Our kids may be younger than us, but they are also newer.
They are the latest model of human being, and are equipped with a whole lot of
new features. Looking at the world of children is not looking backwards at our
own pastsits looking ahead. They are our evolutionary future. . . .
our test sampleour advance scouts. They are, already, the thing we must
Each new generation must determine reality
for itself. Thats asking a lot but then what is the alternative? John
Cage remarked, I cant understand why people are frightened of new
ideas. Im frightened of the old ones. It is the task of young
people to sort out from the accumulation of their culture what is useful and
what is not. And then add, shape and experiment with those elements that make
sense to them in their struggle to survive and grow. Reality is often defined
as that which actually exists or happens; that which is real. Nadine
Gordimer however, writes of the apprehension of reality,
Apprehension is no less than the first principle of consciousness, the
beginning of everything, our place in relation to nature and our perceptions of
fellow human beings. And Leonard
Shlain believes that:. . . a new way to think about reality begins with
the assimilation of unfamiliar images. This collation leads to abstract ideas
that only later give rise to a descriptive language.  Furthermore, we speak of illusions
of reality and of its different angles; the objective to the subjective.
Still the enlarged
definitions which youth are experiencing often seem to us like simulated
reality; technologycomputers, iPods, and cell phonesallows young
people to create new realities encompassing wholism, expansion of
consciousness, relationships, and generate a different concept of family and
community. For youth, reality occurs on several overlapping levels, some
coherent, others conflicting.
But who are youth?
There is an inherent fallacy in using age as the sole criteria of
maturity. Many street or village children at 10 or 11 have already
faced conditions that would tax the coping skills of adults. By using age as
the criteria for granting rights, we have disabled youth. They cannot only help
themselves more than we think, but more importantly, they can help one another
as many do in peer teaching. Children at any age can contribute to society in
their own right by alleviating social and economic conditions and go beyond
that to advancement. Weve withheld the skills and opportunities from
them. Youth need new opportunities for growth and development through direct
participation. Rather than imitations, such as student governments and mock UN
sessions, they want the real thing.
In this piece, the
stage set is primarily the industrialized nations since it is in those
countries that trends are often set.
Levels of reality.
We begin with societys expectations
starting with the family (or the lack of one). Here lineage values are passed
on to the young with the expectation that they will be preserved and replicated
for future generations. Family means reproduction. Education is essential for
future jobs, financial security, raising ones own family and preparation
for old age. Community is local, the neighborhood; young people are not
involved in the political arena. Youth have peers to give them a certain sense
of belonging; some satisfying, others competitive and ultimately destructive;
they also become a source of pressure to conform to in-crowd values and
practices. The way language is used becomes another form of this reality:
. . . words like freedom, democracy and Christian values are still used
to justify barbaric and shameful policies and acts Religion spells church, lacking in
spirituality. Youth are susceptible to commercialism in all its insidious
forms. In sum, youth are seen by society as irresponsible, consumers, and
passive recipients in a transition stage towards adulthood.
found a love of life so expansive that it made me realize just how limited one
mans life must be, and how important it is for us to experience as much
as we possibly can without worrying too much about the outcome. All of a sudden
a lot of pieces seemed to fit together, though it was some time before they
really began to make sense to me. 
At a second level,
youth have abundant assets and needs; they have enormous drive and energies.
They have recognized their unique intelligences and learning styles and they
struggle to maintain active imaginations. Youth are aware of their physical,
emotional and spiritual states of well-being. They value communication:
relationships with friends, a feeling of comraderie, and sexual
experimentation. They try out expansion of consciousness from drugs, athletics,
music and spiritual practices. Television, film and the Web have made vicarious
living a reality for many young people. There is even a lyricism of
international Internet jargonits basic procedure is known by the poetic
verbal imagery surfing the Net.  Ideas are communicated through iconography. Ours is the Age
of Impatience that does not look forward to something: wants it now. Expects to
have it, and gets it, so far as technology can provide it.  Music too shapes reality for youth:
The contemporary ear requires a completely different approach to
music. Young people want emotional,
social and financial autonomy. At this level, they have moved from a passive to
an active stance.
Almost everything that is great has been done by
have made accomplishments on their own. We fail to recall what youths have
achieved. As a reminder: Alexander the Great was King of Macedonia at age 20;
by 27 had conquered the civilized world. Michelangelo produced his sculpture
Battle of the Centaurs at 17 and by 26 had finished Pieta.
Pascal wrote a book on geometry at age 16; three years later invented the
adding machine. Joan of Arc, at 18, united the French against the British.
Mozart began writing compositions at age four, made his first tour as a
musician at age six and by eight finished his first symphony. Thomas Edison
patented many of his inventions by the time he was 21. We might minimize these
youthful contributions as genius or child protegees; but then why not strive
for every youth to attain that faculty? Looking at youth achievements on a
societal level, we have the courageous examples in our time of Chinas
Barefoot Doctors, the Feldshers of Russia and the Brigadastos of Cuba, large
scale, national programs primarily carried out by youth.
established life styles that work for them, have mastered technology and
applied it to meet their circumstances, have created a community of friends and
associates, sampled the paranormal, and brought a coherence to their lives,
chaotic as it might appear: Much is achieved outside the mainstream including
their families and encrypted in their own way of life framed by a position of
commitment and involvement.
