Learning from History about Young People

“Young people are not openly rejecting either Christian institutions or organised youth work. They are simply not even accepting them as having any possible claim on them or anything to offer to them which they need. Experience suggests these are some of the prevalent causes of this attitude:
a) such organisations do not offer any purpose beyond themselves that is anything to do with LIFE
b) because they seem to be forms of retreat from reality and ways of ‘substitute living
c) because they are in control of adults who do not offer a mutual relation but either an authoritarian or a patronising one
d) more subtly because youth organisations are for youth. Segregation is as unsatisfying as it is unnatural”
Though these causes are out in more or less rational form, they represent attitudes which only here and there are articulated, but which deeply influence action”
(Hamilton 1964)

If I look at some of the key practices of youthwork over the last 20 odd years or so, I wonder about how many of them became a reality and adhered to some of these warnings of a considerable amount of time ago. Actions such as club work, detached, mentoring, programme based, issue based, could all be rejected by ‘the unattached’ young people for one of those prevailing attitudes, even with the best intention in the world have ended up segregating young people ( from their families, in time, actions or beliefs), being patronising or authoritarian. Yet it was with the ‘unnattached’ that these thought were in mind.

What did Jesus say about this:

“And it is true that the children of this world are more shrewd in dealing with the world around them than are the children of the light” (Luke 16:8) Jesus said this within the context of a story of the shrewd manager, dealing with money, wages and time – and to his disciples- so not said as a reaction to a trick question from the Pharisees.

And so, if the children and young people, even back then, were more shrewd, clever and astute – how much more so now – and yet even going back only 40 years to 1964, has the church, has the state really thought about its responsibilities to young people whom arent of ‘its parish’.

Starting where young people are at, starting in their context, starting in and with community is one way forward. True liberation starts from the within and from the ground up ( Friere) , relationships built upon those tried and trusted values of voluntary participation, some vulnerability, disempowerment on our part ( as adults) , empowerment on the part of those we are seeking to serve, respect for individuals, yet individuals who are human beings in social context.

Will the closed ranks and powers of the agendas of the organisations and institutions prevent this from becoming a reality?  If the two powers of state and church – which do a considerable amount of the funding – dictate that from one hand more targets are required in a case study approach ( state), and preventing church decline/personal (individual) evangelism drive a church attitude to young people – then actually nothing has changed since 1964.  Adults are only seeking to work with young people with a prefixed, ‘fixing’ agenda.

Have we got to the stage where the young person as a social grouping is a necessity for our existence? What of the considerable resources, magazines, conferences, training, that in abundance thrive on the specified need to segregate young people into social groupings ( generation Y etc) or that as a seperate group they need special attention/facilities/resources which organisations are only too happy to thrive off their costs, annual renewals or subscriptions. Are young people a truly seperate culture? or group?  – or is that a narrative stoked up by both church ( because young people arnet flocking the churches) or state ( in the media) Yet how many of this plethora of resources is adequate for the ‘unnattached’ shrewd young person?  If they don’t fit – what changes- the system, the programme, the group – or them?

Recently a young person I’d met on one of the estates during detached work, and had had several conversations with – very articulate, chatty, involved, liked adult company etc went along to a festival week in one of the local schools, ran by a local church. At which this 12 year old was asked to go to a group work table to do a craft activity – at which he reacted, and bolted to one end of the room. One of the workers went to speak to him, (because they knew him from the detached work) and asked if he would like to help her with some of the younger ones in their groups – to which he did and really thrived. Can the church trust the young people outside of its parish with actual responsibility? – after all – where might ‘discipleship/apprenticeship’ start from? Where might values be challenged and changed – in actions and conversations?

Young people dont need us – or at least they dont need the bit of us that seeks to control, be authoritarian, patronising, unauthentic, short term, or have unnegotiated agendas. They do need us to respect them, to be with, to listen, to adapt, to explore, to build with ( and not for) , to respect their lives in their community. I think thats why i believe in youthwork, and the values of, approach of and philosophy of youthwork, and why church and state for all its good/otherwise intentions, needs to keep stronger investment in this professional philosophy and approach, an approach to facilitate genuine human flourishing.  Not only present experience, and protests, but history tells us that agendas, authority and segregation have limited effect.




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