The role of young people as independent actors in their own right, able to define and become architects of their future has changed over the years. In thinking this through, from an adult perspective, we might look back and reflect on how the concept of youth participation has evolved over the decades since the student led protest movements of the 1960s and the first Summer of Love. Much has changed. 

The most obvious change has been a shift from a world where children were seen as naturally the subjects of adult power to more empowering ideas of youth autonomy, leadership and agency. 

It is also here we enter into the territory of youth culture and youth voice, of rights and freedoms, and even rebellion. In this series of blogs Jez Hall considers the evolution of youth participation. 

The institutions that form the child

There are two fundamental institutions, structured largely by adults, which we need to acknowledge. Firstly, the family, with its ‘natural’ hierarchies and roles. Where parents first create children and then model them in their own image. Nurture them, love them, raise them well hopefully. But also impose upon them by shaping them in their own image.

The other great institution within young people’s lives are their schools. Education is rightly seen as an essential pathway towards independence, economic benefits and maturity. But arguably there are two fundamentally different forms of pedagogy that inform how they operate. One which might be crudely called the ‘banking model’, where schools fill young people with useful knowledge, get them to practice in order to pass exams and along the way shape ‘school appropriate’ behaviours. 

On the other hand, in the ‘Pedagogy of the Oppressed, the famous Brazilian thinker Paolo Freire argued that schools should become spaces for liberation through problem posing. The impact of Freirean ideas on education has been profound, but not universal. Few schools teach radical liberation. However might participatory budgeting reflects a more empowering approach to education. A problem posing process of spending real money, where children and young people can exercise responsibility, and shape their learning based upon principles of the rights of the child.

The concept of an empowering school is not a new one. The Scottish Improvement Hub uses a model that shows how many sectors need to work together to improve children and young people’s outcomes. Education and growth is about more than teachers. However progress towards liberated, empowered education is not always easy, as identified by Tony Lawson, a senior lecturer in Education in a 2011 article:

Government educational policy increasingly has defined the structural contexts of education, the content of the curriculum and the practices of pedagogies in the classroom.

In our next blog we explore how similar ideas have evolved in informal education.

Photo by Sophia H. Gue on Unsplash