Joey is a bright,
attractive 17-year-old living in an affluent American suburb with his family
and two siblings. His parents have high expectations and are sending him to a
private school in the nearby city where he commutes daily. He has a cell phone
and an iPod which allow him momentarily to shut off the discord between the
outside world and the one he has created to meet his needs and interests. He
has a girlfriend, many companions and is active socially in school. Joey also
spends afternoons with an older companion, about the age of his father. They
met on the bus two years ago and exchanged email addresses. From that casual
meeting a relationship developed which allows Joey to integrate the sometimes
dissonant versions of reality he is confronted with. He has found an adult with
whom he can openly communicate on any subject and who will enter into his world
by invitation. His girlfriend withholds sexual gratification which she believes
is not proper outside of marriage. His older friend, in contrast, is a willing
participant. When asked about his sexuality, Joey says that he is neither
straight nor bisexualIm just sexual! As to the future,
he will let that happen when it comes. In the meantime, Joey maintains that his
older companion has so much that he can teach him.
The fourth level
of reality is where we may glimpse the future and amplify youths
experiments and accomplishments while identifying means that will aid them in
their quest. Here is where we need to change our images of youth, insure their
rights, support their activities, and pass on what knowledge and skills we can.
How and why we
must change the status and expectations of youth.
Eisenstadt, commenting on the changing patterns of youth social movements,
contrasts present day youth with that of the 1960s and 1970s where protest
characterized the era by recognition of inequalities and attempts were made to
reconstruct societys centers. In contrast, youth today are developing
distinctive ways of life, taking enough resources from the central culture to
create their own. They are more concerned with self-identity, quality of life
and lifestyles and are aware of and involved in transcendental aspects creating
a weakening of historical Western consciousness. Youth, he
emphasizes, are the loci or starting points of far-reaching changes in society,
forming enclaves within which new cultural forms emerge, and as such should be
recognized as a social group.
document on the Rights and Responsibilities of Youth, issued in
1972, stressed that:
Legal rights are more often a statement of intent rather than a reality; they
amount to doubtful protection and furthermore education serves to integrate
youth by imposing a system of values, into a society which they increasingly
2. Youth have been
treated by governments as clients without representation, without means for
decision making, and without participation or involvement. As for
responsibilities of youth, these are frequently seen as . . .duties
imposed on them by adult societythe duty of submission to the authority
of the family, the community or the State; the duty to receive education
devised in the main by adultsor not to receive it if they belong to
underprivileged social groups; the duty to work, often at an early age and
under harsh conditions . . . the duty, lastly to respect a world order
established independently of them and which is becoming more and more alien to
Among others, the
Unesco document recommended that:
Youth, as a social group, have the responsibility to define their own role in
societythe right to develop their own culture. Youth must cease to be
seen as being in a transitional stage to adulthood and make contributions to
society without being stifled. To accomplish these changes, youth must claim
effective powers, while preserving their own unique characteristics.
2. Youth must
recognize and use conflict creatively (develop new modes of encounter) between
themselves and the adult world which holds the real power. If not youth will
continue to be an alienated group, rejected, and exploited by adult society,
hence reduced to a juvenile level and as such a collection of individual
problems (drug abuse, delinquency, mental illness, suicide, sexual, etcetera)
to be solved by adults. The alternative is being a social class with rights and
means to develop and contribute.
It is sad to
report that not much has happened politically and socially to change the
situation for youth in the intervening three decades since that declaration was
made. There are encouraging signs, however, that there is still time and that
with youth taking the initiative much could happen.
I propose a
somewhat different approach to youth participationthe development of a
youth social ecology. I will focus on five areas for consideration and
suggest one way that youth, in Action Teams, could activate the Unesco
recommendations to contribute to world-wide social reform and, at the same
time, enhance their own development, These areas include the democratization of
information, political involvement, contributions to peace, direct
participation in social issues, and in job creation.
By youth ecology I
mean not only their relationship to society but the active engagement of youth
in their physical, social, political, cultural, spiritual, and psychological
being. An engagement with profound implications. It includes conservation and
preservation of youths energy and creativity. The key word here is
active. Action is the process of doing and implies movement. To that
concept, we must also add the words informed and responsible.
Democratization of Information.
be informed, youth first must have free access to information.
Technological breakthroughs enable information to travel unrestricted across
national and regional boundaries within seconds. It needs no passport and no
visas. Already millions from 150 countries use the Internet, which no one owns,
and has no curtailment on language or images that it carries. Nations can only
restrict access, but ultimately this is futileand anti-democratic. We
must learn how to use information creatively and responsibly, not censor it.
Development of technology, especially in new forms of communication can be seen
as one of the few fringe benefits of weapons research.
traditionally have been very insular but commercialization (movies,
advertising, etcetera.) brings about a demand for foreign goods along with
changes in values, styles, and so on. Readily available information and ideas
are making changes in social, political, cultural, and religious structures and
practices not only inevitable but imminently possible on a large scale. With
the enormous amount of information constantly flowing from one area to another,
we can expect great changes in structures ultimately dissolving traditional
social, political, economic, and cultural barriers between nations and
The power of ideas
resulting from free exchange of information could eventually bring about
greater change than economic factorsfresh sources of information will
make new concepts and ideas more readily available, which, in turn, will lead
to new expectations, new demands, and new opportunities for young people.
Awareness and Involvement.
real tyranny of the self is not commitment but lack of commitment.
