Live-blogging: The Youth Caucus

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What does it take to get dozens of young people to come inside on a gorgeous afternoon to talk about increasing their involvement in civic life? An invitation. I’m live blogging an event in MPR’s UBS Forum organized by MPR and the Humphrey Institute, called “The Youth Caucus: Why kids care about community/civic life?”

The young people — it feels wrong to say “kids” — have just broken into small groups to talk about various issues before returning at 6:30 for a group discussion. The group I’m listening to at the moment is talking about the concept of mandatory service. Should young people be required to perform some sort of community service.

“Can you kids think of anything you’re required to do now that you enjoy?” a facilitator asked.

One person said she was required to perform community service as part of some sort of punishment and said while she liked what she was assigned to do, she would rather have done it on her own.

“Picking up trash is good; you’re picking up trash. But are you really building up virtues by doing so?” one teen said.

Maybe so, another said. “I used to work in a gift shop and now I’m really nice when I go into a store,” she said. So maybe next time you won’t throw trash on the ground.

Students also talking about school and how the election is not being talked about in their classes.

Your turn (in comments). Mandatory service for young people: good or bad?

6:32 – Groups about to get together for large session. This smaller group I’ve been listening to was just told that “stakeholders” (I have no idea who they are. The facilitator is a government affairs lobbyist for Target.) will be attending. “You mean what we’re saying might make a difference?” one young person asked. “Yes,” the reply. Gasps. So young to think they can’t make a difference.

6:50 – Six people have showed up to listen to what the kids have to say. Among them: Beth Fraser, dir. of government affairs, Secy. of State; Mary Jo McGuire, former state rep. and coordinator of Project Citizen; Jennifer Bloom, learning law and democracy project; Lars Sandstrom, statewide kids voting initiative in Duluth;

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Panelists say what they want to hear: What obstacles exist for you (the kids) to get involved, how they can learn without teachers boring them to death, peer pressure and peer leadership.

6:57 To the kids. Laurel, a junior from Roseville Area High School says they used to have civics but now not until senior year. Says in discussions with fellow students it was clear “we didn’t know our senators, we didn’t know our mayors. When civics is taught, it’s not taught in a way that kids can understand.”

6:59 Student: “Teachers lecture us. She’s talking…talking…talking. It doesn’t mean anything to us. Kids know Desmond Tutu but they don’t know their own mayor.”

7:00 Student – “Our mayor came to speak to our class to talk about how we should be involved and all the time I was thinking, ‘maybe I should get involved.’ But when I kept asking the question how, I never got an answer.”

The question of mandatory service comes up. Student says they shouldn’t be forced to do so, they should be taught to do so.

Tracy, Minneapolis Youth Congress and North Side Resident: “If I feel a politician doesn’t relate to me, teachers come to our area but don’t come from my area, I really don’t want that person talking to me. Teachers don’t facilitate the classroom, they direct.”

Cara from Irondale Senior High : When something is forced on a teenager, they’ll automatically oppose it. (Politics) goes right over my head. It should be taught to us. There should be a happy medium. It breaks down to the will of the teenager about what they want to know.

7:04 Panelist: “No Child Left Behind” creates real challenges for elementary schools. She talks to teachers who say they have no time to teach civics.

Elijah James – Minneapolis Youth Congress: There’s a language barrier with kids when you talk about politics. His knowledge, he said, didn’t come from “my school, it came from my father. They had to teach me the language of politics.”

Student – If you don’t have a stable environment at home and your basic needs aren’t being met, why should you go vote for a guy you never met? “Our governor and mayor has never come to our school or done anything to get to know us.”

7:11 Frederick: “It’s not just about voting; whether it’s lobbying or speaking with city’s representatives, just being aware of that information can make a big difference. My school is suffering from levy referendums and I can’t vote. But I can use the two feed God gave me and tell people in my community why they should vote for it (referendum).”

7:17 Brett, Avalon Charter School – Problems with funding at our school is you can’t fund something without it being taken from somewhere else.

McGuire reponds: “It really matters if you talk to your local elected officials.” (LOTS of hands go up)

7:19 Student speaks from group I’d never heard of before. Youth Farm. Interesting.

7:20 – Student says walkouts work but students can’t do it without being suspended. “It’s hard to be involved when teachers are telling you to shut up.”

