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.

sport as safe space

This week we read Studying Urban Youth by Greg Dimitriadis, a primer that tries to get at the heart of what it means to study youth, and how it should be done. The history of youth studies focused on youth as part of a location. Dimitriadis challenges this notion and posits that place is a constantly evolving platform rather than a static site. While the home and the school are where youth spend most of their time, they aren’t solely defined by these places. There is a 3rd space at play – the community.

This is where youth development happens and where kids follow their passions and develop their personalities. Which is why Community Based Organizations (CBO’s) do such critical work by providing a safe space for children to explore and enjoy their youth. In this primer on studying youth, art is set forth as a safe space, at work inside and outside school. Likewise, sports also represent a safe space and can be found in gym classes,  after school programs, club teams, and beyond. Sports in this sense create a community within a community and they satisfy this human tendency to be social and to connect with one’s peers.

As researchers, educators, and/or media creators, we have the responsibility to understand the youth to the best of our ability. But they aren’t our subjects, they’re our partners in this field of study – they are our greatest resource. In doing fieldwork and collecting data for media productions, we should approach these events as encounters, not assignments. We should constantly strive to observe and participate, and to do so from within. In the realm of sports, a great way to integrate into these safe spaces is by taking the role of coach and mentor and truly trying to understand where these kids are coming from – what their background is, what they are learning, and how they are developing.

In all this, there is a safe space I’m keen on exploring: girls in sports. Dimitriadis discusses the concept of postsubcultures, a concept of moving away from the traditional concept of subcultures. In other words, playing with the traditional criteria for being part of a group – now punks can wear cardigans, intellectuals can enjoy chick flicks, and women can be jocks. The concept of a safe space is that everyone is welcome, and through this attitude, young children realize that they can choose their future and excel in it.