In April of 2006,
a 19-year-old youth became the latest activist in the succession of suicide
bombings, this one in Tel Aviv. It would be presumptuous to deduce his
reasoning or incentives. One could guess, however, that he was searching for a
purpose to his life, whether he was aware of it or not and that he had a
beliefa commitmentin what he was to accomplish: a cause
célèbre. And furthermore, that he was exploited by his
elders political and religious aims; in his act, he had changed from
servitude to being co-equal. Immortality became more than a fringe benefit.
The commitment of
Jan Pallach, the 21-year-old Czech student who burned himself in Pragues
Wenceslas Square in 1969, to protest the Soviet invasion of his country, was
far different in essence. Jan Pallach used self-immolation as the ultimate
price in his quest for freedom; the Palestinian used revenge in the form of
deaths to the enemy; ironically it required his life as well.
everywhere are searching for a raison détresomething
beyond the quotidian of every day life. They may be immersed in the mire of
survival but yearn for something more. Some search for meaning through
identification with othersheroes, idols, those who have been recognized
on whatever grounds. Other youth find gratification in emulating what they
admire: choice of occupation, adopting style, speech, living arrangements, or
character. Still others who are more aware of their quest may seek inspiration
from religion, politics, organizations, and social concerns while grasping the
beauty and sacredness of relationships. Here the individual is not only finding
out about himselfbut with himself.
have a declining confidence in social institutions, especially their schools.
There is little involvement in political affairs and political parties, in
labor unions, and in youth organizations. Many of the latter are little more
than providers of entertainmentto keep youth occupied at a juvenile level
until they enter the work forceor as employment opportunities for youth
manipulate or prevent youth political involvement shored up by the media (which
stereotype youth), conservative political and fundamentalist religious groups;
they restrict information, limit decision-making, and impose archaic notions
and valuesadherence to the party line. In accomplishing their missions,
they have developed their own constituencies, methods of indoctrination, and
rewards. Some of the results have been terribly tragic. The target groups are
mainly youth. Economic development does not necessarily carry with it greater
freedom. To the contrary; weve seen many recent examples of the erosion
of human rights masked as development.
As the Unesco
document affirmed, restrictions and prohibitions ostensively disguised as
protection, characterize much of the predicament of youth. For the
industrialized nations, many valuable years of a young persons life are
taken in preparation for adulthood (coming of age,), which includes
steady provision for gaining legal rights. Schooling to prepare one for a
steady job is obligatory and youths have few real choices insofar as conforming
to the social normsor dropping out. We attempt to keep them
out of the labor market for as many years as possible. Youth in the less
industrialized nations are more fortunate in this respect. But they are
frequently misused for their labors and manipulated by commercial interests of
the technologically advanced nations. In many of these economically poor
countries, they do have more opportunities to participate in the work and
social activities of the community.
commercializes violence, industries capitalize on it, while governments
practice it in the form of war. We expect abstinence while the media promotes
indulgence. And yet there is little being done to educate youth for making
informed, responsible, free choices. Many forms of self destruction among
youthsubstance abuse, irresponsible sexual activity (prostitution and
unwanted pregnancies), and suicide are a constant concern. We know only too
well about the poverty, hunger, ill health, and joblessness which youth face
everywhere; despair, apathy and spiritual crises, all confirm the needs for
different forms of personal and social development. Children and youth become
the unwitting victims of greed, war, and poverty.
main solutions to the difficulties of youth are punishment, restrictions, and
doles. Imprisonment is increasingly meted out as deterrence; punishment all too
often leads to chronic criminality. Aside from waiting for certain rights to be
bestowed on them by longevity (to vote, marry, drink, hold office, acquire
property, and so on), how can youth involve themselves in political activity?
Through the power of information, they can make informed choices, influence
legislation, elect representativesincluding youthsand effect
political parties, form coalitions, and frame new parties of their own. This
was the accomplishment of youth in the Netherlands in the 1960s and 1970s who
formed the Provos political party and Reul van Duyn won a seat on the Amsterdam
Town Council. Their strategy was to demonstrate against community ills and
offer imaginative illustrationsmockups of what could be done. Later they
dissolved their party and formed a new one, the Kabouters, which carried their
ideas further. In the 1970 elections, they gained 11 seats on the town council
and others in local elections throughout the country. One who was elected was
age 16, thus not allowed to take a seat until the council changed their law on
More recently, at age 17, Michael Sessions, lost the election for
student council at his high school in Hillsdale, Michigan. But that didnt
discourage him. He was not satisfied with replicas. A year later (2005) when he
turned 18, while still in school, he was allowed to register to vote; at the
same time, he conducted a write-in campaign for mayor of his town of 8,200. He
raised his own campaign funds by selling snacks and conducted a month-long
door-to-door canvass. He won the election, defeating the incumbent 51-year-old
mayor. Mayor Sessions is currently enrolled at the local community college
combining studies in political science while governing the town.
introduced (but of course defeated) in the State of California to allow
14-year-olds to vote (the same age incidentally they can be tried as an adult
for criminal activity). Amid cries from the press of the irresponsibility of
youth, fears of the consequences of what might happen to the established power
structure were voiced. But since 1968, politicians including those nations with
long established democratic governments, fear youth who pose the real
possibilities of toppling them. Again, the heart of the matter is not
withholding legal rights, but the freedom to exercise informed choice and the
kind of education that would empower youth to use it wisely. Or, as a character
in a film once said: If you dont give it to them, theyre
going to take it.
