How do you recognise a lesser spotted youthworker? Theyll be overheard saying these

If you were to gather a whole load of youthworkers together, or over hear them talking in the office or with family and friends, and theres a good chance you might hear some of the following. They are the audible signs that the person is a youthworker.

1. I wish you could get funding for developing purposeful relationships

2. No I don’t get paid just to play table tennis Image result for table tennis

3. It’s like a combination of being a social worker, teacher and police officer, but also nothing like them.

4. Maybe we need to have a conversation about that.

5. No one gets what were trying to do here, but were trying anyway.

6. Don’t call them youth, or young person, they have a name.

7. I wish I was better managed.

8. Youth work is not like it used to be.

9. Margaret Thatcher. (Often in an informal lecture about cuts to youth provision or rise of neo liberalism.) 

10. To young people: We do just want this (CCTV ridden, brand new building ) to be your space.

11.Yes i do a proper job, an no i’m not too old to do it 

12. No Im not just warming up to be a teacher or vicar

13. Yes im sure we’ll be able to use something random from the store cupboard to run a session

14. You mean i have to do my own admin too? 

15. Needlessly dropping the words ‘Generation’ into any sentence.  (this is often the ‘church’ based youthworker- they have other phrases too) 

16. We just want to be ‘there’ for young people

17. Have you considered the ethics of this decision? (over deciding which coffee outlet to meet in) 

18. We need to consider the context of the young person

19. ‘Our job keeps changing, a different job title every year, for every funding cut, every new reshuffle. I used to be a youthworker, now im a children, youth, families, community flourisher with early educational intervention remit. Its the same job, but i report now to the litter picking department’

20.  There’s just something wonderful about when young people want to talk, share their dreams and ambitions, and i can help them achieve them. 

21. Its the system. Its always the systems fault. 

22. We have loads of funding, last week we were able to throw away a pencil in the office without going all the way down to the lead. 

23. I wish young people didnt have all those expectations thrust on them, that they could choose what kind of service or provision they want. 

24. God i hate funding forms. 

25. It is all about values isnt it? 

You may, of course spot a number of other phrases or sayings that in a crowded room, a conference, or even now at the school that help you to indicate the sounds of the now lesser spotted youthworker. They are an endangered species more than ever, so, buy them a coffee, say hello, and only when you mention NCS, Neo liberalism or evangelism, do they bite. Do add your own below:

 

Advertisements

The Education system has depressed young people (and their learning)- why should they succeed to make it look good?

My school is run like a business, and it sucks

So said the young person as they were talking to me a few weeks ago. So said the same young person who said that they told this to a teacher in the proceeding few weeks.

This one sentence and phrase has brought to light a number of questions regarding the state of young people in the UK today. These questions being;

  • What might it mean for young people to know that they are being educated in a system which primary motivation that isn’t actually about them?
  • What might it mean about the politics of education and how competition has turned schools into business and therefore young peoples within education to be nothing more than a consumption/ consumer relationship?
  • Do young people have to be doubly determined to succeed knowing that it will also benefit a system that they have no empathy or respect for?
  • Could the 900 youth workers lost from communities have made any difference..?

 

But first, I want to look back a short while.

When thinking about education being a system, I don’t think that isn’t new. I look back on my own education (I started primary school in 1982, was the first year of age 14/year 9 SATS in 1991/2, and in 1994, was the 6th year of GCSES- I think, and I vaguely remember the first and only time that my school had an Ofsted inspection) . There was an education system at place in the schools I was in, an increase in alternatives for A levels were being introduced (NVQ’s, GNVQ’s) , and I can honestly say, and maybe naively, that as far as I remember, the main reason that my teachers were wanting me to do well. So that I would do well, achieve and succeed, and even if that mean that at some level this was a funnelling of skills and subjects towards vocations and employment, at least, even selfishly, this was about me, and my future.

If i did think of myself in part of a system when I was at school, the scales were, i feel weighted in my favour. My school wasn’t at risk of being shut down. My school didn’t seem to be a place where there was a great deal of fear. My education wasn’t tempered by any notion on my part that what I did in school had an impact on the success or closure of the schools, and because of this, to those teachers I wanted to, I could connect with, as they, themselves would not only teach, but coach, encourage, listen and to a point give opportunity for developing ideas and expression. To a point, because of course there were exams, curriculum and grades to be sought.

But even I, by the point of 18 had had enough of it, even then, When 80% of my friends went onto university from the age of 18, I didn’t. Even when a system was stacked in my favour and I could do well academically in the future, I didn’t want to carry on. (NB i have completed BA and MA as a mature student). It was probably only at that later point when future destinations post 18 that I felt there was a system directing me into a particular direction, and only at the ‘leavers/graduation service’ that having a destination was something that the school was being proud about.

As I said, this was only 25 or so years ago. It wasn’t the 1960’s, or 70’s. It was the early 1990’s.

