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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Facing Adultism by Adam Fletcher

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
The cover of Facing Adultism by Adam Fletcher
This is the cover of Facing Adultism by Adam Fletcher (2015).

Discover a grim reality facing all children and youth today called adultism.

Do you feel like society treats young people poorly?

Does youth empowerment appeal to you?

In Facing Adultism, renowned educator Adam Fletcher talks straight about discrimination against young people, and pulls no punches as he lays out the realities of adultism today.

Originally published as Ending Discrimination Against Young People, in this book Fletcher lays out the details of adultism in all of its forms. Showing how adultism affects everyone, he shows the way for anyone who wants to defeat discrimination against young people. In these pages, you’ll learn what adultism is; where adultism happens; and how YOU can make a difference.

It can be rough out there for children and youth, and the ways we’re young shape our whole lives. You don’t have to be blind about adultism anymore, as this book shines the light like no other.

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Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher at http://amzn.to/29Rflw2
Order FACING ADULTISM by Freechild founder Adam Fletcher!

Youth and Racism

Freechild Project youth protest in Seattle

Youth and racism are wound together, depending on each other to unravel the pain, hurt and despicable enduring nature of racism. Being “against racism” is to be against any system based on some kind of supremacy, including white supremacy, racial supremacy of any kind, tribal supremacy, class supremacy, even male and female chauvinism. Young people are taking power action against racism and making their communities more powerful, empowering places for all people to live in.

Washing ones hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral. — Paulo Freire

 

Ways Youth are Changing the World focusing on Racism

Youth-Led Activism — When adults won’t partner with young people or when young people want to take immediate action without permission, they can lead their own community organizing projects and rallying their peers to create change, or take action on their own. Picketing, sit-ins, boycotts and social media action are just some of the ways youth-led activism can affect racism.

Service Learning — Studying the social effects of racism, young people are building communities through service learning. Programs focused on white privilege, empowering communities of color and more can teach students about racism in distinctly effective ways. When facilitated effectively, service learning encourages students to apply their learning throughout their lives.

Youth and Incarceration — Young people are challenging the school-to-prison pipeline, long-term incarceration, incarcerating youth with adults, and solitary confinement within prisons, all wrapped together with analysis focused on the disproportionate incarceration of people of color. Youth and incarceration shouldn’t be synonymous, and youth can change the world when they focus on ending the racism which makes this happen.

 

The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide by Adam Fletcher
Order The Freechild Project Youth-Driven Programming Guide!

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World focusing on Racism

Education — Learning about the history of racism isn’t enough. Young people need to understand their role in white privilege and racism, whether they’re people of color or white. Learning how to see privilege, dismantle white supremacy, overcome structural racism and fight against dominant cultural norms is essential, too.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Creating intentional relationships designed to foster trust, communication, mutual investment and meaningful involvement can effectively engage youth in changing the world focused on racism. Young people can transform communities and organizations through youth/adult partnerships, increasing effective action and building support along the way.

Opportunities — Young people need substantive opportunities to take action against racism. Schools, neighborhood groups, nonprofits, government agencies and other organizations can create opportunities. Young people can create their own opportunities through youth-led community organizing and youth-led programs, too.

 

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Youth and Public Health

Seattle students in a Freechild workshop discuss issues with an adult ally

Public health is made of organized efforts around the world that aim at to prevent disease and promote health across our communities. Tied together through education, action, evaluation and advocacy, youth and public health are addressing a lot of issues, including HIV/AIDs, smoking, pregnancy prevention, and more.

“If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito. — Source unknown

 

Ways Youth can Change the World focusing on Public Health

Youth as Teachers — Young people can be some of the best public health educators, whether teaching their parents, their siblings, other young people or adults throughout their communities. Engaging youth as teachers can quickly normalize activities, knowledge and attitudes that are different or new for their communities in ways adults cannot, and can reach people others can’t, either.