can, and must, occur at all ages. I previously cited the action of a classroom
of eight and nine-year-old children in the State of Oregon, but it merits
repeating for its a simple, effective model worth emulating. Their
teacher asked them to watch one half hour of their favorite evening program and
simply count the number of violent acts, use of weapons, and so on, that they
observed. In 12 hours of programming, the children recorded 649 incidents of
violencenearly one per minute. From that simple homework assignment, the
children took action. They refused to watch childrens programs that
displayed violence, wrote a Declaration of Independence from Violence for the
student body and by engaging their parents, boycotted products of the companies
which sponsored childrens programs with violence. Through this social and
political action, by having information the children had gathered
first hand, they were empowered to make wiser choices in the future. That
exercise occurred ten years ago; imagine what those children could do todaywith
technology to disseminate their findings and build networks of like-minded
Looking at the
position of youth globally, we must attempt to minimize the ill effects of
Eurocentrism, and Americanization, and recognize the
contributions of other areasAsian, Latin American, and African regions.
We must find new metaphors devoid of divisive and elitist concepts such as
majority/minority peoples or developing/developed nations. We must move beyond
male domination, sexism, and traditional family structures, to new lifestyles
and political structures which emphasize cooperation, diversity, and
redistribution of power which will improve the quality of life for everyone.
Youth need, and are finding, new forms of participation which include self-help
and support groups, along with self-study methods.
Some of these
actions are occurring with little notice. What is sometimes seen as passivity
on the part of the present generation (in contrast to the 1960s and 1970s) on
specific issues is misunderstood. As Professor Eisenstadt indicated, they are
going about creating their own life spaces. They are building their own
communities in cyberspace, making their own open-ended metaphors,
their own spirituality, and telling their own stories. In contrast to the
idolatry adults attempt to force on them as role models, they seek
more intimacy with equals. It is more difficult to see youth involvement in
broader aspects of social change but they are present as active engagements in
movements such as peace, ecology, human rights, and consciousness raising
(differing from exploration of former generations).
taking risks. Im referring to consequences beyond personal humiliation or
even loss of ones job. And it means going beyond making
declarations. Sometimes it means actually putting ones life
on the line. The kind of youth activism displayed by 12-year-old lqbal Masih
from Pakistan, sold into slavery by his parents at age four. He was shackled to
a carpet weaving loom, tying tiny knots for the next six years. At age 10 he
escaped the factory and eventually traveled to an international labor
conference in Sweden where he spoke out against child abuse of the other six
million children below age 14 in his country. After receiving repeated death
threats from the carpet industry, Iqbal was assassinated while riding his
bicycle in his village.
doesnt end with Iqbals tragic death. A 12-year-old Canadian,
looking for the comics, came across Iqbals story, was so struck that he
relayed it to his eighth-grade class. He found interest from some of his
classmates, held weekly meetings from his familys den and then set up a
website to make daily contact with human rights groups. A year later, Craig
Keilburger made the trip to Islamabad and found the unmarked grave of the peer
who had inspired him. He visited places where he witnessed gross violations of
child labor, has met with Archbishop Tutu, Pope John Paul II, Mother Teresa,
and the Dalai Lama. Today, a decade later, Craig lays claim to the worlds
largest children helping children network. Free the Children has
built 400 schools that provide education for 35,000 children daily, supply
clean drinking water for 100,000 children, started alternative income projects
for 20,000 people, and has shipped more than nine million dollars in medical
supplies to 40 countries. All these accomplishments while a student in peace
and conflict studies at the University of Toronto.
contribute significantly in the direction of making real progress toward
justice, equality, and peace; all youth must be able to earn an international
passport to help reduce restrictions of national boundaries. Everywhere there
is the need to develop positive national youth policies which are not limited
to rights by default, to social class, or attempts to deal with problematic
behavior. They must include all youth and have their active participation. Such policies must eventually cross
national boundaries with or without the aegis of the United Nations.
nations elders decide on the battlefields, it is youth who are exposed
to, and suffer, the consequences. Peace, moreover, is greater than the mere
absence of war; rather, it begins with a positive orientation within; the basic
element which the Palestinian youth seemed to lack. As so often said, peace
begins within each individual, radiates out to those around, to wider
dimensions, and so on. Youth must learn to embrace values of cooperation and
collaboration rather than competition and exploitation, interdependence rather
than independence. Youth must demand education for peace and not let it occur
haphazardly. And in the interim, youth must insist on the right to
conscientious objection from military training and service.
A curriculum for
peace education includes such studies as cooperative learning that helps
develop individual accountability, face-to-face interaction, and interpersonal
and small group skills. It also includes training in conflict resolution where
conflict becomes a challenge. To implement resolution, third party youth
facilitators are needed who are skilled at mediating and turning conflict into
creative mutual leaning opportunities transcending win-lose arbitration
situations. These studies must begin at the earliest ages in the curriculum of
formal education with opportunities to practice in the community. Children and
youth can master these skills.
