YOUTH, COMMUNITY: CRISIS! DEJA-VU?

Quote of the Month:

‘The challenge of modernity is to live without illusions, without becoming disillusioned.’ Antonio Gramsci [1891-1937]

As promised you will find below the contents of our first effort at a regular monthly collection of news, views, articles and links. We hope you will find the collection stimulating and as ever look forward to any criticisms and contributions you might want to make.

A CALL TO ARMS OR A CRY IN THE WILDERNESS

In the Spring of 1981 the Inner London Education journal, ‘Schooling and Culture’, put out an edition with the very title, Youth, Community: Crisis’. Within its pages the Wigan branch of the then Community and Youth Service Association advertised a conference, ‘Youth Work and the Crisis’, to held in the Abraham Moss Centre, Manchester.  The calling notice stated:

‘Clearly we are experiencing a time of acute political and economic problems which bite deeply into the lives of young people. Paradoxically, given its supposed concern for young people, the Youth Service has yet to unify in any ways as an effective opposition to the attacks upon its existence. The tradition of the Service does not feature many examples of resistance and it appears that we are yet again to be relegated to the margins of history. But this need not be!’

It went on to argue that the conference desired to be ‘a forum for dialogue and a platform for action’ and reached out for alliances with academics and researchers at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies, those responsible for the series of Critical Texts in Social Work and the London-Edinburgh Weekend Return Group, who had written the classic, ‘In and Against the State’. Within Youth Work the conference organisers applauded the endeavours of the National Youth Bureau’s Youth Work Unit with its Enfranchisement project, the National Association of Youth Clubs Political Education Working Party. Last but not least they praised Bernard Davies for sounding an urgent warning through his pamphlet,’The State We’re In’.

Eighteen years later the word crisis is again on everyone’s lips. Yet, of course, the situation is not at all exactly the same. The crisis of 1981 was taking place in the early years of the Thatcherite neo-liberal project when the labour movement had yet to be devastated and the social movements were still buoyant, not yet dispersed and assimilated. And talking of a Youth Service still made some sense. Today’s recession is taking place as the neo-liberal strategy is collapsing around the ears of its still arrogant New Labour advocates, but the forces of opposition to its alleged imperative are significantly weakened. And talking of a Youth Service, even of a distinctive form of Youth Work, does not connect with much of what is happening on the ground.

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Yet, in many respects, the task facing us is the same. In order to respond critically and effectively to the changing circumstances  we need collective debate and cooperative activity in defence of  a democratic and emancipatory Youth Work.

Back in November we commented upon the apparent rejection by the magazine, Young People Now, of my brief polemic , which wondered whether the demise of neo-liberalism and hopefully its partner, new managerialism, opened up the possibility of a fresh argument about the character of present-day Youth Work. In particular we were interested in whether there might be sufficient critical momentum to bring together practitioners, academics and commentators in an effort once more ‘to educate, agitate and organise’.  To be honest  we are not sure what people are thinking or feeling. In recent years we have seen powerful critiques of the mess we’re in produced by such as Bernard Davies, Graeme Tiffany and most recently Tony Jeffs and Mark Smith in a piece ‘Valuing Youth Work’ to be found in the centenary edition of Youth & Policy. Despite the resistance of  some individuals and groups, their insightful analyses have not been accompanied by the emergence of a broad front of opposition to the last decade’s attack on the liberal heart of Youth Work. Nevertheless in the closing paragraphs of their article Tony and Mark urge us ‘to join with others to engineer substantial change’. Thus it is in the spirit of this call that we have penned an Open Letter which we hope might attract signatories and act as a catalyst to the creation of an alliance, which does not in any way substitute itself for the trade unions or any other professional groupings, but which seeks to transcend the boundaries that often divide us.

As things stand the following process is envisaged:

  1. A draft Open Letter is being circulated for comments and support in early February. Dependent on the response we will consider whether it is worth pursuing the initiative or whether it has fallen by the wayside. Read it here – in-defence-of-youth-work-word-version1

  2. If there is sufficient support  we will check out with interested individuals and  groups the viability of putting the Open Letter into the wider public domain. It might be that we  do so  at the Youth & Policy History Conference, March 6-8 in Durham.

We urge you to read, circulate and respond to this overture, whether for or against. We hope that it might be the basis for a principled, yet pluralist coming together of hearts and minds in the defence of Youth Work.

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THE DILEMMAS OF SOCIAL NETWORKING

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Whilst we were musing about whether this blog is of any consequence, the conversation turned to the more general issue of who in reality has the time, energy and inclination to surf the Net on a regular basis. Indeed the majority of folk still up to their necks in the muck of practice suggest that they struggle to find the space to sit seriously at the computer. At the end of the day they are too weary to be bothered. This is all very impressionistic, but we wonder too if this is lent some credence by the relative paucity of follow-up comments on the Youth Work blogs and sites. To the jaundiced eye it might appear that only a handful of regulars contribute in this way. Perhaps there is a danger that those enthralled by the possibilities of this amazing medium overlook the uncomfortable fact that many people do not share or don’t have time to share this enthusiasm. We’re not being bloody-minded or awkward about this. We would love to think that this is not the case. Ironically some of us feel we were having a similar discussion years ago about how many workers were in truth reading the bulletins, pamphlets and articles of the period. It would be fascinating to hear Tim Davies’s thoughts on this dilemma, given his committed attempt to encourage social networking in the Youth Work milieu. Tim, forgive this blatant attempt to get you to write something for us. Certainly the question is pertinent.