Thinking even further back, many of you who read my pieces regularly will know that I am an avid reader of Freire and his inspirational educative practices that have shaped Informal education and community practices, as well as others like Myles Horton, and Henry Giroux. So, in reading We make the Road by Walking in the last week or so, I was intrigued to compare the accounts of education of my own, with those of Freire and Horton, admittedly in South America and in the 1950’s stating that ;

I can remember, when I was in High school, how sad I was that my classmates didn’t like to read poems, stories, literature. I enjoyed it so much and they hated it. I thought it was the teachers that did that to them and I resented that. I could see this system, where teachers were killing off any possibility of students ever enjoying literature. To them it was something that you had to learn, memorise and you hated it because you had to do it. And i can remember very clearly how I took my resentment out on the teachers. I didn’t at that stage speak out and challenge them or try to organise a campaign against them, but I would read (my own books) in their classes and ignore them. That was my way of protesting (Myles Horton, 1990)

Whilst there might be some revisionist thinking in Horton and Freire as they remember their school life of over 40 years previously. What the were rejecting and protesting against was the rigidity of an education system that didn’t allow for the beauty and critical thinking that education should be about, and instead for only learning for memorisings sake to be the key function of education. What Horton and Freire in their conversation then talk about is how they began to realise how to try and think, then act in accordance with a different system, other than what they conceived to be the capitalist one. When Freire himself graduated from formal teaching college and started in his first role in a secondary school, and was told he was a good teacher by his teaching inspector, he said of teaching:

Teaching secondary school was then an adventure. It was a beautiful thing for me. At some point, I began to discover that one of the main reasons why the students could learn with me and liked my class was that I respected them, no matter their age (very young). I respected them and I respected their mistakes, their errors and their knowledge. (Freire, 1990)

I include these accounts, because of how they seem to present a stark contrast to how a number of young people perceive the system of their education today.

Also, that whilst Freire and Horton have become pillars of thought in community education, their backgrounds were in the very formal education, and formal education in deprived areas that many schools in the UK find themselves today. So, when Freire says ; ‘first of all, I think its interesting for us as educators to think again and again about the political atmosphere, the social atmosphere, cultural atmosphere in which we work as educators’  he isnt just speaking to the youth and community work fraternal, but to everyone involved in education. There is a social, political and cultural context. So, enough of the pre-amble. If I’m honest, some of that was so that it would be read before thinking through some of the questions above.

The current school leavers next summer, post 18, will have been born in 2000-2001, only 6 years or so after I finished school myself. The question therefore is; Is this the first full generation of young people who have grown up and completed schooling in the UK (those who have completed it) to have experienced fully and felt the ideology of competition and the ethics of the market in their education? When i say ‘feel’- I mean, know that their education has been intrinsically linked to and within a system? 

What i mean is, Are the current 18 year olds one of the first year groups to have experienced the following:

  1. Joy or despair at age 5 when the ‘right primary school’ was/wasnt granted
  2. Sats aged 7 and 11
  3. Primary schools that had at least 2-3 Ofsted inspections in the 6 years, and secondary schools the same
  4. Parents who poured over league tables to choose secondary schools or primary school league tables (published the same day as this post) 
  5. A school that proudly said that it was ‘Ofsted Outstanding’ in its documentation, assemblies or ‘banner’ outside the school gates. 
  6. A teacher in secondary school who said that the school was proud of the results of previous years and how this ‘made the school look good’
  7. A headteacher who was about trying to make his/her school the best in the area due to results
  8. A school in ‘special measures’ due to an inspection
  9. Predicted grades shown at every parents evening, because apparently this is what Parents want… as a consequence, testing and exams and assessments more than 2-3 times a year so ‘data’ can be distributed. 
  10. and the list goes on….

What is the impact on a young person of all of this?  do they feel pressure, responsibility, more motivated, or… when education doesnt seem to be about them, but the organisation, policies, data and outcomes, what might that do to how they feel within it..?

For any young person with half a brain, they must know that they are part of a larger system that isn’t about them at all.

It is a system that seems to be focused on the survival of the institution. A survival that is about outcomes, results and data. For young people this means that it is not about them at all. It is about the school, and the ideology of the system. Schooling has become a competition, and each school is fighting for survival and young people are pawns in the battle. As Giroux argues:

A euphemism for privatisation ‘choice’ relieves schools of the pretence of serving the public good. No longer institutions designed to benefit all the members of the community, they are refashioned in market terms designed to serve the narrow interests of individual consumers and national economic policies (2010)

 

And that is why its a business, a business that as a consequence is driven by the ethics of the market. Not neutral ethics, by the way, but ethics of the market, of competition, where its not the respect of young people, their education, choice, enjoyment or even capacity and opportunity to learn and flourish that drives, but grades, memorising and regurgitation. It has become a system that depresses young people into nothing more than an outcome, and reduces education to nothing more than a memory test and the pupils to the data they produce. What impact has this had on teaching and education itself… oh dear… Teachers fill in the blanks__________________________________________

What is the impact on young people who have now grown up knowing they are pawns in the system, not people who have been educated for their good? – well its not just because of debt that they might not go to uni, its that they fear the continuation of the same culture, and so it’ll take even more convincing of parents and others to encourage young people to go to a different institution for further education. They’ve become depressed by education, and for many they’ve given up and become fatalistic. This is what the culture of education has done. This is a tragedy, when so much of the world could be open to them in the future for learning. There may well be other impacts for young people that  knowing  that they are part of such a system will have.

Its is as no wonder that there’s queues for the Mental Health teams in many areas, could this be linked to how young people are educated in areas.. well it could be…

On a different note, when a culture of education has depressed young people – why should they reward the system by doing well within it? –

Might deliberately failing be an act of protest against it, and a way of hoping it might change for the next generation, failing deliberately becoming an altruistic/sacrificial act, to save others.