4. Work and
education continues to erect barriers between the economically privileged
and the poor, between learning and work, between intellectual and manual labor;
it devalues physical tasks. Even with advanced schooling and cultural exposure,
many people are under-employed and taken advantage of. For the creation of new
jobs youth can no longer depend on governments, or private industry alone nor
can they expect formal education to prepare them adequately for existing or
future jobs. Youth must ready themselves for an ambiguous future, filled with
chaos, uncertainty, and complexity. They must acquire their own skills, be able
to create their own jobsjobs that will allow them to express creativity,
and at the same time, make a social contribution and a decent living as
exemplified by Craig Keilburgers entrepreneurship. Youth must be prepared
to exercise problem-solving skills, be flexible (the ability to change jobs
often), work collaboratively (as in temporarily assembled teams), and customize
goods and services. Free access to information and learning how to use it for
service is one beginning. Youth are forming networks, many made possible by
application of technology, such as electronic billboards, chat rooms, blogs,
If we were to use
formal education alone to define financial success, then we need only look at
the worlds richest man (outside royalty) to refute that criterion. Bill
Gates dropped out of college and, by his thirties, had made his fortune from
scratch by devising ways to communicate information. And he is not the only
one: 30 million of the wealthiest Americans are not college graduates.
New concepts of
work can help raise consciousness and contribute to the quality of working
life. [T]here seems to be a need for a new concept of culture . . .
culture would cease to be viewed simply as the heritage of an elite, and would
come to be seen above all as instrumental in the raising of the consciousness
and in the development of the entire community.  Community-making can take the non-linear
form on the World Wide Web.
Youth need to ask
questions and require answers. In the industrialized nations, for example, they
need to ask educationists why, as graduates, they cant get jobs?
Educators are quick to blame economic factors such as recessions and downsizing
of industry for job slumps. But employers, on the other hand, voice their
discontent of workers skills due to the elitism and obsolescence of
formal education. Recent graduates should likewise be asking how the curriculum
did not meet their concerns?
Children and youth
should also be asking why their schools do not recognize and maximize their
various learning styles? Instead, schooling maintains its primary system based
on one predominant form which features rote learning taught by an adult
teacher, in the confines of a classroom. Those with action learning styles are
forced to conform, their abilities are devalued, and often they are driven into
problematic behavior. At best they are seen as deficient (viz,
Attention Deficit Disorder) and isolated into remedial
education where they are tagged as disabled. Were he living
today, Leonardo di Vinci would probably be separated from the academic
mainstream due to his ambidexterity, mirror writing, and ability to go
backwards and forward simultaneously in space and time; without a doubt,
hed be diagnosed as having dyslexia and siphoned off into a special
education classroom (soubriquet for segregation).
Project or service
learning is still depreciated and virtually ignored in favor of textbooks,
lectures, and examinations. Distance learning is expanding however, with the
aid of technology as television and self-study methods become more readily
available and accepted into the workplace. Duke University, for example, gave
each student in the class of 2008 a free iPod, with a web station. The plan was
not only that youth could augment their classwork, but that it would encourage
professors to integrate it into their courses. Youth, however, have a long way to go to get the education they
need and at the same time they have a lot to say about getting it.
referred to British social psychiatrist Maxwell Jones and his concept of
social learning. To recap, he devised a method whereby people could
learn from their relationships and the situations in which they found
themselves. From schools to correctional institutions and mental hospitals,
from governmental agencies and the military to families, his living
learning procedure enabled participants to interact with one another to
explore new ways of perceiving situations and resolving conflicts. Real
youth participation in social learning would inevitably decrease the
necessity, or indeed do away with occupations such as social workers,
counselors, youth workers, probation officers, and others who are presently
engaged in confining, restricting, and manipulating youths movements.
Finally, there is
the matter of leisure. Despite the tremendous commercialization of free time by
mass media and industry, youth have much to offer. The passivity of marketable
leisure in the industrialized countriesfor example, spectator and
competitive sports, recreation paraphernalia, and packaged travelstifles
creativity and limits the experience of pleasure, to say nothing about its
ecological damage. It reduces leisure to consumption, dictating locations,
styles, forms, tastes, and the rest. It appeals to dreary values and
obsolescent aspects of cultures. Youth want, need, and can create something
more worthwhile. They experience the basic joy of play itself.
We also sometimes
forget that many of the worlds great inventions originated as play during
leisure time. We are more ready to try the untried, when what we do is
inconsequential. So wrote Longshoreman Eric Hoffer in The Ordeal of
Change. He continued: Hence the remarkable fact that many inventions
had their birth as toys. In the Occident the first machines were mechanical
toys, and such crucial instruments as the telescope and microscope were first
conceived as playthings.
5. More Than
Survival: Toward a Youth Ecology.
As vital as it is,
youth must move beyond ordinary subsistence in their personal lives as well as
the world in which they live. The ecological, social, psychological, and human
predicaments youth have inherited are both contaminating and complex; some are
irreversible. Much of our energies and resources are now consumed in developing
competency to cope if only to maintain the status quo. In spite of damage
control, youth must become proactive by taking positive stances. Youth, for
example, must be more concerned with wellness than illness, with conserving and
developing resources than with consumption, with expanding and perfecting the
human condition rather than repairing it. Youth as well as adults must be
prepared for shifts that will result from widespread social and technological
changes. Already these changes have had significant effects on youth
psychologically creating a wholistic outlook; they see no separation between
play, magic and work, between information and ideas, thought and the material,
religion and business. Iconography allows them to condense complex matters by
recognizing patterns and forms a new kind of metaphorical understanding. They
are able to engage in more than one task simultaneously and can live with
ambiguity, uncertainty and chaos. Youth create their own virtual communities
and seek genuiness in spiritual quests in contrast to secondhand religions.
They tell their own stories and in the telling, create their own identities.
must be able to be involved in matters that affect their lives at the moment.