Indeed it is and at the very last minute we’ve belatedly come across a challenging piece posted by Tim on the Young People Now site, which remains deeply devoted to the possibilities of social networking and asks some searching questions of  both the Youth & Policy Editorial Group, its authors and readers. In the interests of furthering the discussion we reproduce it with Tim’s permission – to be found originally at http://community.cypnow.co.uk/blogs/tim_davies_on_youth_work/archive/2009/01/01/100-issues-of-youth-and-policy-four-proposals-for-creating-a-better-dialogue.aspx

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Reflection, resources and musings aloud on supporting, enabling and empowering young people

100 Issues of Youth and Policy – four proposals for creating a better dialogue

I’ve just been reading the 100th issue of Youth and Policy Journal. It’s not happy reading. I’ve not made it through all the articles yet, but the tone of those I’ve read appears despondent and hyper-critical of most youth policy developments of the last 10, if not 25 or 30 years.

Times may be tough, and youth policy and practice may be far from where it should be as we move in 2009. But I can’t help feeling that the voices I hear predominating in Youth & Policy do little to provide any form of constructive vision on how to move forward; how to stay true to the values of emancipatory, empowering Youth Work in a diverse, dynamic and globalised information-age society.

But, I don’t wish this blog post to fall into the trap it seems many of the articles of Youth and Policy hit: critique without any hint of a constructive way forward – and so, want to offer the editors of Youth & Policy four suggestions to help make the future of Youth and Policy one that contributes to positive and proactive developments in Youth Work, rather than a lament for the past.

1) Engage young people in the peer review and editorial process

It is clear that the majority of contributors to Youth and Policy want a better lot for young people. Defining a better lot for young people should take place in partnership with young people themselves. Projects like the Young Researcher Network have already shown that there are meaningful ways of engaging young people as researchers. And there would be a lot to gain from Youth & Policy exploring ways of engaging young people as part of the editorial and review team. Not only would it provide key grounding for the explorations in the journal – but it would provide opportunities for young people to learn about, explore and engage with the live debates at the heart of youth work today.

Creating non-tokenistic and genuine models for a diverse range of young people to get involved in the editorial and peer review process of Youth & Policy would not necessarily be easy… but I can’t think for a better challenge for a journal that regularly sharing writing on youth participation to engage with.

2) Make the back issues available online and move towards an Open Access Journal model

Right now the 100 issue history of Youth and Policy is locked away in volumes gathering dust on shelves. To follow Bernard Davies’ survey of ‘twenty-five years of Youth & Policy’ you either need access to your own personal collection of back issues, or plenty of time to spend in the library.

Opening up the back issues of Youth & Policy free online would lower the barriers to entry that limit new academics and reflective-practitioners from contributing to the debate over the present, past and future of youth work; and it would increase the resources available with which to explain the intellectual and practical underpinnings of youth work to policy makers.

In the long run, it would make sense for a journal which talks so much about empowerment and education, to ensure that it’s content is available to all those who wish to access it – without financial barriers. A future with Youth & Policy as an Open Access Journal would be a better one indeed.

3) Record short summary PodCast interviews with each journal contributor

Even if Youth & Policy was available in full text freely online – it would still not be accessible to all the people who could gain from engaging in the dialogue and debate it can catalyse. That’s why I would love to see a Youth & Policy blog, with short recorded PodCast interviews with each of the article authors – allowing their insights and critiques to reach ever wider audiences. P

erhaps the PodCast audio-interview model could provide a good opportunity for young people to be in dialogue with Youth & Policy authors – as co-interviewees on each PodCast…

4) Build an online community around the journal

I’ve discovered over the last year that there is real demand for online youth work communities and we are most definitely in need of an online space for more dialogue around the present, past and future of youth work. A space where readers can respond to Youth & Policy articles without necessarily penning a full article in response, and where the practitioner and academic communities can find a space for the sort of constructive dialogue and sharing of learning that is necessary to the praxis as well as theory of a constantly developing work of youth work.

Perhaps some of these suggestions have been tried in the past? Perhaps they are simply beyond the means of a small journal? But perhaps, if anyone from the Youth & Policy team is reading, perhaps they might be explored as ways of making sure the dialogue in Youth and Policy really can be a dialogue making a better future for Youth Work and, more importantly, for young people.

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It would be brilliant to get responses to Tim’s proposals from folk involved with Youth & Policy, which means I had better get my thinking hat on as I contributed an article on ‘Young People, Participation and Politics’ to the 100th edition of despondency!?

Perfectly proper criticisms aside,  it would be churlish at this moment not to send a message of deep appreciation to the Youth and Policy Editorial Group, who against the odds have kept this critical journal alive for quarter of a century. I don’t think most people have an inkling of how much graft goes into all that behind the scenes editing and proof-reading, all of it undertaken for love and no money.

BRAVO TO THE Y&P CENTURIONS! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

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CHATTING CRITICALLY TO YOUNG PEOPLE ABOUT…………………….

British jobs for British workers

At the height of the tragedy in Gaza we wondered how youth workers might be handling discussions about the complications and contradictions of the Palestinian/Israeli situation with young people. With this in mind we are going to pursue this question of how youth workers might pick up on the social and political dilemmas of the day. Thus each month we will flag up an issue we think young people might well be raising and offer alternative readings to those dominating the media.

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A piece in the SUN newspaper captures the slippery slope created by this dispute over the consequences of contracting, the free market, the European Union, all set in the context of the economic recession and political crisis. In the midst of a populist article, which muddles willy-nilly appropriate and inappropriate commentary, the author slides to the following contention:

All minorities, even those with no link to this country, take priority over the established population.
Inner cities are colonised by entire communities who live, pray, dress and speak as if they still lived in tribal villages.
Shockingly, there are 300 schools where English is not the first language.