If the system has depressed education to its technicality, then it has no room for creativity, critical learning and space for enjoyment. Each young person is the equivalent of the parts of a macdonalds big mac and the final outcome brought about by a process of efficiency, cost effectiveness and replicability, with someone pouring over data sheets and numbers to create strategy from. One is economic, technical and managerial, teaching however, should be an art form. The link between the managerial and education is not lost on Henry Giroux who again writes:

The first is to establish the mission of the school system in terms that are assessable and replicable. The second is to efficiently configure the resources of the system to accomplish the mission. The third is to use feedback obtained to make adjustments in order to keep the mission within agreed upon costs…In perspectives such as this, unfortunately pervasive in the curriculum field, manipulation takes the place of learning, and any attempt at inter-subjective understanding is substituted for a science of educational technology in which ‘choices exist only when they make the systems more rational, efficient and controllable. In a critical sense the Achilles heel of the culture of positivitism in public school pedagogy is its refusal to acknowledge its own ideology as well as the relationship between knowledge and social control ( Giroux, Schooling and the culture of positivism, in On Critical Pedagogy, 2011)

I guess the ideology of the school is not so hidden when teachers freely admit it. And pupils can readily see it. But that doesn’t mean to say that its acknowledged. More that this ‘have to be this way’ and ‘this is default’. Anything contrary is frowned upon, everything within it is ‘awesome’.

For Social control, see the recent pieces on behaviour management in schools on the BBC, and a previous post here, where a teacher describes their reflection of the situation.

What kind of relationship does this kind of culture create for education?

Is the role of the pupil in the school nothing more than reduced to someone who churns out data that can be analysed? Can there be teaching and learning relationships between teacher and pupil when there is such a culture?

In ‘The presentation of the self in everyday life (1960)’  Irving Goffman suggests that the closer we are to the ‘place of trade or goods’ the harder it is to present ourselves with authenticity. Can teaching occur when there is no respect? or empathy? or desire instilled to learn for the joy of the process – id argue, along with Freire not. It takes a considerable more amount of effort for a pupil to feel committed and empathetic towards their teachers, and thus respect them, when they themselves only feel and know that they are only part of such a system. Its funny that as the system as devalued young people learning, schools have tried to find more and more ways in which pupils have to show how their pride of the school – proms, celebration nights, etc etc, masking and possibly causing a conflict in the young people themselves, its almost false.

The psychologists Deci and Ryan suggest that there are three factors that are needed for humans to continue for motivation, these are; Autonomy, Connectivity and Competence . (Taken from Bryan, 2016, p117-120) Suggesting that we are motivated when we believe we have choice within decision making and agency in our self determination, and these relate to our basic human needs for competence, autonomy and relatedness.  One problem is see is that if ethics of the market is driving schools and the relationships therein, then what might be left of those three is merely competence. For young people do not feel in control or have decision making (often options are already chosen as these ‘might produce better results, because of the ‘data’) , neither do they feel any connection with a teacher who is possibly a puppet in the system ( though sympathy maybe),  and yet if all three are required, or the first two in order that the third can happen, then there’s something fundamentally lacking in the culture and young people naturally will reject it – for its not doing them any good, and possibly why teachers are also leaving in their droves.

But overall, it is the politics and the ethics of the market that is driving education, and that seems to be at odds with the process of teaching and education itself. It is the ethics of the market that are shaping the learning relationship between teacher and pupil, and for the first time, this current generation know it and can spot it a mile off? . Why would they invest back? well only for their own selfish ambition. Because if they are able to they have to try and achieve from within a system that has depressed them and treats them as humans with limited respect, agency or dignity. That takes real guts, but may also accompany a feeling amongst the generously minded that their success might only lead to the same system being replicated for others in the future, and the pain of others. It might be a doubly selfish act to do well for themselves and know that it inflicts the same pain on others. Though fail and the system might only try and get more rigid.

Young people aren’t stupid and I am sure this dilemma is played out across the UK. For the future; ask young people currently who would go into teaching – then its probably considerably less than the number 25 years ago. They have seen the pain and fear in the eyes of teachers. Its ironic, I might have gone into teaching, many of my contemporaries did, school was ok for the most part for many so why not keep within it. I’m not sure how many would say the same today.

You’ve got to laugh when schools inject resilience and character improving classes for some, when not thinking that its the system and ideology that is at fault, and whilst this isn’t challenged, then nothing will change. Its a culture of fear, a culture of closure, a culture of competition and all of this reduces the potential for what should be the beauty and creativity of education to occur.

The converse of the system awareness is also true. For not only now do young people who might be doing well have the pressure put on them by themselves and probably also their parents, they subconsciously (if they hadnt picked up by now) realise that they are also under pressure because the school relies on them to do well. This is an extra pressure, that again, I think I wasn’t exposed to 25 years ago, others might have been.

In a culture of such competition, and school outcomes is the possibility that schools will do everything to try and cause young people to make the grades, and focus all the attention on the final outcome. Pupils are traded with £100’s of pounds of free revision books, guides, paper, cards, pens and such like, the investment in the final outcome to overcome the deficiencies of the process..? But what if this spoon feeding isn’t helping in the long term – its barely preparing young people for taking responsibility, of discovering subjects themselves and problem solving. but it helps the system and the school in their drive for competitiveness.

This is in no way a dig at teachers, who will no doubt receive thanks from many pupils at the end of term. Teachers in a difficult position who many have known teaching in a more pure era, or dreamed of it – yet are now highly constricted and in constant fear. I’m with you honestly I am. This is about the system and the effect this has on young people who know that they are part of it.

