I run a summer camp for 8–13-year-olds where our central goal is to communicate to kids that they are inherently valuable. This is not feel-good baby talk meant to inflate their self-esteem: I fully believe young people are inherently valuable, as are all human beings.
Young people also have been alive for less time than adults, which means that they have spent fewer years being told that current norms are our only possibilities. This means that young people often have access to very good ideas about how to make change in the world, and can generate those ideas easily.
To express respect for their thinking and to help adults learn from their ideas, I made up an activity a few years ago called “The System is Broken, Another World is Possible.”
Try this activity with kids, teenagers, young adults, elders, or anyone whose voice is often minimized.
· Blank paper of any kind (a flip chart, note cards, printer paper, scrap paper, anything)
· Young people
Explain to the group:
· Adults often don’t listen to young people and that’s not fair. Young people can also often see things that adults have been told not to see.
· Today, we’re going to have a meeting to talk about what we want to change in the world and I’m going to make sure the notes from our meeting gets to some adults so that they can hear what you have to say.
· First, let’s talk about things that aren’t working in the world.
Write at the top of a piece of paper:
· THE SYSTEM IS BROKEN.
Say to the group:
· What are some things in the current world that are broken or that you think should be different?
Facilitate and Scribe:
· Listen closely as the group shouts out ideas.
· Let them speak popcorn style, rather than in a stack, so they can build on one another’s thinking.
· As each person speaks, write the core of their idea on the paper to form a long list.
· Say back what you are writing so the group can hear their document taking shape.
· As you scribe, both paraphrase ideas and write verbatim quotes — your goal is to capture the voice of the group so that a person reading it later could get a sense of the intonation and cadence of the speaker.
· Number the pages as you go so that you don’t lose the order that the list was written in.
· If there is a lull, go back a few sentences and read back what you have written so far so the group can hear what they are creating and build on it.
· Use facilitation techniques to elicit more ideas. Try saying,
o “What else?”
o “Other ideas?”
o “What are other things you think don’t work about the world that need to be changed?”
· Encourage the group and show how pleased you are to be getting to hear the ideas:
o “I love that! What else?”
o “Yes! Getting tested all the time in school totally sucks! Yeah!”
· Don’t rush — plan enough time for the activity so that you can hear many ideas from every person who wants to share without feeling scarcity about time.
· When you think the group has shared what they want to share, go back and read the entire document to them.
· Ask one more time, “Anything else?”
Write at the top of a different piece of paper:
· ANOTHER WORLD IS POSSIBLE.
Say to the group:
· If we got to live in a utopia, what would you want it to be like?
Facilitate and Scribe:
· Repeat the steps above.
· If the group loses focus, repeat and rephrase the prompt:
o “What would be true in your utopia, in your favorite world?”
o “If you could control everything, what would you want the world to be like?”
When the group has finished expressing all their ideas, go back and read all of the papers to the group so they can hear what they have authored.
Plan next steps. This might include:
· Taking the notes to a meeting where there will be adults.
· Sharing the ideas with other kids.
· Making copies for people who want to have them.
· Picking ideas to follow up on.
Close the meeting:
· Honor the group for their work and express your gratitude to be permitted to hear their thinking.
· If there is more time, have the group share any closing thoughts, either by going around in a circle or sharing popcorn style.
· For a shorter closing, do a cheer together or a silly movement.
. If you have the time and capacity, you can also end this activity with a protest or march.
Follow up on any agreements you have made with the group.
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and let me know how it went.
End all oppression.
Photo credits: Eric Wolfe Photography
Consultant and speaker Pippi Kessler has trained thousands of people across the country to use their power for good. As Program Director at ImmerseNYC and as an ongoing consultant and former Program Director at Ma’yan, she designs feminist leadership programs and creates innovative curricula and workshops. She is also the Director of Rowe Young People’s Camp, a summer program for 8–11-year-olds in western Massachusetts. She is currently completing her Masters Degree in Social-Organizational Psychology at Teachers College, Columbia University. To book a workshop with Pippi, email her at email@example.com or learn more at pippikessler.org.