Thus does racism rear its ugly head, even as within the strikers themselves there is much confusion as to what constitutes racism. In particular nationalism and racism are conflated. Some of the British strikers accuse the company, TOTAL of racism. Some Left groups suggest that the strikes should be called off as the slogans play into the hands of the BNP.  We have a scenario in which the right-wing press implacably opposed to strike action support the first militant wildcat strikes for many years. For this section of the media the imperative to back a nationalist agenda overrides the unofficial and ‘illegal’ nature of the action. New Labour is in turmoil as Brown squirms, while Mandelson is forced to defend the right of European workers to work across the Union.

Within the ranks of the strikers the debate bursts into life- see http://www.bearfacts.co.uk Clearly the dangers of chauvinism, nationalism and racism are apparent, but also actively opposed. Thus one contributor argues:

We want to be careful with the nationalism, lads, so that things don’t turn nasty. I’ve got nothin against the Italian workers as such, they’re just doing a job, putting food on the table for their families. They’re not W*** (Without Papers- as they are EU citizens and are legally allowed to work here)- besides this is racist. Many of us have worked abroad- Germany, Spain, Middle East- did we think or care about jobs in those countries? Getting at the workers is just going to give us a bad reputation, and turn the public against us.The problem is with the tenders, Total management and probably the govt. for allowing foreign companies to undercut. The govt. shouldn’t allow this to happen. They haven’t thought about the social price to the area, only the price of the contract.These jobs should go to British workers, cos we can do the work and we need it. Just leave the racism and aggro at home- it doesn’t do anyone any favours.

whilst another worries:

If this is true what I read , then I believe the dispute will gradually lose support.  Demonstrations where foreign workers, holed up in former floating prisons, are howled at will only attract the *** fascists and the bullying idiots who plague our communities.  The corporate media that have stirred up the nationalist elements will then turn on you, showing the demonstrators in the worst light possible.  Game over.  The last thing the bosses and the government want is for British workers to unite with workers from overseas.  They think they can keep fooling us into fighting each other over jobs.  It will send a shiver up their spineless backs when we don’t.

“It scares me when I hear there are going to be demonstrations outside other sites where there are workers from Poland, Spain etc, this only helps the media to present the struggle as being anti-foreign worker.It also worries me that there are reports of people abusing the Italian and Portuguese workers in their floating prison.”

I know it’s difficult to predict, but I can’t believe that young people are not picking up on these events and voicing contrary, and contradictory sentiments about the situation. If you’ve time it would be informative to hear of  youth workers’ experiences when in dialogue with young men and women about this issue.

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THE CRISIS OF DEMOCRACY

labour-1957-poster

Bowing to overwhelming demand(!) we are adding to the Contemporary Critical Thoughts page the notes of my contribution ‘The Crisis of Democracy’, given to the 2007 Federation of Detached Youth Work Conference, which focused on Youth Work & Citizenship. Certainly the debate about what we mean by democracy does not go away. In the latest edition of CONCEPT, a favourite journal of ours, William Al-Sharif explores the need to widen the scope of community education for democratic criticism, the need ‘to engage the unengaged’, whilst Maurice Mullard ponders the health of democracy. From my perspective both authors, despite many thought-provoking points, accept too readily that democracy equals representative democracy. In contrast, following Castoriadis (see preface to my piece) I argue that we do not live in a democracy, but in a ‘liberal oligarchy’, where the few continue to maintain their power over the many.

Go to the Contemporary page to read more . . . . . . .and if you’ve got a bob or two spare, subscribe to CONCEPT, the Journal of Contemporary Community Education Practice Theory through NIACE, on-line at http://www.niace.org.uk

SWIMMING AGAINST THE TIDE OF SURVEILLANCE

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On the Contemporary page you will see a new piece put together by Tania de St. Croix on detached workers’ experiences of information-gathering, surveillance and tracking of young people. She has brought together deftly and sharply the range of responses from people attending the workshop she facilitated at the Federation for Detached Youth Work conference in November. It’s already generated a good response from its appearance on the Federation’s site and we hope posting it here reaches out to an even wider audience.

FEBRUARY’S PICK OF THE LINKS

Here you will find an eclectic choice of links to articles that have tickled our fancy and our intellect.

1. The rise of pushy helicopter parents is holding children back, argues Carl Honore in the pages of the New Humanist. This light piece explores the way in which children’s lives are evermore micro-managed. Its concern is with parenting, but touches on a collective obsession with supervising children’s and young people’s lives. And, isn’t it the case that youth workers are thoroughly integrated into this contemporary version of society’s desire to mould young people into shape and at what cost to an emancipatory youth work practice?

cut the strings | New Humanist.

2.   “These should be good times for the “alter-globalisation” movement. The unprecedented combination of crises in the global economy, environment, and governance makes its argument for a just and equal world – “another world” – seem more relevant than ever. Yet the 100,000 activists expected to assemble at the eighth World Social Forum (WSF) in Belém, Brazil, from 27 January- 1 February 2009 are at a crossroads.  The ideas they have been proposing for much of the last decade have in many ways been vindicated by the global financial breakdowns, food riots and elite failures of 2007-09; but even as it celebrates the demise of forces it has unrelentingly challenged the movement itself is divided over its political and organisational direction.” Its triumph is qualified as it searches for a way to turn global breakdown into political opportunity, says Geoffrey Pleyers.