7:22 Panelist: “How many of you who have family members who are politically active?” (About half the hands go up.) Asks those whose hands aren’t up how they got here.

Student; Joined organizations outside of school because we was curious. “When I try to voice my opinion, there’s always someone to say ‘don’t say that.’ A lot of people don’t want us to voice our opinion.”

7:27 Patrick from Central High School. Voting is one small part. The other part is “service.” “The real problem lies in the kids who aren’t here. Most kids need changes they can see and one of the big problem is legislators are doing things you never hear about or see in your neighborhood.”

7:29 – Taylor, Blake School: Adults want to reach out and help kids but they don’t know how.

7:37 – Malcolm from Central High School: Whose duty is it to get us involved? “It’s unfair to say other people should be getting me involved.”

7:38 – Student: “I don’t watch CNN. I’m youth. I watch MTV so why not spend some of that (campaign) money into MTV that says, ‘this is what affects you as a youth.”

Q: What is the message you want to leave with the panel?

Answers: “Let kids know at a young age that they have a voice and they have power.”

“Support us. Be behind us. If we have an idea, don’t shut it down automatically.”

“Change our advertising. Change our approach.”

“Youth need to be involved in the implementation of everything there is.”

“Give us an opportunity to voice our opinion. We want to get our voice out. Make us be as important as you.”

Panel reax. What’s one thing you heard you might walk away with?

Zoey Haas, Youth Farm: “Start local. Meet your neighbors. Go to centers and find out what’s going on in your neighborhood. If they tell you they don’t have a program for people your age, start something.”

Jennifer Bloom: “Struck by your passion. I’m going to push hard to think of ways to teach you your rights to speak in school.”

Lars Sandstrom: “A frustration that your teachers are scared to allow political candidate discussions to go on in the classroom.”

“I’m going to go back and write elected officials and let them know they should hear this MPR event when it’s on.”

McGuire: “Embrace your rights as a citizen. Don’t take ‘no’ for an answer from elected officials if they don’t want to talk to you.”

Fraser: “It’s a legislative election. There’s someone running in every one of your neighborhoods. Wants to work to help kids to get to know candidates more.”

– End –

  • Minn Whaler

    Our future.. our kids. How is it we expect to produce a generation who can respect differences, opinions, approaches, feel free to embrace their values and be respected for that, when we are in the business (currently) of making sure every student learns the same material, the same way, and pass standardized tests (think of how well all of us do with the news quiz) and yet maintain individuality, respect differences, have real discussions, expect these incredibly gifted kids to solve all of the problems we (as a society) are allowing them to inherit, be our caregivers, etc. Yet not allow for independent thinking, creativity, open discussion in schools because that would open us up to??????? No Child Left Behind? great slogan… with no money behind it, and because we need less federal control…. funding is suddenly attached to producing cookie cutter kids or no funding… Am I making sense? Absolutely not. But please tell me what I have said that isn’t true. Why would our kids feel valued, needed or even that they can make a difference if we are using the same measurement for all of them? Yet suddenly, when they turn 18 (voting age) we expect them to use their voices and get involved.

    I give our kids way more credit than that. Smell a rat… you’ve probably found a rat. We are defeating them before they have even found themselves by requiring certain standards be met.

    What are we really teaching? one of this makes sense, and no one really cares about what you think, just make sure you can handle a multiple choice test so your school doesn’t lose federal funding.

    Oh, dear.. Mr. Bob you triggered a rant.. this all must be your fault. Let’s just not talk about it ok? (tongue way in cheek)

    Aside to the kids… Your “permanent” record isn’t nearly as permanent as you think. don’t let that stop you from using your gifts to express how you feel. this was an awesome event..

    Never let anyone compromise your values… push on

  • http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/hows_the_family/ Nanci Olesen

    It was a great night for radio, a great night for teens, and a great night for civic minded “stakeholders.” Hearing the conversation flow from teenager to teenager was inspiring. The message is clear: “Listen to us. Ask us what we think. Speak in our language or at least give us the tools to translate.” And… they want to get involved. And many are already. I feel inspired and more dedicated than ever to continue getting the voices and opinions of young people on the air.

  • Alison

    Will this be broadcast sometime (hopefully on Mid-morning so I can get the podcast)?

  • Michael Caputo

    We are working on that now. Once we have it all together we’re going to let you know time, date and all of that. I moderated the large group and came away convinced that young people get the notion of being involved … but being independent-minded.