Saturday, February 03, 2007
Today's evidence comes from a report by ABC News, which is duly titled "Waiting for the World to Change." In an expose on Camden, New Jersey, the reporter uses the perspectives of three young people to illustrate the startling contrasts between their daily reality and the supposed bliss of middle-class America. The title itself implies that children and youth are simply passive recipients of whatever adults dish out, good or bad. The problem of this challenge is unfortunately made worse by headlines that highlight the Bush Administration's cuts to funding for programs that benefit young people, including education, health care and community programs. While its important to spread this word, its unforunate and ill-thought to position young people as helpless.
There are so many alternatives to this kind of posturing, and what is most frustrating is that while those alternatives exist, people are either not aware they exist, or in denial of their existence. Talking about that is another post for a different day.
Friday, February 02, 2007
Bring CommonAction to your organization or community!
In 2007 we are offering promotional workshops for our new publication, the
Workshop 1: Youth Voice 101 is an introductory session for participants to discover and explore why Youth Voice matters. In a hands-on, action-oriented session participants use CommonAction's "Washington Youth Voice Handbook" to explore who, what, when, where, and how they can engage Youth Voice in the organizations and communities where they live.
Workshop 2: Advanced Youth Voice is an advanced session for participants to use research-based tools and critical thinking skills to examine their experience and plans for Youth Voice. Using CommonAction's "Washington Youth Voice Handbook," participants identify practical next steps through interactive action planning.
Costs will vary according to location. CommonAction has partnered with several agencies in communities across our state, and we are able to offer these workshops at cost
Wanna learn more? Contact the office at (360)753-2686 or email info at commonaction.org
However, I know that is not the case in hand. For example let's look at service learning. Service learning is connecting community action with stated learning goals within an educational context. It is almost solely focused on engaging children and youth as participants, as opposed to adults and seniors.
The problem of service learning is that it actively teaches students and adults to rely on the economies of grading, social status and the education system to address "serious social problems." It is that kind of "economic thought" that created many of the problems in the first place. As Will Rogers once said, "If stupidity got us into this mess, then why can't it get us out?"
Let's examine why.
Challenge # 1: Getting Good Grades
The first problem of service learning is that the inherent premise of service learning today teaches students that "serving" others is the only way they can earn credit towards good grades or graduate from a grade level.
What this equation does is effectively dampens or even completely takes away the desire that all young people have to help other people. From the time that they are really young all children have the capacity to do good, and often express interest in helping others. I'm not unaware of the news stories of kids "gone wild"; I believe the behaviors of children are resultant of the behaviors exhibited in the environs around them. Regardless of that, all young people have the desire to help others. Service learning does not always accentuate that enthusiasm; instead, it often squelches it. That is one problem of service learning.
Challenge #2: Neoliberal Grading
Problem two might be even more dubious: The extended outcome of the associations service learning teaches students as they learn they can earn credit for helping others. This engrains a kind of neoliberalism within students, as they learn to seek constant affirmation of the value of their "service" to others, reaffirming the equation of labor = cash. In societies with extremely gross inequities, like ours, this is especially problematic because it dismantles our inherent goodness, robbing us of any sense of hope for the common good that came from our own unbridled ability to cause and affect change throughout our community life.
By way of explanation, neoliberalism is the making private and profiteering off any activity that was, is, or could be conducted in the public domain for the common good of everyone throughout a community.
There are more challenges, but this is an introduction to the conversation.
Ephebiphobia is the fear of youth or young adults, and is directly related to Pedophobia, which is the fear of infants or children. Both of these fears are directly linked to the demonization of young people, which also leads to infantalization, which means reducing someone to the state or status of an infant. That, in turn, leads to adultism.
Adultism used to be defined as any discrimination against youth; a more comprehensive definition is cited on Wikipedia, which basically says that adultism is howing favor for adult voice over youth voice. The logical alternative perspective is Jeunism, which is the tendency to prefer young people over older people.
Ageism is discrimination against anyone because of their age. Discrimination can be viewed as positive or negative by either party; the purpose of this word is simply to recognize the phenomenom. Looking at the spectrum of ageism, adultism is next to gerontocracy, which is when older people rule, biased against younger people. On the opposite end is gerontophobia, which is the fear of older people.
When it comes to taking action to resist or challenge the negative realities youth face today, there are a lot of alternatives. The first step in any effort is to engage Youth Voice, which is defined as the active, distinct, and concentrated ways young people represent themselves throughout society. As I explore throughout the Washington Youth Voice Handbook, there are countless ways that can happen.
The most powerful form of engaging Youth Voice may come in the form of Participatory Action, which is any activity conducted with or by those affected by the activity, like Participatory Action Rearch. Another avenue is Youth-led Organizing, which summarizes commited efforts driven by young people with support from their peers and/or adults focused on challenging inequities or injustice. At the core of many Youth Voice activities are Youth/Adult Partnerships, which are intentional relationships established between young people and adults designed to foster and support Youth Voice.
There are plenty of other important terms, as well. Among the most popular are service learning, youth rights, youth engagment, youth social entrepreneurship, and more. While many folks are tempted to lump these all together and say they're the same thing, I think its important to examine the differences. Check out the next blog entry.
Thursday, February 01, 2007
The Rules of Engagement
Rule #1: Every school should engage every student in every classroom.
Learning ability, grade level, interest tracking… none of these should be seen or addressed as barriers to student engagement. Instead, these are point to build upon and learn from. Student engagement is an active, intentional process whereupon young people become purposefully compelled as learners.
Rule #2: Student engagement does not end at the schoolhouse door.
Students must be active within their families and throughout their communities. This goes far beyond classroom assignments and community service. Providing learners with active student voice in democratic governance, powerful opportunities for cultural expression, and meaningful experiences of freedom of speech throughout their community can open the doors for students. Authentic student engagement can also occur at home, in play, through positive relationships with adults, and throughout our communities.
Rule #3: Every adult in a student’s life should feel responsible for engaging that student in learning.
Only through the constant encouragement and focus of parents, teachers, youth workers, principals, religious leaders, counselors, and other supportive adults will students feel there is a real investment in their education that extends beyond their own interests. Every student should feel that educational success is their responsibility; likewise, every adult should feel that student engagement is theirs.
Rule #4: Give a student a lesson and they’ll think for an hour; teach them how to learn and they will learn a lifetime.
Learning to learn is a task that many educators aspire to impart without every being explicit in their intentions. Every student must have a constructivist understanding of the nature of learning, the purpose of schooling, the course of the education system, and the arch of lifelong learning. From kindergarten through graduation educators have more than the opportunity to teach students about learning; they have an obligation.
#5: Student engagement is never done.
Will Rogers once said, “Even if you’re on the right track you’ll get run over if you don’t move.” We live in a world of transition and change; students change with the times, and often with the days. Do the same old thing and we’ll get the same old outcomes we’ve always had. As society constantly changes, so do our students. Many educators have told me that students have changed more in the last 5 years than schools have in the last 25. That gives adults a lot of opportunity to learn from students – and to change schools to really meet student needs. Learning through change is at the core of lifelong learning; that should be what schools are all about.