World Social Forum 2009: a generation’s challenge | open Democracy News Analysis.

3. I’ve been fascinated by the life and works of Edward Carpenter ever since a part-time worker on a training course in the late 1970’s brought him to my attention. She did so during a session on Sexuality, Youth Work and Young People. This review of Sheila Rowbotham’s biography of Carpenter will help you surely to see why he is such an inspiring, if maddening character.

Colm Tóibín: The revolutionary Edward Carpenter

‘On or about December 1910,’ Virginia Woolf noted, ‘human character changed.’ It was hard in or about March 1977 in Barcelona not to feel that human character had changed again, or had changed back, or might change more. Franco was less than 18 months dead, and many of the sights and images in the city were puzzling. One day, as I stood watching a newly formed Communist group march by, I saw in the middle of the marchers a barman whom I had grown to love for his winning smile and general meekness. His fist was raised; he was roaring out some radical slogan. He was not simply looking for better wages for barmen, but wanted, it seemed, something new for all mankind. [ read more . . . ]

via London Review of Books.

CRITICAL THINKING FROM CALIFORNIA

Whilst ducking and diving in the stream of the Internet I found some folk, who are possibly swimming in the same direction as ourselves, namely, The Critical Thinking Community, who under the auspices of The Foundation and Center for Critical Thinking ‘aim to improve education in colleges, universities and primary through secondary schools. We present publications, conferences, workshops and professional development programs, emphasizing instructional strategies, Socratic questioning, critical reading and writing, higher order thinking, assessment, research, quality enhancement, and competency standards.’

I need be wary as my caveat is based on my political prejudice. There are some excellent resources on the site, but the underpinning belief of the community is that the world can be changed by changing the ideas in our heads without sufficient weight being given to how we might change our circumstances. Nonetheless this classic difference between a liberal and revolutionary humanism can be explored as we go along. We’ll certainly be chatting to the Foundation and sharing their thoughts. For the moment a quote from one of their inspirations, John Stuart Mill in his essay, ‘On Liberty’

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‘If all mankind minus one were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion, mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person, than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind…the peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is, that it is robbing the human race; posterity as well as the existing generation; those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it. If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose, what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error’ (p. 53).

see – http://www.criticalthinking.org/

CONFERENCES AND EVENTS

Informal Education

We bring you advance notice of a one-day conference entitled ‘Informal Education within an Informal Setting’, organised jointly under the banner of Durham University, UK Youth and Youth & Policy. This is to be held on May 29th at the welcoming Hinsley Hall in Leeds. The title of the conference exudes irony and contradiction, which should make for a fruitful gathering. Clearly though the conference wishes to go beyond being merely a talking shop. The organisers want to explore the possible formation of Federation of Informal Educators. All power to their collective elbows.

For more information contact Tracey Hodgson at cyw.conference@googlemail.com

Anti-Sexist Work

After the event we are fascinated to know what transpired at a seminar organised by the North West Regional Girls Network and the Youth Federation in late January. The day sought to tackle the classical questions: How is sexism affecting the young people we work with? What is effective anti-sexist work and how do we support and promote it? Youth Workers of any gender were invited.

Hard on the heels of the emergence of Feministwebs this is a welcome development. All the more so as in the recent centenary edition of Youth & Policy, Bernard Davies documents how, even in the pages of this forward-looking journal, feminist analysis had become muted over the years. He reflected on the disappearance of the debate around anti-sexist work with young men. In this context I’m sure he will be delighted to hear of the setting-up of a regional network of anti-sexist male workers. We would be pleased to hear about how things went.

AVANTI! LOOKING FORWARD!

In the forthcoming March Blog we hope to feature the promised article on ‘Politics and Youth Work’, partly stimulated by a comment from Mike Amos-Simpson prior to Christmas; an indication of responses to the Open Letter; at last a couple of articles on a new page, Critical Thoughts from the Past  –  we were always tantalising our readers with this promise on the old site at http://www,critically-chatting.0catch.com ; and loads of feedback from your good selves?

INTERNATIONAL  POSTSCRIPT

Graeme Tiffany informs us that:

India’s Icfai University Press will publish his paper on ‘Detached Youth Work & Democratic Education’ as a chapter in a forthcoming book: Holistic. Transformative and Democratic Education: The Future of Education. This will go to  thousands of professionals and students in the sub-continent. And they picked it up via the Critically Chatting web site!

Easy now, says Graeme!

Well, wellingtons firmly stuck in the mud, we won’t get carried away, but we are pleased for Graeme and a bit chuffed that our tentacles are spreading!

[Blog put together by TT on behalf of the Collective, 3/2/2009]


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27 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I think there are lots of reasons for the lack of youth worker activity/contribution online – including that its not a very organised sector in so far as having collective approaches and aims. I don’t think lack of time/overworked is a very serious factor though – certainly not if you consider the very active online forums and blogs for teachers, and even the faith based youth sector (possibly both of these have a greater sense of common purpose?).

    Excuses and reasons aside the fact is that young people today will need to understand using and being online, and its not the case that they necessarily already do. There’s a real need to be able to support young people to consider the implications of the actions they take online today and how these may affect their future (positively and negatively) – at this stage just about everyone is still finding their way, so while its understandable that services are having to catch up its not so understandable if they’re not even considering how they’re going to catch up!

    I think you’re right that there are very many who don’t share the enthusiasm for the online medium – the issue though is not whether they do or not – its whether young people need them to.