Social Media — Texting public health messages and sharing public health knowledge with their peers and other throughout social media can help youth be powerful communicators and recruiters. Social media can also help youth educators build community around their issues, roles and regions, too.

Youth-Led Activism — When adults won’t listen to youth voice or allow youth participation, young people can make their voices heard through activism. Whether they are organizing communities, leading sit-ins, advocating for policy change or building online movements, young people can be powerful activists for issues that matter to them.

 

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

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World focusing on Public Health

Education — Young people should know the basic, elemental parts of public health all of the time, no matter who they are, where they live or how much money their families and communities have. However, to change the world with public health, children and youth should learn critical thinking skills, build their knowledge base, and expand their abilities.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Working with adults as partners is a sure way to change the world through public health. Young people can teach adults about issues that matter while receiving the support, encouragement and knowledge of adults.

Funding — Securing and sustaining funding is vital for youth-led public health action. Changing the world through active engagement in the issues that affect them most, children and youth deserve the fiscal support they need for programs, activities and outcomes that reflect the importance of public health throughout our lives and communities.

 

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Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediators

Freechild Project youth in São Paulo, Brazil.

Engaging youth as mediators teaches young people to understand conflict within themselves and others. Discovering how they influence conflict, how to self-manage conflict, and how to identify strategies for calmness and clarity is enhanced by learning listening and speaking skills and how to understand other peoples’ point of view. Youth mediators can help other youth, younger students, and adults to have important conversations in order to become clearer themselves, understand each other’s perspectives, and make decisions about next steps. Youth can change the world as mediators when they apply these skills throughout their lives, including at home, in school, and throughout their communities.

You can’t shake hands with a clenched fist. — Indira Gandhi

Ways for Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediation

Youth-Led Programs — Young people can learn the deep parts of conflict resolution, become program designers and managers, and lead their own efforts to promote mediation in their schools and communities. Young people transform relationships when they move past struggle and towards interdependence and community-building.

Youth Courts — Youth courts are powerful tools for young people to develop their own capacity for problem-solving and mediation. Through jurisdiction and official proceedings, youth can reduce recidivism, promote conflict resolution and build communities instead of tearing them apart like traditional juvenile justice programs have.

Youth Managing Adult Staff — When young people participate in hiring, training, supervising and evaluating adult staff, they balance the perceptions of power within organizations and throughout communities. This acts towards mediation by empowering those who are taught, watched and facilitated by adults with the ability to rectify their challenges with adults, laying a substantive foundation for youth/adult partnerships.

Needs for Youth + Social Change through Youth Mediation

Education — Comprehensive youth mediation programs should include education for youth and adults on how to: Identify goals and outcomes; Identify and engage stakeholders, Create a team to plan and develop the program, Develop systems including referral, intake, mediation coordination; and Train students to become mediators and providing continuing education. Programs should also receive on-going technical assistance. Youth mediator programs should have immediately positive impact on conflict and be sustainable.

Opportunities — Young people need substantial opportunities to be mediators in the places they spend the most time, including at home, in schools and throughout their communities. They also need real adult allies who stand with them for mediation, and support from government agencies, law enforcement and others.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Real youth/adult partnerships engage young people and adults in equitable relationships that can build the power, purpose and potential of youth mediators. Through transparency, communication, mutual investment and meaningful involvement, young people and adults can transform community culture for the better.

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Youth and Gender Equity

"I study to liberate, not to get into debate."

Gender equity is the fair distribution of respect, trust, communication, involvement and resources to people who identify as male, female or who are transgendered. It does not necessarily mean making the same activities, facilities and cultures available to males, females and transgendered people. Gender equity does mean that females and transgendered people experience a full range of choices that meet their needs, interests and experiences. That means some activities may be the same as those offered to males, while others may be altered, and some may be altogether different. Young people can change the world through gender equity by taking action towards equity while challenging and eliminating disadvantages people experience because of their gender. They can also examine and challenge practices and policies that may hinder the participation of people because they identify as females or transgendered.