As a final twist. The logistics of the market, and the policies and funding from the Coalition government (2010) on-wards, have reduced local funding budget allocations to the point where, as a recent report suggested, 900 Full time youthworkers have been reduced from communities in the UK since 2016 alone. Now, I’m not going to big up the role of the youth services too much, as often some of the relationships between youth workers and schools was tenuous at best, but what i will say is that isnt just 900 opportunities and more to help ‘support young people’ (as this is what youth workers will have been allowed to do in the school system) – but potentially also 900 voices in different schools who might have spoken up about a ‘better way’ of educating young people, challenged the system a little with teaching staff, even got alongside the teachers who were struggling to educate within it – possibly been a prophetic voice when their own salary wasn’t as dependant on it. As i said, I’m not going to big up the role of those potential 900 youth workers, and schools with such a tight regime may not even have allowed them on the premises. But 900 people on site who might place young people as the core of what they do and who they are might be a challenge to those for whom its the outcomes and data that young people produce that is. The fact that a philosophy of education that many youth workers believe in has a high regard for common good, participation, equality and relationship may have been something to challenge the ethics of the market. But its also why 900 youth workers are dispensable, they critique the neo-liberal ideology too much. They demand that something better be done for the sake of young people, and demand that this is accompanied through respecting, listening and human dignity.

Let me finish with something idealistic and dreamlike especially in the current climate, something that Freire describes;

It is not difficult to see ho one of my principle tasks as a teacher who is open minded (progressive) is to motivate student the student to over come his or her difficulties in comprehending the subject under scrutiny. Essential to this tasks is the teachers affirmation of the students curiosity, which in turn will generate a sense of satisfaction and reward in the student on achieving his or her goal. All this will ensure that the continuity of the process of discovery, which is integral to the act of knowing.  To teach is not to transfer the comprehension of the object to a student but to instigate the student, who is a knowing subject, to become capable of comprehending and communicating what has been comprehended (Freire, ‘Teaching is a human act’, p105 in Ethics, Democracy and civic courage, 2001)

Progressive teaching requires for it to be a human act. It seems a far cry from the competitive teaching and the ethics of the market. Young people know that they are part of this system, in many situations they have been blatantly told that they are. I do believe that there can be another change, there has to be, for the current one is putting both the successful, middle and lower achieving young people to breaking point. Teaching is a human act, what it has become is a trade. Young people are intelligent, they spot a phoney a mile off. And business bullshit rubs off pretty quick, they know when they’re not centre of attention, or being asked to have sympathy with a system that doesn’t return it implicitly. And this is all before they also know that the ideology of austerity has also ruined parts of their personal life . So its worth thinking twice about the ‘Ofsted blooming marvellous’ banners or what is being asked to ‘make a school proud’ – and the effect of this on young people. Oh and in regard to school funding – how much is spent on schools to keep up with the system, with data managers, publicity managers and competition/school improvements? – could that be spent on challenging the system or educating struggling young people?

And while were at it the same could be said for nursing and social work. The needs have increased at the same time as cultures of fear and a shift to market values driving practices.

References

Bryan, Jocelyn, Human Being, 2016

Freire, P,  Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1970

Freire, P,  Pedagogy of Freedom, Ethics, Democracy and Civic Courage, 1998

Friere, Horton, We make the Road by walking, 1990

Giroux, Henry A,  On Critical Pedagogy, 2011

Goffman, The Presentation of the Self in Everyday life, 1960

Feed the world? maybe; But do kids know there’s youth clubs here at Christmas?

Significantly its 34 years since the original ‘Feed the world’ song graced our TVs and radios and brought about a heightened awareness of the tragedies in Africa, of starvation and hunger. Today, there are tragedies still all over the world. Do give to charities such as Tear Fund, Christian Aid, Oxfam and all the major world charities who do good.
But there is also the poverty at home.
The UN report was damning recently on the state of poverty in the UK. The challenge of just living, coping, finding a way to deal with debt, housing, pressures and expectations.
And in addition the reduced funding for every support group that might have helped has been nothing short of criminal. Including the decimation of youth clubs for young people, all the mental health provision, housing benefit, EMA’s and University grants.
As i have said before, even with the cuts, youthwork hasnt died, its just that everyone else is doing it without the relationship and philosophical background. So it its time to raise that awareness.
As teacher said to me recently. Kids growing up dont know about youth clubs. As i said, also, Young people in the austerity generation dont quite know whats hit them. But what many dont have this year, or for a few years is even the notion of the youth club in the town or village. Thats not to say there arent these things, and run by volunteers and faith groups – but these are often less publicised or open to all.
Maybe at this Christmas time, or Brexit time, it is time to sing that song again, its probably already being piped through the speakers in the shops,, but in 2018 it needs some new words..
It’s Brexit time,
there’s no clubs for going to
Last Christmastime,
we let in neo liberalism and we banish love
And in our world of plenty
theres foodbanks and banished hope
Throw your fists up in despair
at Brexit-time
But say an outcome objective,
pray for the closed youth clubs
At Christmastime it’s hard,
even to be having fun (not even a hollow game of ping pong this year)
For there’s a world outside your youth club,
and it’s a world of dread and fear
Where the only people going
are the detached team, full of cheers
And the Christmas smells that ring there
are the dope and fags and beers
Well tonight thank God it’s them
instead of you
And there won’t be knowledge of youthwork this Christmastime
The closest that theyll get is N C S (Oooh)
Where funding ever slows
No young people ever go (according to all the reports about the ‘success’ of NCS)
Do kids know there’s youth work here at all?
Here’s to you raise a glass for Jeffs and Smith
Here’s to them underneath that burning embers of youthwork courses
Do kids know theres youthwork here at all?
Build the youth clubs
fund the youth clubs
love the world
Let kids know theres youthwork here again
Build the youth clubs
Let kids know that adults care again.