  2. Thanks, Mike. The point about youth workers needing to embrace the new technology, like it or not, because young people need them to, is interesting. Is anything now being done on the professional qualifying courses in terms of social networking etc…? Tim, might have a good idea?

    I still think workers being knackered is of significance, but then again I’m really fascinated by your comment about a sense of common purpose stimulating the greater involvement of teachers an faith-based youth workers. The implication is that youth workers as a whole have lost that common bond.

  3. Hi Tony – I don’t mean so much they’ve lost a common bond rather that its very messy in terms of approach, methods and priorities. In many ways this is a strength, it allows for creative and flexible approaches that so many teachers strive for, but it also means its much more difficult to find forums that are relevant and useful to all in the same way that it is for those in the formal education sector.

    I’ve had a couple of academics contact me about using some of my online stuff with their students so certainly some courses are integrating technology into their teaching/training. How much of a priority it is and what the quality is, or how widespread I’ve no idea but I’m sure Tim will have a better grasp of that.

    re. the knackered factor I just don’t find that credible – are youth workers really more knackered and under more pressure than teachers? At best I’d say maybe similar (in some cases), certainly not more. That aside a very sensible argument for using technology is for the benefits it can have in improving workflow and communication – you can of course waste considerable time with it too, it all depends on how you use it and you’ll never use it effectively if you don’t use it at all!

  4. Too tired to blog?
    Rather ironically I’ve been meaning to reply to this for a few days – but have been too wiped out to turn to reading and responding properly to blogs!

    That said:

    ##It should be possible for youth workers as informal educators to integrate reading reflections by other workers, writing their own reflections, and sharing those reflections into their work as part of ongoing reflective practice.

    Reflective practice in the web 2.0 world should equate to reflecting with a community of peers both in local closed conversations (mostly offline) and in wider online conversations and communities.

    ##The computer screen and searching out information may not work for most workers. Many workers may be more comfortable using the mobile phone out and about – or even engaging on paper (check out tools like http://www.tabbloid.com/ to turn blogs into pamphlets!). We do need to think more about the access points to online networking and communication for youth workers – as unlike teachers they may be on very short-hours sessional contract (where an hour spent on online learning is 20% of the working week – not the 5% it may be for teacher!) or without their own desk and computer to touch-base at every so often.

    It may well be that to effectively build online networks for youth workers we need to be a lot smarter about making them available by phone, and making it easy for one person in a youth service to print out the latest shared learning to hand around at a team meeting.

    ##Online networking is about community – and community building. And as community development workers undoubtedly the youth work workforce will know that (a) that’s not easy but (b) that it’s important and valuable.

    An online youth work community does require individuals to invest in building it.

    ##Good online communities often emerge out of strong offline communities – and they have a mutually re-enforcing relationship with each other.

    Online networking is there to complement, enhance and extend general networking of people with shared interests.


    So – is anyone reading this stuff? Well – yes. And probably quite a few more people than you realise thanks to the world of search engines.

    Are as many people as could be reading this stuff? No – but as it’s in online formats we can do more with it than if it was just in pamphlet form.

    Is online networking for youth workers a misguided dream? No – but it will take time and effort to foster.

    Is it worth it? Yes – if it can encourage innovation, sharing of ideas and practice and a raising of the critical awareness of youth workers.

    (I’ll add another comment on your open letter in a mo…)

  5. Responding to an open letter with open spaces
    On Saturday I met with 140 or so people interested in government and the web in the Ministry of Justice at something called BarCampUKGovWeb09. We were all their of our own free time – virtually all interested in making government work better. There was no structure to the day – just an open space for people to suggest sessions, share practice and discuss ideas and action. And it worked wonderfully.

    One of the reasons I’m attracted to work with the web is exactly the sort of open ended voluntary collective engagement it encourages.

    Yet, as your letter suggests, the idea of open ended voluntary collective engagement is nothing new. It’s youth work of 30 years ago – since constrained by a culture of centralism and managerialism.

    Two interesting angles then emerge:

    1) Perhaps youth work has a lot of cautionary messages to offer the digital utopians currently revelling in the freedom to innovate, experiment and co-create new practice in the online realm…

    2) More interestingly, perhaps the open space methods (which are themselves no more technological than involving a few post-it notes) can offer a way forward for youth work to recapture some of that collective-yet-diverse vision that it needs.

    What if, driven by the idea of your letter, we can bring together 100 youth workers for one day of open space exploration? No agenda. Some will come to share skills. Others to engage in critical dialogue. Perhaps it will even be able to be the catalyst for the sort of online community we’ve talked about above. It’s low cost and low energy to organise (all it needs is a venue and lunch… perhaps we can find a youth service to sponsor…) – but can release a lot of energy as a result….

  6. Cheers, Tim.

    Loads to think about there. Conscious you’ve already pointed out to me that splitting up the post would help the flow of comments. What I can’t sort out is having the comments immediately available under a topic. The visitor wouldn’t even know this conversation was happening unless they click on the tiny comments icon at the bottom of the post. For example if you are following responses on say a Guardian piece, all the rejoinders are visible.

  7. A couple of points;

    The issue of turning up in one’s own free time is so bloody important. Without being romantic in that period of the late 70’s/early 80’s it went without saying that if you were involved in creative, radical activity you did it in your own time. Well, you could hardly expect the State to pay for your opposition to its existence!
    Yet, ironically, this independent tradition has largely been lost. So I’m chuffed to see its revival.