“I do not think, sir, you have any right to command me, merely because you are older than I, or because you have seen more of the world than I have; your claim to superiority depends on the use you have made of your time and experience.” ― Charlotte Brontë

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through Gender Equity

Youth-Led Classes — Youth can teach children, their peers and adults about gender equity. Through hands-on activities with real learning goals, youth facilitators can role model the most effective ways to reach learners, and share the most effective and empowering information along the way!

Policy Development — Working with policy-makers as allies, youth can create policies, rules, regulations and formal procedures in organizations, agencies and institutions in order to foster gender equity. Contributing to the study, critical analysis and rewriting of policies, youth can also evaluate their implementation and effectiveness.

Community Governance — Young people can participate in neighborhood associations, community groups, village / town / city government, county government and other local-level activities to ensure gender equity. Children and youth can also research issues that matter to them, present their findings and promote what they’ve learned, too.

 

Learn about adultism at https://freechild.org/adultism/
Learn about adultism.

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Gender Equity

Training — Gender discrimination and gender bias is obvious to a lot of people when they are very young children. However, learning about the systemic and cultural bias against women and transgender people can require specific education and training. Young people may need these learning opportunities to move into action.

Opportunities — Adults can create substantive opportunities for children and youth to become involved in challenging gender bias and building gender equity. Actual activities and more can transform discrimination.

Technology — Staying connected across distances, identities and communities can be a challenge for youth advocating for gender equity. Using technology including social media and texting can allow young people to cross the distances on their terms.

 

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Youth Infusion

Freechild Project youth and adult workshop participants

The term youth infusion was coined by expert and Freechild Project advisor Wendy Lesko, who says the term summarizes “where young people are involved in every conceivable way — as volunteers and paid community organizers, as facilitators and trainers, as conference planners, and as full-fledged members on a board of directors.”

The Freechild Project expands on Wendy’s idea and suggests youth infusion means the absolute and complete integration of youth throughout all of society. It encapsulates the total end of all age-based restrictions against children and youth, instead acknowledging their vast and under-acknowledged contributions and energies as they apply throughout homes, schools, organizations, communities, nations and the world. As youth infusion becomes apparent throughout a society, young people gain the rights to vote, move freely, and partake in the economy. They also gain the responsibilities of paying taxes, engaging civically and building community.

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through Youth Infusion

Youth Mainstreaming — Transforming institutions by engaging young people throughout their functions is a key step towards youth infusion, and is embodied by youth mainstreaming. Professional development, training and programs should reflect this commitment.

Policy-Ins — Changing organizational policies can be harrowing, especially when nonprofits, government agencies and legislative bodies have dozens and hundreds of pages. Policy-ins give youth and adults opportunities to work together to study existing policies, propose changes and work together to infuse youth throughout policies.

Mutual Mentoring — Working together with adults as allies, youth can teach adults and be taught by adults in a mutually-beneficial way. Eliminating the barriers of adultism, youth infusion can be fostered

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Youth Infusion

Education — Before young people can effectively become infused throughout the organizations and communities they spend their lives in, they can learn about the vision, mission, goals, functions and outcomes of the places they are at. They can learn about the issues they’re addressing and the most effective actions to take. Perhaps most importantly, they can become more effectively involved throughout the organizations and communities where youth infusion is the goal.

Opportunities — Youth infusion can happen in organizations and communities that create deliberate, intentional and accountable opportunities. Youth/adult partnerships become apparent throughout every step, including transparency, mutual accountability and each of the principles involved. There are also structural and systemic actions taken that foster youth infusion, too.

Champions — Whether they are youth or adults, every organization and community needs a champion for youth infusion. These champions can be the people served, staff, managers, or board directors. Oftentimes, the most effective champions are leaders who believe in youth infusion.

 

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Youth + Social Change through Youth-Led Activism 

Freechild Project youth protest in Seattle

An approach that intentionally trains young people in community organizing and advocacy, youth-led activism also assists children and youth in putting these skills to action in order to alter power relations and create meaningful change throughout their communities. Through youth-led organizing, young people can employ activities such as political education and analysis, community research, campaign development, direct action, critical thinking and membership recruitment.