Maybe that is the cause needed to be sung about. That there is a charity single/download for the reality of austerity in the UK amongst young people. But then again, charity isnt really providing much in the way of funding for open youth work anyway. Feed the world – thats what is needed and its a tragedy this Christmas.

Apologies for ruining the song for you, but i figured its been done to death already.

A reminder that all the work of this blog is done for free. If after reading this, or having had a look around you have found these resources or articles useful and you would like to make a donation or gift towards the work of this site, then you can do so, either by donation directly to my UK account click here for the details. Or you can make a donation via Paypal, just click the button below.
Thank you in advance, and thank you for sharing and reading these pieces.
If you want to keep up to date click ‘follow’ or subscribe. Also, if you would like to write a guest post, or have a story to tell or issue to raise about youthwork or youth ministry that you would like to share here, do let me know. Thank you.

Youth workers take heart – you’re trying to do the (almost) impossible!

Over the last few weeks my Son and I, have been playing a game – I have also used in leadership sessions on strategy that I have facilitated as part of my role for Frontier Youth Trust. The game is called ‘Forbidden Island’  and it involves setting up the pieces iin a formation, to form an island, and then using each others abilities, and the game play to collect treasure and escape from the island before it becomes flooded. We have had the game a while, and when we got it aside from a few scrapes we managed to do it fairly easily. However, last week I played it in a group of 4 at the leadership training, and according the way the island formed – and doing the game with ‘new’ people we lost. Last night my Son and I played, and though we changed the settings from ‘novice’ to ‘expert’ we still lost – twice.

Whilst the game relies on a number of factors, each very changeable, and then some strategic thinking – how it is set up also contributes to how difficult it is. Making it virtually impossible for a group of newbies, or even more experienced players.

On a slightly different note, I once went for a job doing door to door sales for Gas and Electricity company, in the interview i was asked if i had done anything similar before. My response was that i had done door to door evangelism (dont judge me) as part of working for a church a few years before. It was, i think, the only part of the interview 20 years ago that i got full marks, for the interviewee said; ‘well if you can sell people religion at the door, you can sell them gas’

The point being – some times we dont realise quite how difficult – almost impossible the work we do actually is. And if we stopped to think about it – many of the conditions around make being a youthworker considerably difficult – and almost impossible at times to think that we might have ‘succeeded’ or ‘reached an outcome’, yet that doesnt stop us believing, trying, and being determined that something could be different for a young person, their family or the community around them. 

Now of course, there are other ‘impossible’ jobs around. Many in social work, the NHS and education might feel the same. Undervalued and Overworked, and under resourced. But some of those roles carry with them a large weight of political or organised will to make things different, unions, or the general public favour (especially for the NHS). And for many even in these professions they are under resourced and busy because of lack of nurses, for the youthworker under resourcing looks very different, it is no money. There is no shortage of work or even vacancies for employment in some of these sectors, and they are in the current climate still very much impossible jobs.

In regard to clergy, there is a fair amount of challenge, following vicars on twitter, and acknowledging the high issues of stress and mental health problems in the role is a sign of it becoming significantly more difficult, demanding and discouraging a role that it might used to have been. But again, there are vacancies for clergy, and long term contracts for clergy- its not the only thing – but security in a role can go a long way.

In another example, within Youthwork practice, whether we like it or not, theres a big push to help young people with ‘developing resilience’ that youthworkers are involved in through clubs, groups and activities. Yet at the same time theres not really the same push in society to create a better environment for young people to grow up in, especially the stressed out schools, the target driven teachers, or ofsted orientated outcomes. So, the youthworker ‘trying to build resilience’ is in a way trying to push against a heavy weight that is playing the game against the individual or group of young people. None of which is in its favour – just neo-liberalisms way of trying to get value out of education. So, the youthworker is almost trying to do, or measure, or actualise the impossible. But in a small way, its better to keep trying at the impossible, to keep believing that a young person might still flourish within or outside the ‘system’ and create those opportunities. And there are many other barriers, including poverty.

For the youthworkers in a faith context, or dare i say it in a faith-evangelism context- your task is as impossible. It is difficult to get anyone interested in the church, in the christian faith at the moment – let alone young people. You might only have a year contract to do the miracle, or be employed by the church without actually any other human resources or volunteers to ‘do the miracle’ – and theres no wonder its proving difficult and challenging. Because its virtually impossible (even with faith as an inspiration or motivation). But again, thats not to stop, its to realise that what you’re doing is not the game on an ‘easy’ level. What you’re trying to do isnt solved in a quick win, a short game – its long term. Nothing in faith based youthwork is about making something sustainable happen in the short term. Getting the church to ‘change’ though they pay you to get young people into the church (without saying as much) – impossible- almost… 

