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

Stories of Youth Changing the World

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

The following stories are about young people who decided there was a need in their community, and then took action to meet that need.  Some projects were one-time, and some are on going.  These stories can inspire, infuriate, and empower youth to change the world, and adults to be partners.

1. Cleanin’ It Up and Changing Our Neighborhoods

Katie, 15, from Kansas City, Missouri, decided that her community’s streets were an eye sore and it was time to do something about it. “Cleaning up the streets is needed in my community because it looks trashy and I thought if we could clean it up, we could make a difference not only in my eyes, but other people’s eyes too.  I would like to see a nice clean community that people care what it looks like.”

2. Takin’ Care of Kids: Teens Helping Kids

Rachel, 13, from Nashville, Tennessee, and her friends are concerned about children who have serious emotional disturbance (SED) so they created a hotline for kids to call, get advice or just talk.  They also created a public service announcement about SED.  “The ‘Kid Counselors’ give information and resources to the callers.  We want to help bring awareness to the issues surrounding mental illness and help kids with SED to be accepted as an important part of our community.”

3. Voices of the Past: Recording the History to Affect the Future

Kristen, 14, from Glenshaw, Pennsylvania, records the thoughts and stories of World War II and Korean War veterans.  “I think it will give the youth of my community a better understanding of what happened during the war.  Hopefully, it will also give us a greater respect to the men and women who sacrificed their time, effort, support and sometimes lives so we can be free today.”

4. WE Own Our Communities: Knowledge is Power

Blair, 15, from Moorestown, New Jersey, has joined forces with community leaders to reclaim a neglected community center and continue to transform it into a library with computers for inner city kids.  “Volunteerism opens a myriad of different culture and races, we have a unique opportunity to look at the work through their eyes and ‘walk in their shoes.’”

5. Taking Care of Ourselves: Bringing Youth Towards Economic Independence

Shawneequa, 17, from Norfolk, Virginia, started Youth Empowerment Virginia.  The project is committed to assisting youth in reaching their academic, social and economic potential.  The program fosters independence and responsibility, empowering more youth with their own desires to become active, constructive caring members of the community through better leadership skills, social skills and educational services.

6. Project Unity: Getting Students Voice Heard Through Technology

Project Unity was founded in November of 1999 by a group of students from schools across Washington County, Pennsylvania. Project Unity’s goals are to allow students to discuss school, community, or family problems with each other and to find a solution that will benefit all involved. Using today’s technology, they wish to unite a county and the people within that county to save time, money, and lives. This group feels that they can make a difference by relying on the principles of honesty, hard work, leadership, and perseverance. These students are the leaders of tomorrow, and they’re starting today.

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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 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!

Structural Adultism

Freechild Project youth at a summer camp in Seattle

Structural adultism may be apparent in any instance of systemic bias where formalized limitations or demands are placed on people simply because of their young age. These limitations are often reinforced through physical force or police actions.

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

This is increasingly seen as a form of gerontocracy, explained by James Carville when he wrote,

“This is not class warfare, this is generational warfare. This administration and old wealthy people have declared war on young people. That is the real war that is going on here. And that is the war we’ve got to talk about.”

From every report I have read, structural adultism rages across our communities, and includes banks, courts, police, schools, nonprofits, churches, mosques, synagogues, and all levels of governments. I would summarize the effects of structural adultism as:

  • Compulsory education
  • Access to contraceptives
  • Legalized corporal punishment
  • Curfew laws
  • Anti-youth loitering policies
  • Criminalization and demonization of youth via media
  • Voting age
  • Age of candidacy
  • Access to healthcare
  • Typecasting of youth by police
  • The Draft

Total institutions, which are the organizations in our society which dominate the entire being of a person, include the military, prisons, schools, and hospitals. Young people are affected by total institutions more than any other social group.

Ultimately, the normalization and legitimization of historical, cultural, structural and interpersonal dynamics that routinely advantage adults while producing cumulative and chronic adverse outcomes for young people is best summarized as structural adultism.

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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!

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.

adultismaffectsprogramoutcomes

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.

adultismaffectsprogramfunding

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.

adultismaffectsyouthprogramdesign

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.

adultismaffectsadultattitudes

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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Convenient and Inconvenient Youth Voice

Freechild Project retreat participants in Seattle, Washington

Many well-meaning adults who advocate for youth engagement too often consider only those elements of the younger population with which they are familiar. This is comfortable and convenient for adults, but it doesn’t fully address realities regarding young people today.

Identifying aspects of youth engagement as convenient or inconvenient doesn’t convey a value judgment; it simply acknowledges an existing condition.

Convenient Youth Engagement happens whenever adults know who is going to be engaged, what is going to happen, where and when it will happen, and what the outcomes will be. Adults might not have written the whole script for youth engagement, but what’s going to be said is no surprise to them.