    AS for the day with an Open agenda, I’m happy to give it a go, although I’m sceptical. There’s a classic feminist pamphlet on ‘The Tyranny of Structurelessness’. In a void the most articulate impose their agenda. And at this point, I’m not very interested in sharing skills. I take it for granted that there are skilful people. But to what end are they sharing their skills?

    This is perhaps an expression of my old-fashioned perspective, but the critical questions remain political and visionary. Whether folk like it or not, they need to be philosophers as well as jugglers, artists, netball coaches, counsellors or whatever.

    Nevertheless I’m open to having a crack and being proved wrong.

  8. Hey Tony,

    The important thing for me about open-space events is that the are not structureless. Rather, they have a light meta-structure which creates space within it for structures to emerge.

    It does require really careful attention to avoid being a tyranny of the articulate – but by setting out principles that trust people to both navigate their own path through the event, and to support others in navigating a path where needed – the light structure can, I think, mitigate against the worst of the tyranny.

    In terms of skill share – perhaps ‘skill’ was the wrong term. Although I think if people can go away from an event not only with a shared (or at least overlapping) sense of an agenda for change, but also with something intensely practical they can apply in their own practice we’re all better off. That might be a new approach for detached working; it might be a good trick for funding work; it might be confidence to run a philosophy circle with other workers in a local area… all the components that are needed to build towards the changes the event has helped people group around…

  9. Hello, just joining in despite now being a bit lost as to which of these interesting conversations I am actually joining in with!

    Ho hum. Like Tim D, I feel it is ironic that it has taken me all week to have enough energy to read any of this month’s blog / newsletter. Which, by the way, is brilliant, especially the open letter – sign me up!

    I reckon that – like with any human communication, written or verbal – there will be times when lots of people are engaged, times when there are only a few (but how valuable it might be for those few) and perhaps times when nobody has the energy. This is a natural ebb and flow. It’s like, when I do detached work there are going to be some sessions where I walk around for 3 hours and see nobody. Pretty demoralising at the time, but it’s not like that all the time!

    Mike dismisses the idea of youth workers being overloaded or not having time – but I think we are overloaded, and especially with things that require us to be by a computer, rather than having face-to-face conversation with each other or with young people. The comparison with teachers is interesting… because I think that people who want to be involved in education, but with less interest in writing and reading (whether online or on paper), are more likely to be attracted to youth work than teaching. If this is true, then first of all, any written communication is likely to appeal to the minority, and secondly, the more bureaucracy / written admin that enters our work lives, we have even less for computer stuff outside the necessary. I certainly feel when I get home from work at whatever time of night, the last thing I want to do is to switch on the computer.

    Anyway. This is all very rambly so I will stop now!

  10. I made the comparison with teachers on the basis of workload. If there are teachers out there that can teach 5 full days a week but still share their resources, lesson plans and experiences online after their working day I don’t see why this can’t be the same for those involved in the youth service. If anything those involved in youth work could be at an advantage if they’re able to convince their employers that reflective practice online is relevant and useful and therefore a part of their working day.

    I find your suggestion about the reading & writing thing interesting – it reflects something I would hear on courses we ran where from time to time a youth worker would complain about activities that involved reading and writing. We did keep these to a minimum and where necessary made them as practical as possible, but when hearing those complaints I always wondered if those workers felt the young people they were supporting were best served by fighting against that reading and writing or by encouraging and supporting them to do it (which is fairness is what the vast majority of workers would do). For both this and the use of technology I go back to asking the question – is it something to avoid because workers don’t want to do it, or something to do because its in the interests of young people they work with?

  11. Just to repeat, given the interesting nature of these varied comments, that next time round the March blog will be organised so that comments can be linked to specific items within the whole. Thanks to Tim Davies for pointing out how to do this.

  12. Hi Mike,

    I am sure teachers have an incredible and unrealistic workload but I’m still not sure how useful the comparison is, there are so many differences. For example, in my experience youth projects have less access to technology than schools. I have worked in 3 youth services and at least 4 voluntary youth organisations, and in each place we have been way behind other workplaces with things like getting an internet connection at all, getting broadband, getting fast and effective IT support (vital but very rare)… so our own learning around these things lags behind… As well as being on the streets, I work in small estate community centres and none has a computer or internet connection.

    Now that more youth projects are finally getting at least one working computer (in the office usually – the ones in the clubs are still as likely as not to be broken, if they have computers in the clubs at all) – I can’t help feeling this is because the bosses want us to use the computers to do all the new monitoring / database stuff, so suddenly it’s a priority to make sure at least one computer works.

    Also, much youth work preparation is not written down in terms of ‘lesson plans’ etc – I am sure some youth workers type up all their session plans but I would say they’d be in the minority.

    Also, it’s a self-perpetuating issue – it isn’t easy to find youth work resources on the internet and there isn’t much around, which makes it less tempting to contribute my own stuff. And there are so few people joining in with blog discussions and the like, across all the forums I’ve found anyway. I reckon it will happen increasingly as resources and knowledge / confidence improves.

    I do agree that it’s a good idea to encourage reading and writing as well as more practical / active forms of learning. For me, I join in with web discussions because I do find reading and writing very valuable, both in theory and for my prefered style of learning and reflecting. But being rather techno-illiterate I find it a challenge – some of the stuff on this discussion I don’t understand yet (web 2.0 etc).

  13. The teacher comparison is meant simply to indicate that there are professions that involve considerable workload and yet people are able to still find the time to contribute and share their practice online.

    For youth work this maybe depends on whether this takes place at home or in the office, and then if in the office obviously limitations on resources would be an issue.