The youthwork manager – often forgotten in ‘youthwork blog posts’ – you know your job is impossible. Theres 28 plates spinning, from fundraising, to a child protection issue, to planning an away day, to writing a strategy, to recruit and train volunteers and everything else besides, you dont need me to say how impossible it can all feel. And everyone wants to tell you how they prioritised and organised, sometimes one dropped plate makes a heap of mess. And at the same time theres a longing for just ‘easy’ face to face action with young people – which isnt easy at all. Its not a completely impossible job – but it can feel like it, especially when funding gets tight and decisions about employment, contracts, activities and resources need to be made (including your own). But as a manager, you try and create an environment where others have the backing to do some of the difficult face to face stuff, create space to talk, training and supervision, try and eek out some funding for a trip, or a resource, or create an atmosphere of reflection, of determination and also support for the staff, the young person and the volunteer, and you fight, fight to keep the noise about young people to be more positive, to try and change the narrative about them. You galvanise and work in partnership, you gather and organise, you campaign and push for justice. All against the tide. The media tide, or local community opinion about young peoples place in society. It is an almost impossible task – but keeping on keeping on is what you and we all need to do. Image result for youthwork

For many reasons then, youthwork in its variety of forms, practice and approaches is an almost impossible job. It tried to act for justice and equality, tries to hear and respond to the voice of young people and give them trust and dignity, it flies in the face of those who write off young people in education or health systems. But think for a moment how much more impossible life might be or feel for that one young person you meet today without the conversation, question, activity or support that you are able to give them. Be encouraged, you’re doing an impossible job, yet for many young people you are making something positive more possible, and thats a beautiful thing and an impossible thing all at once.

The times we think it might be ‘easy’ in youthwork – hmm i think they are long gone…. ‘novice’ setting doesnt really exist. Take heart over Easter, have a break if you can, and deep down reflect on how you’re trying to create the beautiful in the places that can feel like the impossible.

How might we make the time we have with young people count?

In The Hobbit, Gollum asks Bilbo the following riddle, one to answer in order for Bilbo to save himself:

This thing all things devour

Birds, beasts, trees, flowers

Gnaws Iron, bites steel; 

Grinds hard stones to meal

Slays King, ruins town

And beats mountain down

It is the fifth riddle of their six, and one that takes the longest to make a response. Spoiler alert, but the answer in case you didnt know was ‘Time’.

Last week, I was leading a session with a group of volunteers at a church in the North East, who were thinking about how they might begin to make connections with young people in their local area. Usually, these conversations begin with fairly negative opinions about young people, followed by ‘we tried a youth club in the 1980’s but they smashed the windows, and theres no way we’re letting young people into our newly refurbished church building’ but this time it was different. The volunteers recognised a different problem. And this might also be common. Image result for time

Young people had no time.

The young people in their local area had been signed up to uniformed organisations since the age of 2, sports clubs since birth, and were busy busy busy. Their time was precious. But their time was preparing for day to day activities, being taken to them, recovering from them, doing homework, achieving certificates, and ensuring that they were putting as much stuff on their CV, or being given every chance to be the darling of a family. Young people in that local area had no time. There was no gaps of ‘wasted’ time ‘with friends’ – minutes were occupied.

The discussion went a number of ways. But it got me thinking, and I have begun to reflect on a number of things in regard to ‘time’ since. Please excuse me for sharing them. I was part of a ‘generation’ of volunteer faith based youthworkers for whom one of the mantras that was used was ; ‘In regard to young people, how might you show them that you care deeply about them? – give them time’  or ‘Spell LOVE, T-I-M-E’.

In Nicholas Healys writing on The Nature of the church, he settles on the sense that in the Theodrama of Gods ongoing redemption (see other posts on this), the church is called in its ministry to be both Practical and Prophetic. Giving people, especially young people, Time, is both these things. 

Time within Christian youth Ministry can often be talked about on the basis of ‘God’s Time’ ie Chronological time, (Chronos) and Kairos – the time in the moment, the present moment of ‘the now’ of being present to hear God in the moment, God interjecting into the time and space of the now in a disturbing way. These are talked about alot. In the Theodrama, it is said by Kevin Vanhoozer, ‘that God creates and enters into time in order to communicatively relate to creatures’ (Vanhoozer, 2010, p272), and that Theodrama is the space and time of Gods dialogical communication with Human actors and respondents. (p273). In a way this is not the place to expound on this further, the references are below, and Anthony Thiseltons The Hermeneutics of Doctrine is also useful on this.

Time, is often given the precurser ‘Space and Time’ also (as above) , that ‘we need to give young people space and time’ , and in thinking about this phrase, I have often thought more heavily about the ‘space’ aspect of this, and thinking about how ‘spaces’ become ‘places’ (places of Home for young people, safety, belonging, conversation), as the environment can be/ is critical for youth work practice. What i hadnt thought about as much was ‘time’ in that phrase. Not so much. And not so much in thinking about ‘Time’ as being practical and prophetic in Youth Ministry.

However, the piece of thinking that ties some of this together is from Girouxs essays in ‘On Critical Pedagogy’. The construct of Time has emerged in one of his essays, obviously he does not deliver a theological piece on Chronos or Kairos time. Instead brokers a conversation about two other forms of Time. Public Time, and Corporate Time. And i wonder. Which type of Time are young people subjected to the most?

For a moment – think about Gollums riddle. Time is not the precious, Time is the enemy. Time consumes, destroys, speeds up. Time and how it is allocated is about power, influence, authority, and shapes identities through sets of codes and interests. In short, Time (you wont be surprised to hear) is political.