Inconvenient Youth Engagement takes place when young people become engaged in ways that aren’t predictable. They share ideas, shout out thoughts, take action or critique harshly. They do things that adults don’t know, understand, approve of or otherwise predict.

The difference between these two situations depends on context, including location, position and circumstance. A young person’s race, socio-economic status, gender, educational attainment or other characteristics frequently determines how engagement is perceived. A particular instance of youth engagement may be heard or ignored, approved or disapproved, praised or penalized by older adults.

 

The Freechild Project Youth/Adult Partnerships Tip Sheet
Check out our FREE Youth/Adult Partnerships Tip Sheet!

 

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The cover of Facing Adultism by Adam Fletcher
Order Facing Adultism by Adam Fletcher.

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Activist Learning

Freechild Project youth with picket signs in Seattle

Activist Learning is an intentional strategy for creating knowledge characterized by taking action to realize just relationships that transform unequal power structures in our personal, social, political, environmental, spiritual, and economic lives. This page describes what it is, how it happens, where it occurs and what difference it can make.

This is accomplished by linking critical reflection to activism with intentional opportunities to connect the action to self-reflection, self-discovery, and the creation and comprehension of values, skills, and knowledge.

What is Activist Learning?

Activist Learning can be a youth-only, actively encouraging self-direction and self-education through community activism. Activist Learning with young people can also happen in partnership with adult allies, although in this situation the emphasis should always be on youth-led action, with opportunities for adult-shared learning facilitation optional.

Why Activist Learning?

  • Activist Learning can challenge ideas that educators can deposit knowledge into the empty minds of students by engaging co-learners as the co-creators of knowledge.
  • Activist Learning can engage young people and educators as co-facilitators of learning, encouraging young people to become knowledge creators and adults to become allies.
  • Activist Learning can empower activist/learners to articulate themselves in a way that is relevant to their lives and their roles as agents of change.
  • Activist Learning can move activist/learners from acts of charity and sympathy towards solidarity and allyship.

Activist Learning can allow activist/learners to…

  • Prioritize ethics and a work towards social justice;
  • Challenge the ways schools perpetuate power structures in our society;
  • Support teachers in reflecting on their complicity in this perpetuation;
  • Show students that knowledge is socially constructed – and is not the ‘truth’;
  • Assist students in deconstructing knowledge to see how and why it is that way and whose purposes it serves, teaching them to “read the world differently” and “resist the abuse of power and privilege” that abounds (Henry Giroux, 1991, p. 49);
  • “Create new forms of knowledge through … breaking down disciplinary boundaries and creating new spaces where knowledge can be produced” (Henry Giroux, 1991, p. 50)

Important Concepts

  • Activist Learning — A community learning approach characterized by people taking action to realize a society based on just relationships by seeking to transform unequal power structures in our personal, social, political and economic lives.
  • Adult Ally — Adults in unity or connection with young people in personal relationships, as in friendship or partnership.
  • Collective — Flat organizational structure where the all members of a group are responsible for or involved in making all decisions.  There are no ranks or structures that make one person more powerful than another
  • Community Learning — A knowledge-creating practice in which traditional student-teacher roles are eliminated; co-learners are simultaneously encouraged to facilitate and receive knowledge.
  • Critical Reflection — Thinking about what we are thinking and doing, and then acting on what we have thought about; A circle of learning that promotes continuous action for social justice.
  • Praxis — Bringing together critical reflection and concrete action with/in a community in order to transform it.
  • Social Justice — The practice of putting democracy into daily practice with regard for the social conditions within a community.  Often associated with, but not limited to, racism, sexism, ageism, homophobia, poverty, and discrimination against persons with disabilities.
  • Popular Education — A space where young people and adults can learn together to foster a more equitable, just and democratic world. Facilitators use social justice, youth empowerment and active learning to foster and support real, positive and empowering relationships that teach and learn.
  • Solidarity — A union of interests, purposes, or empathies between people; a fellowship of responsibilities and interests.

Elements of Activist Learning

Activist Learning doesn’t just happen. There are critical elements that make Activist Learning the powerful, purposeful tool it is. Here are some of them:

  • Activist Learning develops communities as places that promote radical democracy, where diverse, consensus-based, non-hierarchical and non-discriminatory learning takes place.
  • Activist Learning fosters critical analysis of institutions and social structures, takes responsive action to promote justice and equity, teaches the history of social movements.
  • Activist Learning encourages learning to cross disciplines, issues, cultures and communities in order to foster knowledge creation, challenge and exploration.
  • Activist Learning honors and accentuates life-long learning that engages learners through community-based, innovative and effective pedagogy.
  • Activist Learning uses technology and media as liberating tools that support community needs.