They need to have a sense of benefit and usefulness for their activities.
Participation is a splendid source of personal and social development. And we
need their assistance; by the same token, they need ours, such as it may be. If
youth are given opportunities for active participation, they become
collaborators who work for constructive change. Youth need opportunities to
learn through projects which they design and carry out to bring about the
improvement of society. Boycotting products of manufacturers supporting
violence on television is one, getting oneself elected as mayor is another.
These projects should be an integral part of formal education in collaboration
with other organizations, but are increasingly being done outside its
To carry out
action projects, we have to share scientific methods with youth. The
fundamentals begin with learning how to spot and state problems which need
study and amelioration. Next, they need to calculate the resources and
obstacles (analyze the forcefield); then subsequently devise and carry out a
plan of action. Finally, they need to assess the results in terms of
how effectiveor ineffectivethe plan of action was. They may
need a re-run with a different strategy. This cycle is the basis for action or
project learning, which furthermore leads to the formation of knowledge.
Other tools we
need to share with youth include humanistic and social psychology and
mythology. Concepts and practices such as intuition, archetypes, dreams,
collective unconscious, visualization, and meditation are but a few.
Unfortunately in its efforts to become scientific, academic
psychology got lost in reductionism, breaking down human behavior into
analyzable bits and pieces. People just dont function that way. Luckily,
newer more wholistic psychologies have emerged, largely outside of mainstream
academia. Some have been there all the time but encoded in terminology and
complex theories that only professional psychologists could comprehend.
of archetypes, is a good example. It has been available since 1902. In it he
showed that we all have tendencies to form psychic representations in symbolic
language; motifs show up in dreams, myths, and fantasies. These are energies
that inform the psyche which drive a person in a certain direction
psychologically, emotionally, and even job-wise. Both talent and temperament
are dictated by the archetype, working deep inside the unconscious like the
nucleus of an atom: hidden yet vital, guiding the evolution of the
individuals psyche towards full consciousness. Classically they were
personified in Greek mythology in the appearance of gods and goddesses.
The appeal of the
Starwars movies is an example of archetypal lore. Luke Skywalker is
still very much the archetypal son. His life-and-death struggle with Darth
Vader (the dark father), is a replay of the eternal struggle between the
upcoming generation and the one in power; the hostile fathers, Uranus and
Cronos feared their sons acquisition of power. Luke, the son with a
loving heart, must defeat the destructive father to set free the loving one.
exemplifies the androgynous element of the psyche, which the Greeks
characterized as Dionysus, god of ecstasy, an eternal youth who scarcely knows
who he is, and is unable to differentiate the feminine from the masculine in
himself. He searches for his true identity, experiencing the cycles of death
and rebirth. Michael Jacksons surgeries to change his physical appearance
are an attempt to find himself: to create a self that is separate from
Michael Jackson, superstar. He is both black and white, masculine
and feminine, child and adult. His appeal for young women is in his seeming
vulnerability; for adolescent males he represents the possibility of being both
Youth can learn useful
information from other areasquantum mechanics, synergy, morphic
resonance, poetry, reincarnation, spirituality, and the use of
abstractionas important tools to explore their world with a broader view,
what someone has called, a wider landscape of the imagination.
Metaphors, for example,
ways of helping our minds process the unprocessable . . . Problems arise in
belief systems like religion, science and its application only when people
insist in believing that these metaphors are literal truth. . . In trying to
understand something we reach for a metaphor for it. And the best metaphors
spring almost unbidden from the unconscious. This allows a substitution for the
thing in terms of something more familiar to us, like the pangs of
And to bind
learning and experimentation, youth need to perfect the art of human
6. Youth Action Teams.
As means to implement
the Unesco counsel, we need ways for youth to become mobilized and receive the
skills for its implementation. One method would be the creation of teams of
youth summoned for action, Youth Action Teams (YATs). They could
be educated in Youth Development Centers and non-profits as well as in
traditional schools. Such Teams would be composed of six to 12 youths of
all ages, two older experienced youth, and an adult expert who would serve
as a coordinator or facilitator. Training would evolve around design and
implementation of projects which the Teams would select much like the research
and development components of industry.
We have splendid examples of
youth serving constructive roles worldwide through voluntary service in many
governmental and nongovernmental agencies. A Youth Action Team, however,
would supplement and enlarge these activities by providing expertise in helping
a community or an agency assess its resources and needs, then fabricate and
carry out a plan of action. Teams could be mobilized to meet general or
specific tasks; evaluating youth services and agencies to ecological
preservation, conceiving new forms of literacy training to disaster preparation
and in creative uses of leisure time. Differing from voluntary service
organizations, Teams would not offer direct services, but rather assist others
to acquire appropriate information and skills, and learn how to use them
An international exchange would
enhance such undertakings and enable youths to learn from one another
cross-culturally and cross-nationally, perfect their skills, and enlarge their
knowledgenot too unlike the partnership in the International Space
Program. Team members would be paid for their services and receive academic
recognition if they so desired. The peace dividend in the form of use of
military facilities would make exchanges readily possible on a large scale at a
minimum of additional cost. As far back as 1959, Life Magazine proposed
a plan to establish a Great White Fleet composed of unarmed naval
vessels, painted white as a symbol of peace, . . . would sail around the
world with food for the hungry, medical facilities for the sick or injured, and
technicians to help underprivileged people improve their own lot. The many recent world disasters would
have been greatly assisted by this project; portions have been realized through
voluntary organizations such as Free the Children and Doctors
That fundamental changes are taking place among youth,
furthering their existence as a distinct social class, is well recognized. From
their enclaves we can see starting points of possible future personal, cultural
and societal change. Impatient with the obsolescence of acculturation to a
society with which they feel at odds, they are creating their own lifestyles,
relationships, means of communication, and indeed, their own communities. The
question is raised as to how we can assist youth in their experimentation, or
can we at all? And what can we learn from them in their pursuits? A youth
social ecology is one means to preserve their rights and foster their
development by sharing tools that will aid in their unearthings. Building on
their sense of relationships, action teams of youth, employing a program
development cycle, could lead to new ideas that would simultaneously provide
the need for participatory experiences and lead to jobs in the industry
EXEMPLARY YOUTH ACTION TEAMS
1. Human Needs. Determining, fostering, and protecting
basic physical, emotional, intellectual, sexual, and spiritual needs; designing
new ways for fulfillment and enrichment of the quality of life.