    I agree with the self perpetuating thing – although if recording session planning is in the minority there’s maybe an issue of what would they share anyway?!

  14. yeh I know what you mean – I do record my session planning but only with a paper and pen most of the time. Not sure what use it would be to anyone else. Obviously I am only guessing from experience what others do… I know a lot of people who don’t have a working computer at home either…There is access in libraries (which is what I used in my last job as a part-time youth worker, where I didn’t have keys to the office / youth club, and for a while didn’t have internet at home) but this is usually time limited which really limits participation in these forums.

  15. I’m deep in the middle of putting together my workshop for the Y&P History conference so I must beware being deflected! But the exchange between Mike and Tania touches on a host of interesting issues, not least the notion of session planning.

    Now even my enemies within Youth work would be hard pushed to say that I don’t think and reflect. This said I’m tempted to say I’ve never planned a session of youth work in my life and as for recordings I’ll have to make do with having made sometimes a few notes on the back of a beer mat.

    Of course this is over the top. As a youth worker I have planned with great care sessions when young people have signed up to the classic weekend residential. And obviously, seeing I was a Training Officer for over a decade, I planned meticulously Qualifying Part-Time Training courses, In -Service training etc……

    But, as a youth worker turning up on a day-to-day, evening-to-evening basis at the youth centre or outside the chip shop I never planned the session. It was not mine to plan. But I prepared as best as I could for the conversations that did and did not happen. While reading the papers, watching the television, subscribing to the New Musical Express I always had in mind what might come up in the conversations with young people. Indeed I rehearsed in my head possible conversations in order to be able to improvise when with young people. But like the jazz musician rehearsing I did not write down the notes because tomorrow’s conversation was always going to be a new composition.

    I don’t know if this makes any sense, but it is why
    youth work is not exactly the same as teaching. It is why we distinguish between formal and informal education. It is why, in my opinion, if you go to meet young people armed with a session plan on ‘Participation’, ‘Obesity’, ‘Drugs’, you are not doing the youth work I wish to defend and extend.

    I’ve probably dug a pit for myself and I’ll have to go but I’ll sort out a better explanation soon.

    PS I am willing to bet that the majority of youth workers across the last century have not done recordings in the manner advocated in the text books.

  16. well as just about all of my work with young people has been in residential settings over the past 9 years thats maybe why I do tend to plan sessions. Also of course as we deliver training people understandably expect that to be planned. Given how much detail is demanded by youth organisations we work with though I’m surprised to hear that maybe theres little or no consideration to planning.

    The youth work you wish to ‘defend and extend’ Tony I find fascinating. I’ve been meaning to get something up about self directed and participant led learning for a while but I’m still going round in circles with it a bit. Done right I think it has huge potential, but done badly (or lazily) its pointless – but its the potential bit that I’m interested in, and particularly whether its possible to plan for it or not. Best stop now though before this gets very lengthy – but love to discuss more.

    As for planning on scraps of paper and not recording by the text book, who cares?! Everyone knows the best plans are on the back of beer mats (in fact very seriously that is exactly how the Young Movers programme I ran for 7 years began!), and capturing progress is something that can be done in all sorts of creative ways. Here again though there’s a difference between giving these things real consideration in your head (or on scraps of paper), and just turning up and hoping for the best.

  17. Mike

    It would be brilliant to discuss this more. And I agree with your final sentiment, except to stress that the difference between giving things real consideration and hoping for the best is a chasm. And to venture that those who used to hope for the best are now much happier with being told what they have to deliver rather than having to think seriously on their feet.

  18. Tony you have no idea how reassuring that sounds to me – even these small online conversations have some merit 😉

    @Tania don’t be put off by the web jargon – much of it is meaningless really, all that matters is you figure out what works best for you. You’ve prompted me to finish off a draft post demystifying some of the ‘web for beginners’ which I’ll try & get up next week.

  19. Ha ha, that’s funny Tony, I am also meant to be preparing my history conference workshop this week – must be why I suddenly have so much time for online discussion!!

    But, lo and behold, some of what we are discussing here is directly relevant to my workshop. And there lies one of the great things about not being outcomes-focused; happy accidents are more likely!

    I wanted to do my workshop on the history of monitoring youth work, given my interest in surveillance, but I have realised that monitoring means different things to different people and is too big a topic given my limited knowledge and time.

    I am considering changing my focus to: in the history of youth work, what have youth workers written down to record (or monitor or evaluate) their day-to-day work?

    When did workers start writing ‘sessional evaluations’ or similar? Have workers always kept ‘registers’ or lists of names or numbers of participants? When did all the aims and learning outcomes stuff come in? What of this paperwork have workers been required – or willing – to share with others? And who have they shared it with – their co-workers, the young people, management, ofsted, the police, everyone on their local authority database system?

    I find this interesting because the rapidly changing nature of what we are meant to record, and for whom, is changing the nature of our work. And yet it is rarely questioned.

    It’s not just the obvious stuff about infringing confidentiality and undermining relationships. Tony and I often have a chat about the improvisatory nature of the youth work we value. But my ability to improvise becomes stifled under the weight of too much session planning, aims and objectives, outcomes and outputs, paperwork and bureaucracy.