Activist Learning in Schools

Following are a few suggestions for integrating Activist Learning in schools:

  • Organize a class project with all of the elements of Activist Learning.
  • Students can research news stories about social injustice by collecting and analyzing news clippings or Internet printouts that portray unjust sentiments, statements, or actions in their area.
  • Students can collect accounts of protective and supportive acts toward people of color, low-income people, differently-abled people, environmentally sensitive areas, etc.
  • Create a class mission statement about responding to one’s fellow citizens in a productive way. This can be an opportunity to brainstorm and model consensus-building.
  • Assign an essay comparing contemporary events to analogous events in history.
  • Dedicate an hour every week or month for students to locate and read publications written for largely minority audiences (e.g., Asian Week, Hispanic Review, Black Enterprise, Indian Country Today).
  • Work with interested students to form a Student Civil Rights Team in your school. Student Civil Rights Teams work in schools or other settings to teach their peers about prejudice, discrimination, hate crimes, and protecting victims or potential victims.

Activist Learning in Communities

YOUR voice is YOUR power!  You’re an activist, and you know you’re learning!  Around the world people are learning through activism and grabbing hold of learning and owning what they know.

And by the way – you probably aren’t already doing this. Activist Learning requires several important elements named above, and most groups don’t have them all.  But you can, and that’s why we offer these examples.

Young people always learn through activism.  By working with friends and partnering with adult allies, young people are developing powerful, effective Activist Learning projects.  The following are stories of young people learning through activism (click on the heading for the link):

  • Youth Act! Students Testify on Mayor’s Budget – Read this story from 2000 about young people in Washington DC who learned about homeless issues and advocated to the city’s Mayor for change.

  • Global Uprising: Stories of a New Generation of Activists – Read excerpts from this exciting book that documents young activists work today.  The stories on this page include the personal narratives of young people standing up for peace, the environment, and for social justice.

  • Talk to Us. Listen. Take Us Seriously. – Eighteen young people from small communities across America—from the Mississippi Delta to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom, the Navajo Nation to the northern California coast—speak about their efforts to promote youth leadership and voice in their schools and communities. They recount their successes while offering pointed advice on ways adults can partner more effectively with kids.

YOU can get inspired, get informed, get active and learn something!  The following websites offer great information to promote young people taking action – all you’ve got to do is make something of it!  You can do that with Activist Learning.

Summary

Young people have increasingly been at the front of rallies, marches, and activism around the world over the last several decades. Children and youth organize, research, educate, analyze, and advocate for change around the world through local, national, and international movements. While this action is powerful and often effective, there has been one component that is usually missing: the intentional learning.

For several years The Freechild Project has been researching youth-led activism in several areas, including environmental activism. Using this research and our own experiences in activism, we have developed an exciting new model for youth engagement in social change work called “Activist Learning.”

We define Activist Learning with young people as an intentional strategy for creating knowledge characterized by taking action to realize just relationships that transforms unequal power structures in our personal, social, political, environmental, spiritual, and economic lives.

Activist Learning is a process that…

  • …develops communities as places that promote radical democracy, where diverse, consensus-based, non-hierarchical and non-discriminatory learning takes place.

  • fosters critical analysis of institutions and social structures, takes responsive action to promote justice and equity, teaches the history of social movements.
  • …encourages learning to cross disciplines, issues, cultures and communities in order to foster knowledge creation, challenge and exploration

  • …honors and accentuates life-long learning that engages learners through community-based, innovative and effective pedagogy
  • …uses technology and media as liberatory tools to support community needs

Elements of Activist Learning include shared assumptions and purposes; negotiated co-learning goals agreed upon among activists; common action and learning (“praxis”); continual critical reflection, and; emphasis on co-learner/community voice.

Activist Learning can be a youth-directed, youth-only activity that encourages self-direction and self-education through community activism. Activist Learning with young people can also happen in partnership with adult allies, although in this situation the emphasis should always be on youth-led action, with opportunities for adult-shared learning facilitation optional.

Activist Learning challenges the idea that educators can deposit knowledge into the empty minds of students by engaging co-learners as the co-creators of knowledge. It engages young people and educators as co-facilitators of learning, encouraging young people to become knowledge creators and adults to become allies. Activist Learning empowers young activist/learners to articulate themselves in a way that is relevant to their lives and their roles as agents of change. Finally, and most importantly to our work, it moves activist/learners from acts of charity and sympathy towards solidarity and allyship.