Services. Study needs and assist agencies to implement new methods and
evaluation of services in areas such as: physical and mental health, crime and
delinquency, substance abuse, violence, aging, child abuse, learning and
teaching, and social welfare. Preparation of Consumers Guides
to public and private agencies and practitioners. Emphasis on self-help
approaches and primary prevention models. Development of a service
bank where people could receive credits for services performed to be used
in exchange for goods and services.
Community Public Health. Assisting the community in identifying its
needs and assets for coping with current health matters and prevention.
Promotion of pilot projects; define youth issues and gain youth representation
on boards, committees, and planning entities, and engage in youth advocacy.
Disaster. Aiding disaster (of which a major one strikes the earth at the
rate of every 15 days): earthquakes, floods, famine, riots; ways to mobilize
civil and military sources to assist communities to plan and intervene.
Ecology. Social and physical conservation, alternative energy sources,
corporate auditing and responsibility, to preserve all areas of the planet and
make it more habitable,
Rights and Justice. Preservation and furthering of fundamental freedoms,
including human rights and justice; rights of racial, generational, and sexual
minorities, nationalities, etcetera.
Peace. Ways to bring about and protect local and world peace, promote
understanding, conflict resolution, and cooperation among families, within
neighborhoods, organizations, and nations; de-escalation of violence, guns, and
the arms race; conversion of military resources to global peace pursuits. Form
liaison and affiliations with local, national, and international peace
organizations, for example, the UNs University of Peace in Costa Rica.
Development. Examining existing theories and conceptions of youth
development on a cross-cultural basis; designing and conducting surveys and
research to enhance developmental theory and putting refined theory to service.
Employment Creation. Experimenting, defining, and testing new forms of
youth employment, entrepreneurship. bartering, and how to implement them
(identify potential areas, resources, obstacles, strategies, spread).
Political Action. The role of youth in political action; use of existing
political structures and creation of new ones, including youth political
parties; participation in voter registration for youths, forming youth
constituencies, and a clearing house for legislation concerning youth;
establishing liaison with incumbents.
Leisure. From sports to hobbies: Locating, experimenting and supporting
a wide range of leisure time activities, especially evenings, weekends, and
holidays. Exploring talents, physical fitness, and facilities such as 24-hour
community schools and their integration into the community. Ways to find and
disseminate information on local, national and international resources and
Media. Development of responsible reportage of newsworthy events to
enlighten and broaden opinion, raise social conscience; critically examine news
events reported by the media, track stories and reporters, originate press
releases, conduct depth interviews and reactions to events; distillation of
coverage and presentation to the community for discussion. Team would be mobile
with a van equipped for filming, videotaping and rapid compilation of news
sheets and distribution to remote areas to promote discussion. Maintain liaison
with commercial media.
Performing Arts. Development of art forms such as theater, including
talk-back and street theater, mime, video, film, and dance, both as cultural
forms and commentary for public involvement.
Literary and Literacy. Study of literature from classical forms to
graffiti, as social commentary and its linkages to the community; writing
fiction and non-fiction, offering critiques, linking with local writers and
literary organizations. Promotion of approaches to reducing youth and adult
History. Oral history as a means for discovering our roots, our heritage,
the life of the community and its relevance to youth. Training in depth
interviewing, data recording and preservation.
Research. Design and implement forms of evaluation for social action
strategies, including monitoring projects, legislation, and agencies
programs for effectiveness; social auditing.
Futures. Designing creative culture models of the future; use of
physical and social space, time, leisure, play, work, and technology. Visions
and plans to celebrate the new millennium.
Development. From neighborhood to nation building: enhancement of
economic, social. cultural, and political aspects of local, national, regional,
and international development without exploitation of human and natural
Economic Order. Design ways to implement the International Order locally,
based on equality rather than military domination or industrial exploitation.
International Exchanges. Planning and implementing Team exchanges
nationally, regionally, and internationally to assist others and learn from
them; to celebrate youths role in the new millennium.
Notes & References
1. Nadine Gordimer. Living in hope and history: Notes
from our century. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux. 1999. p.50.
[Return to Text]
2. Leonard Shlain. Art & physics. Parallel visions in
space,time & light. New York; William Morrow 1991. p.17.
