, and the ways we share our cultures.

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Why Adultism Happens

Adultism happens because adults think there is value to it. Adults believe adults sometimes act more responsibly and capably than young people. However, adults often act as if children and youth are never responsible and never capable. That is when adultism becomes a problem problem.

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What Adultism Does

Adultism does many things:

  • Adultism ignores, silences, neglects, and punishes children and youth simply because they are not adults. Every young person experiences adultism from the day they are born until the day the world around them recognizes them as an adult. Every adult in our society today has experienced adultism.

Because of this unconscious sharing of the same experiences, adults often perpetuate adultism without knowing it. In some cases, young people themselves perpetuate adultism.

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The Outcomes of Adultism

The outcomes of adultism are severe.

  • Seeing and treating young people as weak, helpless and less intelligent than adults impresses inability in the hearts and minds of youth into adulthood.
  • Adultism often makes verbal, physical, and emotional abuse towards young people seem “okay”.
  • Adultism can make other negative opinions about people seem okay, so that young people see racism, sexism, homophobia, and other forms of discrimination being “okay”.

Adultism is a major concept in the organization of society. Adultism prevails in every sector, including government, education, social services, and families. The defeat of adultism is often seen as a bad thing, as adults are mostly capable only of seeing their own abilities as those that are truly needed to the function and well-being of our world.

Because of the long history and broad realities of adultism and its pervasive nature in our societies, essentially all people are affected by adultism. The resulting internalized oppression and distress is severe. For example, adultism forces us to treat young people as weak, helpless and less intelligent than adults. For a lot of people, there is verbal, physical, and sexual abuse. Adultism forces children and youth to accept all other oppressions that exist in the society.

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Stopping Adultism

The most important thing anyone can do to stop adultism is to address how they perpetuate it, no matter whether they are an adult or a young person. Internalized adultism forces children and youth to unconsciously cause adultism to keep happening. External adultism is obvious throughout our society. Seeing our role in those internal and external things is a key to stopping adultism.

After we explore our personal attitudes and roles, we can face adultism in many other ways, too. There are three places adultism can show up throughout our lives:

If we are committed to facing adultism, we will look in those three areas of our own lives to see where adultism exists, what it does, how it appears, and why it matters. Then we can decide real, individualized steps each one of us can take to stop adultism.

IfightAdultism

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Youth Action Library

Young people, community workers, classroom teachers, organizers, and others are often left lurching around the Internet looking for tools to promote youth taking action. Following is a whole library of free and cost publications, including books, articles, monographs, and more!

Involving young people in decisions is a way of showing respect, of saying their opinions and ideas count. To accomplish this, both youths and adults will need adequate preparation and training. Loring Leifer

Monographs, Articles and Books

  • The Freechild Project Guide to Social Change Led By and With Young People — Centering on the “Cycle of Youth Engagement,” this publication is a summary of the social change issues and actions addressed by and with young people around the world. A great primer to the Freechild website.
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  • Making Commitments Matter: A Toolkit for young people to evaluate national youth policy — The Toolkit offers youth a starting point for determining what has been done to better the lives of young people since 1995. Take a look at this practical resource and put it to use in your community.
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  • Navigating International Meetings: A pocketbook guide to effective youth participation — This guide gives concise information about the structure and process of United Nations meetings, looks at the different avenues available to youth for participating, and offers practical information for surviving a large meeting. The Guide also touches on important questions regarding the impact of international meetings on the local, national, and international level that every past and potential participant should consider.
  • Youth Service America Publications — YSA always offers easy-to-use interactive series of questions and templates that allow you and your friends to plan your service project or program. At the end, you will be able to print out your own Project Plan, Funding proposal, Press Release, Service-learning reflection plan, and other helpful resources.
  • Take Action! A Guide to Active Citizenship — by M. Keilburger and C. Keilburger.  An easy-to-use guide that provides young people with a readily-accessible plan for action.  Includes 7 steps to get involved, and a large “how-to” section for new activists.
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  • Youth!: The 26% Solution — by Wendy Lesko.  This easy-to-read book provides a broad overview of young people taking action around the US in a variety of areas, and includes resources, tips, and stories to motivate action.
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  • University of Kansas Community Toolbox — The Tool Box provides over 6,000 pages of practical skill-building information on over 250 different topics. Topic sections include step-by-step instruction, examples, check-lists, and related resources.
  • OxFam America’s Just Add Consciousness: Guide to Social Activism — This guide provides some basic strategies for activism. Before using any of these strategies, be sure that your group/organization has already done some groundwork, including researching and educating yourselves on the issue; identifying key people and institutions you are aiming to influence; setting clear, focused, and realistic goals and objectives.
  •  How To Be an Activist — How to be an Activist: An introduction and portal to activism, education, community involvement, and social change across the internet.

 

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Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher at http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1517641233/ref=as_li_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=9325&creativeASIN=1517641233&linkCode=as2&tag=thefreechildp-20&linkId=43XBKODOPHWZ46XW
Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!