“Time has become our enemy, the active society demands that we keep moving, keep consuming, experience everything, travel, work as good tourists more than act as good citizens, work, shop and die. To keep moving is the only way left in our cultural repertoire to push away….meaning…(and consequently) the prospects and forms of social solidarity available to us shrink before our eyes” (Peter Beilharz)

Corporate time is rush rush rush. Corporate time distracts from critical thinking. Image result for timeCorporate time consumes the spiritual. Corporate time strategises.

Public time, according to Giroux, is the opposite. It rejects the fever pitch, the rush and the speed, and Slows. It. down.

Public time gives space.

Public Time refutes the technological invasion (regardless of the technology)

Public time offers room for knowledge, learning and critical thought, it is a time for questions, learning and ongoing self awareness and understanding.

Public time unsettles common sense.

‘Public time challenges neo-liberalisms willingness to separate the economic from the social as well as its failure to address human needs and social costs’ (Giroux, 1999, p115)

Whilst Giroux’s critical essay is directed squarely at the North American Higher education system, circa 2000, and specifically Bush, Reagan and Obamas Educational policies. His plea is that Higher education can maintain Public time within its institution, his fear is that corporate time has won out, and young people are subjected to only efficiency education, testing education and education that serves only corporate american, reducing and narrowing the curriculum. Why am I saying this? Well, he also suggests with no hint of optimism, that any place in which young people are educated has the opportunity to give them spaces of Corporate or Public Time. Where he obviously favours the latter.

Lets rewind a bit. If a church is to be practical, and prophetic in regard to how it views young people, and engages with them, might that include being prophetic about how young people ‘pass’ through time? 

One of the most common questions when I am on the streets on detached, is that young people ask ; ‘what are you here to do?’ There is an inbuilt ‘corporate time’ aspect, there is an expectation that they are only a project, a strategy, a pawn, that I am only engaging with them to ‘do’ something. It is challenging to offer ‘time’ for nothing. Often challenging to communicate this too, in the heat of the moment. Life in a transactional lane for young people is corporate time and a wagon they cant get off without being suspicious. Yet church can offer public time. Sadly, it can be as guilty of only offering another version of corporate time.

There can be a tendency to make Jesus rush around (thanks to Marks gospel of ‘then Jesus did stuff’), but though much happened, there was plenty of ‘non’ space that Jesus had walking, travelling, talking and responding to the questions of the disciples. If he wanted an easy ride, he wouldnt have included Peter in the party. Peter asked questions and hoped to understand. Peter slowed Jesus down a bit. Jesus gave Peter critical awakening time. Discipleship in that relationship was about Time. Public time.

What might a local church do – to be prophetic about young peoples time? On one hand it isn’t to make their time more precious or busy. But might it provide space and time to help young people slow down. Maybe the choice and contemplation of the cathedrals is one reason they are popular. Maybe thats what people like about coffee culture, its time to slow down. Maybe thats why discovering young people in their ‘public’ time moments on the streets, or gathered in places of choice is so precious for them, they need space to escape or react to pervading corporate time.

Turning churches into businesses, and looking to the corporate world for Business strategies, has the effect of a church becoming run on corporate, not public time. Efficiencies, business, activity, plans, meetings, can all reduce the value of prophetic public time. The space of conversation, the space to slow down and value a person, and value the moment. Time is political, and for ministry with young people (and all people) an understanding of public over corporate time, might help us in our work do practical and prophetic ministry.

How might we help young people value time? How might we help young people value the space of slow time?  What might the church offer by way of time, to give young people seclusion from corporate time on their lives? How might we create time for young people?

Image result for a time for everything

 

 

References

Giroux, Henry, On Critical Pedagogy, 2006

Thiselton, Anthony, The Hermeneutics of Doctrine, 2007

Vanhoozer, Remythologising Theology, 2010

 

What do we expect teenagers to be made of, a substance tougher than steel?

Image may contain: text

I saw this quote doing the rounds on Facebook today. Excuse its language. But dont excuse its sentiment.

On one hand we could argue that young people in the 80’s and 90’s didnt have it too badly – and I should know i was one of them. Politicians got headlines for peace deals, climate change caused action, peace was a hopeful reality i large parts of the world. There were EMA grants, nearly free higher education, still a general reality that post university meant employment, house prices were going up, but a 2-3 bedroom house in areas north of sheffield might still be ‘only’ £40,000. And the rest.

And so, those who grew up optimistic in the 90’s, maybe had it too good. or too easy. Previous generations had it easy in comparison. Even those in the 1990’s, at least they had hope. In the main.

Fast forward to today. All the things that might have been an issue for teenagers in the 80s or 90s are still there, but multiplied. There’s double the advertising on TV with its 40 extra channels, online and on screens – with all the worry about life and expectation this causes. The News is an always open door to constant fear. The financial cut backs are extraordinary and yet the expectations on young people are higher – or shall i say the expectations on schools to be performing and have high performing pupils is greater than ever. To the point that those left behind and being actually left behind, left out and notionally excluded. When outcomes and targets rule, then humanity and inclusion falls way short.

Then there’s the cut backs on all the funding for young people to actually get support to cope in this situation. mental health and social work budgets slashed, and open youth clubs eradicated all together. And it is left to the voluntary and faith sectors to pick up the pieces, but doing so whilst also competing for funding and being in a similarly perilous state. (whilst the budget for HS2 or trident is secure seemingly).