Recent studies have shown that Activist Learning can allow activist/learners to:

  • Prioritize ethics and a work towards social justice;
  • Challenge the ways schools perpetuate power structures in our society;
  • Support teachers in reflecting on their complicity in this perpetuation;
  • Show students that knowledge is socially constructed – and is not the ‘truth’;
  • Assist students in deconstructing knowledge to see how and why it is that way and whose purposes it serves, teaching them to “read the world differently” and “resist the abuse of power and privilege” that abounds (Henry Giroux, 1991, p. 49);
  • “Create new forms of knowledge through … breaking down disciplinary boundaries and creating new spaces where knowledge can be produced” (Henry Giroux, 1991, p. 50) [From Con/testing Learning Models by Gaell Hildebrand (1999).]

While taking action is powerful, learning from it is even more important. There are millions of people who are working to save the environment and change the world everyday – shouldn’t you make your effort today?


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Youth and Food

Freechild Project youth making a trail

Whether they’re hungry for any food, healthy food, or to end food injustice, youth and food are bound together like beans growing up a corn stalk. In homes, neighborhoods, schools, villages, towns and cities around the world, young people are changing the world through thoughtful, productive and engaged action focused on food production, food consumption, food quality and food waste.

“The food you eat can be either the safest and most powerful form of medicine or the slowest form of poison.” ― Ann Wigmore

 

Ways Youth can Change the World through Food

Youth as Teachers — Young people can change the world by starting in their schools, homes and communities, teaching their siblings, peers, younger children, parents and adults about food, food-related issues and more.

Youth as Farmers — Raising the food they eat can allow children and youth to be more invested, educated and engaged in their health and wellness. Learning, growing and harvesting their own fruits and vegetables, meats and other foods can empower young people in tremendous ways, causing their world to be healthier and more connected than ever.

Youth-Led Community Organizing — Working together with their families, their peers and their neighbors, young people can organize their communities to change the world through food. They can lead community gardens, advocate for healthy foods in food deserts, or teach healthy nutrition courses for their peers.

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World through Food

Education — Learning about the food they eat, including where its from, how its raised, what it does to their bodies and how it affects their communities can significantly improve the abilities of young people. They can learn which food is the safest and most powerful for their health, well-being and their communities’ sustainability.

Training — Young people can build the skills and abilities they need to change the world through food with training focused on applicable skills. They can learn farming skills, nutritional teaching information, assessment skills and other information. By becoming trainers of trainers, children and youth can also transform the food cultures they live in everyday.

Technology — Young people can learn about food, nutrition, food deserts and related issues through technology. Social media, videos, email, texting and other tools can empower, engage and educate children and youth. Changing the world through food can happen thoroughly, quickly and meaningfully.

 

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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
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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 National Service

“The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything." - Albert Einstein

Youth and national service go together like boats on the water. Given the right motivation and inspiration, young people are essential to building nations, empowering the disenfranchised, sustaining communities and enriching democracy. Involved in deliberate nationwide programs focused on serving the greater good and empowering individuals, national service can create connections beyond local borders and enhance pride and belonging. Whether serving locally, nationally or internationally, any peace-building activity might allow young people to change the world in a powerful ways.

There are risks and costs to a program of action. But they are far less than the long-range risks and costs of comfortable inaction. — John F. Kennedy

 

Ways Youth can Change the World focusing on National Service

Project-Based Learning — National service should be an action learning opportunity for young people, focused on learning practical skills and powerful knowledge while serving the greater good in the country. Acknowledging project-based learning within national service allows a lot of relevance and applicability. Children and youth can change the world while they serve their countries by reaching beyond their borders to strengthen their nations, too.

Community Youth Development — By taking empowered, appropriate action focused on building communities and changing the world, community youth development engages young people in positive action focused on social change. Using this approach in national service program can appropriately position young people as problem-solvers and leaders in the communities where they serve.

Youth as Activity Leaders — Whether they’re focused on education, the environment, public health and safety, unmet human needs or other areas, young people can lead national service projects. Moving beyond simply enacting plans made by others, children and youth can step into planning, design, building, facilitation and other key roles throughout national service.

 

Things Youth Need to Change the World focusing on National Service

Training — Learning how to do the service they’re engaged in is important and obvious. Learning why they are involved in national service is more important. However, learning how to lead, facilitate, motivate and recruit others into national service is vital for youth to change the world, too, as they can step into these important roles and foster important change.

Youth/Adult Partnerships — Being supported through healthy and supportive relationships can help everyone flourish. In national service, bridging intergenerational gaps by building youth/adult partnerships may be essential to success. Young people and adults can both initiate these relationships, effectively building community and securing support for themselves and others, too.

Opportunities — Young people need substantive opportunities to participate as the leaders, facilitators and implementors of national service activities. These should acknowledge the complexities in participants’ lives; be infused into the regular functions of communities; and constantly acknowledge their relationship to national health and well-being.

 

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