How Youth Youth + Social Change Happens Through Youth-Led Activism

Youth-Led Protests — When young people can’t find adult allies, when the organizations and communities they are part of deny youth voice, and when society doesn’t budge, protest might be the most viable option. Youth-led protests can be the most powerful option children and youth have to transform society. There are countless protest activities, including sit-ins, picketing, #hashtags, walkouts, sit-ins, and more.

Youth-Led Media — Instead of allowing media to paint pictures of youth and their communities however they want to, young people can take up the mantle of journalism and truth-telling to share their own stories. Youth-led media can give children and youth a clear, concise voice to reach beyond their friends into the hearts of communities, cities, nations and the world.

Mutual Mentoring — Sometimes, simply acknowledging an adult as an ally isn’t enough. Mutual mentoring allows children and youth to be in empathetic, appropriately equitable relationships with adults. In these relationships, young people and adults are empowered to teach one another, support each other and build healthy, meaningful opportunities to grow together.

Tools for Youth + Social Change through Youth-Led Activism

Education — Simply becoming engaged in an issue is the first step towards youth-led activism. However, learning about the politics, economics and social effects of issues being protested are key, too. Youth activists can research, study and critique things central to their community organizing efforts.

Training — Learning about issues is not all youth activists need. Training can be essential for youth-led activists to be successful. They can learn the skills needed and tactics that are vital for successful for powerful short-term and long-term campaigns designed to change the world.

Inspiration — The reality of youth activism today is that there is a lot of inspiration. However, finding it can be challenging for children and youth, as few sources are brave enough to share powerful stories of youth changing the world. Youtube, select media, and many other sources may provide important stories youth can relate to. Also, in communities around the world its important to see what’s happened before, and many communities have hidden histories of youth-led activism.


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Youth Involvement

Dozens of decisions are made about the lives of young people everyday. Families, schools, youth programs, city councils, foundations, government agencies, employers, lawmakers… the list is virtually endless. There is an equally endless list of reasons why children and youth need to be meaningfully involved in activities that affect them personally and their communities as a whole. Youth involvement provides opportunities for young people to participate in the activities, projects, programs, organizations, strategies and initiatives throughout society.

“It starts innocently. Casually. You turn up at the annual spring fair full of beans, help with the raffle tickets (because the pretty red-haired music teacher asks you to) and win a bottle of whiskey (all school raffles are fixed), and, before you know where you are, you’re turning up at the weekly school council meetings, organizing concerts, discussing plans for a new music department, donating funds for the rejuvenation of the water fountains—you’re implicated in the school, you’re involved in it. Sooner or later you stop dropping your children at the school gates. You start following them in.” ― Zadie Smith

 

Ways Youth are Changing the World through Youth Involvement

Youth as Decision-Makers — Youth involvement in personal decision-making is an essential skill all young people should learn about and hone throughout their lives. Youth involvement in organizational decision-making and community decision-making is equally important.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Becoming active, engaged and substantive partners with adults can empower and engage young people like few other activities. Youth/adult partnerships are intentional, responsive and appropriate in every setting.

Youth Mainstreaming — Taking youth involvement to the next level means setting higher expectations, securing deeper commitments and establishing new ground for transformation. This can happen through youth mainstreaming.

 

Tools Youth Need to Change the World through Youth Involvement

Education — Teaching  young people about the structures, activities and actions that make youth involvement effective is important; however, facilitating their understanding about the assumptions, attitudes, beliefs and opinions behind youth involvement matters more.

Opportunities — Young people need authentic, substantive and meaningful opportunities to become involved throughout their lives, communities and the world. Creating these opportunities isn’t rocket science, but isn’t completely obvious, either.

Technology — Youth involvement can be established, promoted, substantiated and transformative through technology. Social media, the Internet, texting and other devices can empower young people to become involved and push for more.

 

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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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