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Wednesday, December 23, 2015

New Roles for Young People throughout Society

Standard programs for youth development and education programs first became popular in the early 1900s. These models were diverse, but essentially looked at children and youth as having one job in any class or program, that of recipient. This view echoed the view our larger society had of young people, and it continues today.
The problem with this view is that children and youth are inherently seen as lesser-than. It treats young people as second-class citizens whose opinions, ideas, actions, and wisdom does not matter. 
In The Freechild Project’s ongoing work focused on young people several new roles keep appearing as popular methods for deeply engaging young people throughout society. The following activities address issues that affect children and youth as well as issues that affect our larger communities. They show that young people can and do learn from every activity they participate in.
As the Cycle of Youth Engagement illustrates, the most important part of any role any person can have with the world around them is that of learner. The following exploration of the roles of young people throughout society is meant to help us learn, and to meet the challenge John Dewey issued when he wrote, "We do not learn from doing – we learn from thinking about what we do."
Traditional Models of Youth Voice
Whether or not they acknowledge it, many organizations have been engaging Youth Voice for a long time. The following activities are examples of traditional roles for Youth Voice.
Youth as Receptacles. Treats the experiences, ideas, and knowledge of young people as unimportant or meaningless by allowing adults to “dump” their knowledge on youth without their input.
Youth as Recipients. The notion that children and youth are incapable of making or taking informed, practical, and powerful choices and action that affects themselves and others.
Youth as Informants. Children and youth know things about children and youth, and that much cannot be disputed. Focus groups, advisory boards, interviews… all information sources, all for different reasons.
Youth as Promoters. “Who better to sell stuff to youth than youth themselves?” That quickly explains why mall stores can pay so little to workers – they want youth to work there, and presumably youth can live on less because of their reliance on their parents.
New Roles for Young People
With the development of new technology, new learning experiences, and different avenues for participation throughout our communities, young people have assumed, been assigned, and have co-created new roles for Youth Voice.
Youth as Facilitators. Knowledge comes from study, experience, and reflection. Engaging young people as teachers helps reinforce their commitment to learning and the subject they are teaching; it also engages both young and older learners in exciting ways. 
Youth as Researchers. Identifying issues, surveying interests, analyzing findings, and developing projects in response are all powerful avenues for Youth Voice.
Youth as Planners – Planning includes program design, event planning, curriculum development, and hiring staff. Youth planning activities can lend validity, creativity, and applicability to abstract concepts and broad outcomes.
Youth as Organizers – Community organizing happens when leaders bring together everyone in a community in a role that fosters social change. Youth community organizers focus on issues that affect themselves and their communities; they rally their peers, families, and community members for action.
Youth as Decision-Makers. Making rules in classrooms is not the only way to engage young people in decision-making. Committees, board membership, and other forms of representation and leadership reinforce the significance of Youth Voice throughout communities.
Youth as Advocates – When young people stand for their beliefs and understand the impact of their voices, they can represent their families and communities with pride, courage, and ability.
Youth as Evaluators. Assessing and evaluating the effects of programs, classes, activities, and projects can promote Youth Voice in powerful ways. Young people can learn that their opinions are important, and their experiences are valid indicators of success. 
Youth as Specialists – Envisioning roles for youth to teach youth is relatively easy; seeing new roles for youth to teach adults is more challenging. Youth specialists bring expert knowledge about particular subjects to programs and organizations, enriching everyone’s ability to be more effective.
More Roles for Young People
Each of the following roles can be a successful way to engage young people. Every position is different, offering a variety of perspectives and actions for youth to share their perspectives and take action.
Youth as...
  • Advisors
  • Designers
  • Teachers
  • Grant-makers
  • Planners
  • Lobbyists
  • Trainers
  • Philanthropists
  • Politicians
  • Recruiters
  • Social entrepreneurs
  • Paid staff
  • Mentors
  • Decision makers
  • Activity Leaders
  • Policy makers
Creating Engaging Lifestyles
Youth Voice is a logical starting point for any organization that wants to serve its constituency more effectively. It is also a powerful avenue for actually changing the lives of young people. By taking a constructivist approach to Youth Voice, communities can truly sustain young peoples’ engagement throughout society. That means acknowledging what young people already know, expanding their exposure to, knowledge of, and opportunities to generate new thinking. All of the models above can help educators weave an intricate blanket of engagement that captures people for all their lives.


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