empowerment through participation

This week we read Teaching to Transgress by bell hooks and connected her objectives with those of Paulo Freire’s from a couple weeks back. They both emphasize the need for participatory education. There needs to be a moment where students can be vulnerable and honest when sharing their personal experiences to connect with the larger pedagogical model. hooks and Freire mention the need for desocialization, the breaking down of dependencies on traditional authority and power figures. By giving a voice to each and every kid, and valuing what they contribute, we as educators teach them that they control their education. Participation is key.

Meanwhile, youth educators hold an extremely important position in that they can ignite the curiosity in these kids. The joy of learning follows the joy of teaching so the students look to their teachers as role models. We need to love what we’re doing and to have a passion for it. In sports, it goes beyond the intellect, we are responsible for teaching the student as a whole – mind, body & soul. Education is about being, physically in the world, not just thinking about it. As Freire agrees, theory is useless unless accompanied by action. Education is about liberation, about having the access to materials and skills to achieve this change and social transformation. If the youth of today aren’t impassioned to pursue anything or to change their situation, then progress isn’t possible. Coaches, teachers, mentors – any role model – they all need to care for the child and genuinely want to see them succeed.


This attitude is clearly reflected in the Girls Rock Camp in Portland, OR. The women use music to connect girls and to reach them. They use the power of being in a band, of working together writing a song, and of performing as a method of empowering young girls to develop into confident women. This rock camp is a safe environment for girls to be expressive, to be themselves, and to not apologize for anything. This program, like many others focuses on an all-female group to bring forth this notion of a “safe space” to encourage uninhibited participation. In the same way, PowerPlay NYC empowers young girls through sports and works to make each girl feel competent, confident and connected. These educational, active environments take  an affirmative approach to youth education, starting with a positive element – “the right to rock”, “the right to play” – and through these activities, they bring up larger issues at play.

transformative media

We often underestimate youth. We underestimate the power of self-mobilization and self-education that they possess. Kids are very much aware of what is going on and many times they can understand and articulate these experiences better than adults. For this reason, youth media projects can be liberating and empowering because they instill some trust in this power, in this ability. When watching a media project directed by youth, we can begin to realize just how much these kids are engaged in society.

Reel Lives is a non-profit organization based in New York City that aims to educate marginalized youth through filmmaking. This youth-based production center focuses on teaching foundational technical skills to these students who then create documentaries from start to finish. These films are their stories, many times starting as personal narratives and expanding out into larger world issues. Many of these stories revolve around topics of immigration, self-identity, and interpersonal relationships. Karim’s story involves his passion for soccer and how that has shaped his integration into American society.

The concept of giving youth a voice through a lens is a powerful medium for youth development. Film has tremendous transformative power and can help children express themselves in creative, alternative ways. Give a camera to a child, give a little guidance, and see what happens…

the new classroom

Teachers and educators have the challenge of transforming the classroom into a dynamic space for change and possibility. Classroom in this sense means any space where learning occurs – schools, community centers, homes, sports fields, art centers, etc. Youth education is a messy field and the text Critical Pedagogy attempts to outline the methods teachers can adopt to educate and mentor their students. This primer emphasizes the role of education and schooling in building the future: “Schools and the everyday classroom should share in the building of the social order of the future” (204).

An example of putting this teaching philosophy into practice is seen in the work Tim Rollins does with the group K.O.S. – Kids Of Survival. Rollins uses art workshops and transformative media projects to connect with youth in the Bronx and instill in them a sense of pride and responsibility in their own education. Rollins subscribes to the idea that teachers are guides, they are resources, not all-knowing gurus. He creates a curriculum based on art and creative expression but he is aware of the limitations of his educational system: “Art can’t undo years of abuse. But it can be used to tap into the hurt and make the pain better”.

Teaching youth is as much about the process as the product. Kids learn in different ways so a fixed rigid curriculum teaching to a test isn’t going to work for most people. Education should occur as a space for youth to explore their identities. A proper education equips youth with the tools to make their own way, to take responsibility for their own career and life. When using creative forms of teaching, through art or sports, the students feel a sense of accomplishment and can show off their progress to an audience. Public forums are extremely valuable to a child’s development – debates, spelling bees, art shows, athletic tournaments – they all provide an opportunity to show off the products of education.

Another key point in the Critical Pedagogy method is creating a curriculum with an emphasis on the collaborative process of learning. Students teach each other and teach the teacher, it is a constantly evolving process that benefits all involved – not simply a top-down method. As humans we are social beings, we do not go through life as isolated individuals so youth need to learn early on how to play and work with others, and cultivate those solid relationships that foster teamwork and respect for others. Even though sports don’t fit into the traditional schooling pattern, they are undoubtedly a space for education and a new type of classroom.

article 31

Article 31 (Leisure, play and culture): Children have the right to relax and play, and to join in a wide range of cultural, artistic and other recreational activities.

We shouldn’t need the Convention on the Rights of the Child to tell us that children have a right to be children and play. It’s pretty obvious. But in so many parts of the world, children are dealing with hardships and sufferings, and issues that they shouldn’t have to worry about. One’s youth is a precious, limited time and should be consumed with explorations and aimless adventures – not with financial concerns and political struggles.

One way kids can regain control of their childhood is through sports. By discovering a game that they are passionate about – be it soccer, baseball, rugby, anything active – they create a positive dream to strive towards. Sports become this magical part of life, where everything else is forgotten and the only thing that matters is the intensity of the game in that moment, scoring that goal, playing as a team. Personally, I think it is incredibly important to focus on sports and physical activity in the work on youth rights. Sports have the ability to transform, and when the response moves towards transformation, that’s when positive peace begins. Obviously sports can’t resolve hunger and poverty but they can heal part of a child’s soul, a child who has endured all sorts of violence.

As we talk about human rights focusing on the youth of today in the Global Youth Media class, I will try to take a sort of “sports therapy” approach to many of the issues discussed. In this scenario, media acts as the channel or vehicle bringing the sport to the child – the championship game on TV or the radio that inspire the child to pick up the sport. The power of media and the magic of sport can change a child’s life.