So – where does that leave the young person? – Does society view them as the victim in all of this? the oppressed even. 

Nope. If anything the young person is to blame for all this. Those bloody millenials ruining it for the rest of us. Generalise and blame thats the strategy of the media, but initiate self reflection on the current holders of power….

Blame the phone, not blame society that created that need, or the adults who foisted it into existence and made implicit demands on parents to pay for ‘an essential’.

So – what do we think young people are made of to cope in all of this? 

Well – not enough resilience for one. (hence all the resilience classes)

Not enough confidence ( hence all the ‘self confidence classes’)

And yes, these are needed. And not just for the teachers.

as if its all an individual young persons fault. Young people are having to cope with so much more than ever before, and doing so without the hope that things will improve. Society expects young people to cope within all of this. Its not surprising that so many struggle. What if it wasnt just about coping and surviving as a young person.

I wonder if young people might collectively rise up and challenge, critique and get passionate about the systems that are causing so much damage to them and their peers.

Things that help a young person, Goals, Self worth (ability + competance), Purpose and Value (Bryan, 2016) – if any of these start to be affected, then they will start to struggle. So, therapy might help to help a young person talk through coping through these. But fundamentally the sources of these things need to also be dealt with. Blame Neoliberalism, but a new system needs to be created – one that is more human/humane, and the rest. But if a young persons purpose and value is wrapped up in ‘things’ or ‘image’ or ‘popularity’ – then its no wonder that they are stressed, worried. But that isnt new – the only difference is the current speed of change or intensity. The main difference is fear caused by the news, inequality between rich/poor, deficiencies in the education system (especially 16+) but also the efficiency drive, and also limited hope economically – where only the strong might survive…

What might young people be expected to be made of?

Filters that are sensitive to fake news

Resilience to cope with oppression, abuse and uncertainty

An internal buoyancy to be able to react positively to fear

An innocence of humanity to see beyond divisive politics

A Hopefulness of spirit to maintain motivation in school

A self confidence to be both an individual and like everyone else

To be able to glide effortlessly through being a teenager, ready packaged and prepared for the ‘breeze’ that is ‘being an adult.. or alternatively – does any of this really change that much…

Teenagers – Adults, we might need to learn about how they cope with it all, we might need the same lessons. Well pretty much anyone working within ‘people’ related jobs has had to sharpen up their armour in the last 10 years. Coping working with humans and enabling their flourishing in a neo-liberal world, from teachers, nurses, social workers, youthworkers (if any are left) – all subject to ridiculous efficiency, cuts and demands, outcomes – all to the exclusion of breadth, inclusion, time and care. All to the exclusion of the purity of professions and vocations and just bad management and policies. Its no wonder young people are blamed, for to say that society has a responsibility – might mean funding those who work with them properly.

What if all the christians went on strike?

As Martin Luther said; “When it comes to faith, what a living, creative, active, powerful thing it is. It cannot do other than good at all times. It never waits to ask whether there is some good work to do, rather, before the question is raised, it has done the deed, and keeps on doing it.”

Yet, is the immeasurable amount of good that Christians are doing in the UK right now a get-out for the limitations and inadequacies of not only the government, but the neo-liberal, consumerist, competitive ideology of the Government?

Especially in the amount of situations where it seems churches, christians and christian organisations resolve the need of their work because of failures of the state, failures of families and communities to respond to needs, or has been the cause of them.
So situations where, in youth work we might “work with young people because the system of the school cannot cope” charity and Christians respond.
Or, how many occasions is the need for food bank (organised and delivered by Christians mostly) caused by  failure of benefits systems, payments or a job centre/system that has failed (and then acted with sanctions), and the rest.

Many many initiatives , programmes, positives and interventions are provided by Christians in the UK. And not that there’s any desire for reward, but as there’s no end in sight for the need for any of them to exist.

Maybe a reward isnt  necessary.

But what about for all the projects nationally, every food bank, every mentoring project, every other piece of work done by the church to fill a welfare failing gap to take a collective 3 month sabbatical. Pay the staff to have a 3 month break,  give the volunteers 3 months off.
It might be seen as  strike. But it’d sure focus the mind of those who have come to rely on christians and the church to be the national safety net. Those who pander to the Christian organisations favour and respond by increasing their workload through a delivery of a neo-liberal capitalist ordering of state functions that will leave many castigated.

So hows about it. Christians take a break, make it a long one. Not because we want to change what we are doing for the good of people, families and communities, but as a challenge for the political & societal causes of it.

Maybe there is too much of a will or need or calling fulfilled to stop doing these social justice type projects, but that wouldn’t mean not taking a three months coordinated sabbatical to achieve longer term better society mightn’t it?  After all it doesn’t feel that the government is taking a blind bit of interest, especially which the work that fills the gaps is continuing.

This is not to say that Christians, groups, projects and churches shouldn’t do these things from a gospel imperative, from a creation perspective, from a goodness perspective. But would a strike/sabbatical begin to say enough is enough for the 1,000’s reliant on food banks, on credit unions, on youth work, on childcare facilities, on extra curricular work in schools…

If the Government couldn’t afford for the church not to go on strike- what might it take for them to stop it from doing so?  The desire to keep doing good will always be there, for good or other motive, but is the good currently an easy get out, and should goodness be targeted at challenging the powers that are causing the need. Messages aren’t getting through. And though the statistics of foodbank use across the UK are shocking, but whilst they exist and are in operation the government can plough on regardless.