[Return to Text]
3. Harold Pinter. Quoted by Nadine Gordimer, op cit., p.12.
[Return to Text]
4. Allen Cherry. From youth culture to commitment. in
Otto Butz, ed To make a difference. A student look at America, its
values, its society and its systems of education. New York: Harper &
Row. 1967. p.53. [Return to Text]
5. Gordimer, op. cit. p.213 [Return to Text]
6. ibid., p.220. [Return to Text]
7. Igor Stravinsky & Robert Craft. Conversations with
Igor Stravinsky. New York: Doubleday. 1959. p.121 [Return to
8. Fidel Castros courageous attempt to eradicate
illiteracy during his Year of Education(1961), occurred as he
closed the schools for six months and convened a volunteer force of 271,000
childrenbrigadistaswho went out into the countryside to
tutor 700,000 adults, reducing illiteracy from 23.6 percent to 3.9. Jonathan
Kozol. Children of the revolution. New York: Delacorte. 1980. The
training and utilization of feldshers in the USSR, Geneva: World Health
Organization. Public Health Paper # 56. 1974. Chi Wen. Training a million
barefoot doctors. Aspects of education in china. Prospects. 1975.
[Return to Text]
9. S.N. Eisenstadt. Modernization and changing conceptions of
youth nd generations. Prospects. 25,3. 1995. September. pp.343-354.
[Return to Text]
10. Titos Patrikos. Rights & responsibilities of youth.
Paris: Unesco. 1972. p.60. [Return to Text]
11. Roel van Duyn. Message of a wise kabouter. London:
Duckworth. 1972. Provo. (Special issue), Delta. 1967. pp.5-122. [Return to Text]
12. Teenager elected mayor! In Touch. 2005. November 28.
p 83.[Return to Text]
13. Dennie Briggs. Trends in learning in the United States of
America; a passing glance. Prospects. 25,3. 1995. September. p.381.
Youth and global social trends. Paper read at the sixth international youth
forum, Seoul, Korea, August 1995. [Return to Text]
14. Kathy Ganon. Young labor activist slain in Pakistan. San
Francisco Chronicle. 1995. April 19.[Return to
15. Kristin McHugh. Through the eyes of a child. Free the
children founder discusses plight of the worlds children. Courier.
1999. (Fall). Claudia Rowe. Saving children from sweatshops: One teens
crusade. Biography Magazine. 1999. November. web site:
www.freethechildren.org. [Return to Text]
16. Mohammad Sharif. . . .a national youth policy is an
interrelated set of measures, a positive strategy designed to enable youth to
cope with problems of changing socio-economic conditions and enable them to
contribute to national development. A national youth policy must be an
integrated part of the over-all national development plan, and must be premised
on the recognition of youth as a human resource pivoted to national
development. (Chief, Youth Unit, Social Development Branch, UN Social
Development Centre 1980. (personal communication, November 27). Dennie Briggs
and Douglas Grant. Developing a national youth policy. in Arthur Pearl, et al
eds. The value of youth: A call for a national youth policy. Davis,
California: Dialogue Books. 1978. pp.309-38.[Return to Text]
17. Robert Reich. Getting our slice of the pie. Young adults
must adapt to survive in the new job markets. San Francisco Chronicle.
1994. October 13.[Return to Text]
18. Morton Deutsch. Educating for a peaceful world. American
Psychologist. 48: 1993 May. p510[Return to Text]
19. Shlain op cit p.32.[Return to Text]
20. James Todd, The iPod iDea. Duke Magazine. 2005
(September-October). pp44-49. [Return to Text]
21. Dennie Briggs. A Life Well Lived. Maxwell Jonesa
memoir. London: Jessica Kingsley Publisher. 2002.[Return to
22. For an excellent guide to understanding youth culture and
use of the new media in fresh terms, see Douglas Rushkoff. Playing the
future. New York; HarperCollins. 1996. Cf Dutch historians classic,
Homo Ludens, by Johan Huizinga. London: Paladin Books. 1970.[Return to Text]
23. Don Faubin. The dynamics of change. Englewood, New
Jersey: Prentice-Hall. 1967. p 19[Return to Text]
24. In the 1960s, Social Psychiatrist Harry Wilmer developed
the use of the television monologue as a means of self-observation working with
adolescents who had become dependent on the amphetamines, halucinogens and
marijuana. Harry Wilmer. The use of television monologue with adolescent
psychiatric patients. Hospital & Community Psychiatry. 19, 1968.
pp.129-133, [Return to Text]
25. Program development, in suggested guidelines: United
Nations expert group meeting on training programmes for youth workers
responsible for youth participation in development. Centre for social
development and humanitarian affairs, Vienna. 1979. December.[Return to Text]
26. One example is that of presenting the ideas of the Joseph
Campbell, the great mythologist in conversational format. cf. John Maher and
Dennie Briggs. eds. An open life: Joseph Campbell in conversation with
Michael Toms. New York: Harper & Row. 1990. Also available on cassettes
from the New Dimensions Radio. www.newdimensions.org.[Return to
Blaize-Molony. A Psychotherapeutic Encounter. André Gide; Oscar
Wilde. TC-OF (Open Sources)[Return to Text]
28. For a history of this idea with examples from seven teams,
see Dennie Briggs. In school IV,
Youth action teams.
29. A new kind of great white fleet: Bold proposal for peace.
Life Magazine 1995. (July 27). pp.17-26.[Return to
30. Joan Grant. The industry of discovery. in Arthur Pearl
& Frank Reissman. New careers for the poor. The nonprofessional in human
service. New York: The Free Press. 1965. p.94.[Return to