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The Bigger Picture: Agents of Social Change


Agents of Social Change

I don’t know about you, but it is my impression that our youth are not inheriting the world as we wish it would be. If you agree with me, please continue. If not go to page 108 where you will be mauled by a bear.

Why aren’t the current generations of active adults making more of an effort to improve economic, social, and environmental conditions? What is it about us that makes us as complacent as we are? Don’t worry, I’ve got it all figured out. If you are not interested in hearing answers, please turn to page 345 where there is a nice recipe for tuna salad casserole.

Let’s allow me to vastly generalize and say that we have been raised to be competitive, obedient (or destructively rebellious), and to think inside the box. If you disagree, turn to page. . .oh, just stick with me on this one.

We think mostly of ourselves, are afraid to rock the boat (or rock it by running red lights), and suppress innovative thoughts as if they would burn holes in our brains.

We are like this because we have been raised to be this way. And the mainstream schooling that most of us experienced is a major contributing factor. So far, nothing I have said is new information so don’t think I’m some wild and crazy radical or anything. Ask John Holt, John Taylor Gatto, Alfie Kohn, Lisa Delpit, Jonathan Kozol, David Guterson, Ivan Illich, Howard Gardner, Howard Zinn, Grace Llewellyn, Chris Mercogliano, and many more.

We were quizzed, rewarded, punished, shamed, pitted against each other, age segregated, coerced, in some cases corporally punished and verbally abused, seven hours a day, five days a week, forty two weeks each year, for thirteen years, so there is not much of a need to wonder why we are the ways we are. (I know, we had some fun too, remember those tiny milk cartons?)

Many people who are reading this have probably reproduced, some of you profusely. And many of you have chosen to and are able to keep your offspring from enduring the same experiences you might have had at school. Good start.

The question arises, how should we raise and educate them differently than we were?

Furthermore, how can we raise and educate them differently than we were when we were not provided the tools to do so? We are in a conundrum.

At Talking Stick, we consider the challenge of how to raise and educate future generations to be effective agents of social change:

How to raise them to have the ability to see what they want to change about a given situation? For example, pollution.
How to raise them to expect to have the right to be a part of solving the problems that affect them? For example, voting.
How to raise them to have the tools to communicate and solve problems effectively? For example, emotional competency and flexible thinking.

We ask ourselves: What would their learning environment be like? What would it look like, smell like, and sound like? How would the adults be treating the young people? How would the young people learn which behaviors are acceptable and which are not?

Furthermore, what skills need to be developed to see, expect, and have tools as in the abovementioned “How To” questions?

Being able to view visually, emotionally, and conceptually, etc, a situation from an innovative perspective. For example, optical illusions, absurd poems, and climbing a tree.
Empowering youth to be included in problem solving and boost their self-esteem. For example, when a person has a tendency to step away from conflict and let others’ needs dominate over their own, we meet them where they are at and perhaps start by speaking “for” them while they are still standing there.
Words to use when communicating through a conflict, games to play to generate new points of view on a problem, and a love of expression through the written word. We boil down elaborate explanations and complaints to “What did she do that you did not like?” so that communication can be clear and simple.

Our young people have the potential to be more active than us when it comes to social change, but it takes some internal change on our part to be able to provide them with the support they need to be different. Their educational journey becomes ours as we learn from the new ways we are providing for them through reading, support from friends and family, and the infrastructure provided by institutions like Talking Stick.