  20. Once more I am deflected, but only for a moment!

    Simply to observe that in the early 70’s as a part-timer I never accounted for numbers or wrote anything down, my boss was just pleased I got on well with the young people. From 74 onwards as a full-timer in charge of 2 centres we kept a rough estimate of how many young people attended, based on how much subs we managed to collect – but we never stopped folk nipping in and out etc. As for recording the work, by and large you’re joking! I was going to insist in those days that poorly paid part-timers spent their own time writing up what!? On the other side of the coin , if there was the need these very folk would put themselves out amazingly – out of hours – to support young people in a mess. Thinking together about the work took place in the staff meeting, around which a battle took place. Was it to be paid session etc..? As a full-timer in those days the accountability was to the management committee, upon which sat a local authority youth officer. As best I could, I blended fact and fiction to give a positive account of what we were up to. Indeed I was criticised at the time by my officer for raising too many contentious issues in front of the management committee, for making people think more than was necessary. As for the Youth Service’s annual report to the Council’s Youth Advisory Committee we all mucked in at the last minute to make sure the CYO could deliver the goods. Perhaps this all sounds amateurish, less than rigorous, which perhaps is true, but we knew it to be so. The irony is that today’s management, armed with computer print-outs of the number of ticked boxes, think they are closer to the truth of practice.

    Of course I should interrogate this further and I could think through how it was in the 80’s and the 90’s, but at this moment I’ve no time. Marilyn is also shouting that she’s been thinking about the mid-80′ when she was co-ordinator of an unemployed project, which had been taken over by a group of skinheads, who weren’t at all interested in guitar or shoe-making workshops…..and how she reported to her bosses.

    Keep going – it should be a cracking workshop in Durham. Sorry not to be more helpful.

  21. Posted up some of my experiences here:

    http://breakfastsociety.com/2009/02/monitoring-targets-accreditation/

    Looking forward to writing one up about accreditation now but that’s likely to take quite a while!!

  22. Thanks for being deflected, Tony, Mike and Marilyn – very interesting and helpful!

  23. Some really interesting stuff in here. Particularly the focus in most online collaboration around the written word.

    Perhaps building a strong reflective online community of youth workers needs to blend in a lot more video and audio narrative alongside the forum and blog posts.

    I’ll take a look to see what tools might be out there to help with that…

  24. @Tim – I’m thinking there are also some broader issues to consider:

    The willingness to share: Finding the common issues and shared practises that allow workers to see how there can be a benefit to sharing. At the moment what’s the point? Why would any youth worker wish to share what they’re doing, how they work, what tools, approaches and resources they use?

    Issues to do with being in principle against forms of monitoring: The need to make the sharing of practice relevant to workers themselves – not for it to be confused with further steps towards ‘surveillance’, and needing to have direct relevance and benefit to work being done

    Not more ‘paperwork’: I think as you’re suggesting, this is where there could be some good potential for creative use of technology. Capturing thoughts, feelings, developments, events in a way that isn’t a burden and allows for easy online sharing (and that can be controlled by those that choose to share).

    I’m especially interested in this last one, not just from the perspective of workers sharing but also exploring creative ways of capturing progress and developments in practise. I can see potential for something that could actually challenge some of the current issues and resentment against monitoring ie. if it was possible to develop methods that effectively captures ‘distance travelled’ in the work youth workers do with young people this would surely have more relevance for both workers and young people? (maybe building on some of the stuff started with OnTheUp and the soft skills stuff I’ve been working on)

    More about those here:
    http://cli.gs/Nt9YvJ
    http://cli.gs/eU3dHq

    I suppose what I’m suggesting is to explore the use of technology and the web as a tool to support Youth Workers to be able to deliver the kind of work they’d like to do, but needing to try and understand first why some may wish to resist that.

  25. Thanks again Mike and Tim for your thoughts and apologies again that our conversation is somewhat buried within Comments. Will try to sort this out better for March.

    On the dilemma of the written word and alternatives, just to mention that back in the 70’s we experimented with part-timers recording their thoughts on cassette rather than scribbling on the paper. Ironically many found recording their views in this way no less daunting. Listening to themselves, being heard by others, was just as intimidating. Many felt the immediacy of the spoken word exposed their lack of fluency with language. As for video we bought cameras for all and sundry and they lay in cupboards, little used. This said, a newer generation is perhaps now much more confident with contemporary technology.

    My memories are not meant to pour cold water on fresh ways of enabling collective dialogue and reflection. No more than a contribution to why people resist.

  26. not at all – I think you’re right Tony. I’m comfortable with technology, have made films with youth groups for years, used podcasts, sometimes use a dictation programme for writing on my computer – but still am not that comfortable with myself on film or audio. Obviously I make an effort to overcome that especially where I’m asking young people to use these tools but that doesn’t make it any less ‘weird’. I think it may be true that some young people are more comfortable – certainly with informal use of video, at least so far as short clips on mobile phones, but it’s important that workers too have to be comfortable if tools like this are to be used.

    I think at this stage its about finding as broad a range of options for contributing and sharing as possible so that people are able to use what they’re comfortable with – plus of course its got to be either non-intrusive and non-burdensome, or it has to be exciting and interesting enough to justify any additional time and effort required. Anything towards exploring this is time very well spent I think.

  27. In terms of reflection and recording a route I’ve wanted to pursue with others is the interview. A few years ago three of us spent a few days reminiscing about and analysing in a collective conversation our time in Youth Work. To my shame I’ve never written this up. And I think this form of story-telling is fruitful and accessible. Most people enjoy a good story. Although it is not of the immediate ‘what did you do last night?’variety of experience sharing.

    Last night I discovered by chance a series of interviews as pod-casts, which inspire me to think afresh about this approach. As usual I’m ignorant in terms of the technology. Is it now possible to conduct an interview across the Net? How do you make a pod-cast? I’ll start researching, whilst hoping Tim might ride to my rescue!


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