A Model of Young People’s Work in RC

The three RC Regions of Boston (Massachusetts, USA) have been holding a young people’s class for six years.

Some adult allies had noticed that when young people go off to college, it is often hard for them to continue using Co-Counseling. They wanted a class to start early enough that young people could begin two-way Co-Counseling before the hard teenage oppression began and could hold on to counseling when they left home.

The class started with about ten young people, with an age range of nine to fifteen years, and no adult allies. Joel Nogic, the Regional Reference Person for one of the Boston Regions, led the class with an older young person assisting him. The class has always met about once a month, with a parent as the organizer.

We faced many difficulties in figuring out how to make the class work best and how to make the transition from family work1 to adult Co-Counseling. We wanted the class to be a place that was different from the oppressive school system. In the beginning, when it was organized with a typical RC-class format, many of us found it difficult to maintain our attention throughout the class. We wanted more games, more times to play and hang out.2 We wanted it to feel more like family work.

We have figured out how important it is for the group to connect and hang out before the RC theory and sessions begin. In our society, hanging out is trivialized as being unimportant and a waste of time and is thought of as something only for young people. As we get older, we are made to hang out less and less. When we arrive at class, we spend the first forty-five minutes talking and laughing as a group. We usually have snacks during this time. Especially at the beginning, when more of the young people were making the transition from family work, the snacks helped to break some of the awkwardness. We also have mats and a bag of pillows, so that wrestling, pillow fights, and physical play can happen.

After about a year we started adding allies. The allies already had close, committed relationships with many of the young people in the class. We started with about one ally for every two young people. The allies have played an important role in assisting the young people with the Co-Counseling model, especially when the class breaks into small groups. As we young people have built stronger relationships with each other, we have figured out how to support each other more and so reduce the number of allies. One of the most exciting things about the class is the way that we have grown to be able to think about each other. The close relationships we have built and our increased practice with RC have also allowed us to better use our turns as client.

Emily Bloch (the International Liberation Reference Person for Young People) started coming to the class and playing a semi-ally role. She soon began assisting Joel in leading the class and then became the co-leader. It has been useful having a young person visibly taking on3 leadership in the class. When Emily hasn’t been there, other young people have had a chance to help plan and lead the class.

Whenever a group of young people gets together, internalized young people’s oppression needs to be thought about. The leaders of the class have made sure to take time for the young people to work on what gets hard with internalized young people’s oppression, in general and within the group. The allies have supported the young people to work on the internalized oppression that comes up.

Over the six years of the class we have grown to a regular group of about twenty people. Our ages range from twelve to twenty-one, which is something many of the young people have appreciated and found to be unique about the class.

Typically we start with a round of “news and goods,” which help keep us connected to what is going on4 in each other’s outside-of-RC lives. Having to report one new and good thing also challenges any restimulation that makes us feel like nothing good is going on. We then do a short mini-session to work on whatever we need to so that we can be fully present.

There is usually a topic for the class. Sometimes it is a piece of RC theory, such as something about sexism, racism, or school oppression. Sometimes we focus on RC practice, for example, how to be an effective counselor and client. Everyone in the group is at a different stage of transitioning from family work to adult Co-Counseling. Hearing about basic RC practice builds a stronger understanding of RC for those who are newer, and it’s useful for those who are more experienced to hear it again and to get to say what they know about it.

After talking about RC theory and practice, we try out the practices we have just talked about or discharge on the theory we have discussed. We often use go-arounds, demonstrations, support groups, and three-way sessions.

A go-around, in which everyone gets a chance to say his or her thoughts on a specific issue in front of the group, is useful because it teaches class members to listen. (This was particularly useful in the early years of the class, when it was hard for people to pay attention and listen to others.) It also challenges patterns of shyness and is a contradiction to the feeling that one’s thoughts are not important enough to have the whole group paying attention to them.

Demonstrations are useful because they bring up feelings of shyness and embarrassment about being a client in front of the whole group. Having the whole group paying attention also provides increased safety. Sometimes a demonstration is used to give extra time to a young person who is trying to figure out something hard in his or her life.

Leading a support group in a safe class environment is a way for us young people to try out RC leadership. It pushes us to work on our feelings about leadership and to think about making things go well for others in the group. Having young people take leadership in a supported and thought-about way is key to making young people central to our Communities and to making the RC Communities accessible to young people.

Three-way sessions work well because sometimes a two-way session feels like a long time. Three-ways take some of the pressure off and provide the added safety of a third person’s attention.

Often before a young people’s workshop with all three Boston Regions we devote the class to sharing our thinking about the upcoming workshop and discharging any feelings we have about being there. This helps us feel more connected to other young people as we go into the workshop.

At the end of our class we do a closing circle in which we each say one thing we liked about the class and one thing we are looking forward to.

At one of our recent classes we gave everyone time to talk about his or her experience in the class. For a large number of the young people, the class was where they first did RC. For those of us raised in RC, it was where we first did two-way counseling. Many of the young people noted how important it was to have a place where they felt safe counseling about things they didn’t feel comfortable talking about in other places. Several said it was still challenging to open up to their Co-Counselors and work on the hard, deeper issues. One person said that the class had shown that RC could be cool5 and fun. Some people raised in RC who hadn’t been introduced to Co-Counseling through a fundamentals class said that hearing RC theory every month helped to solidify the ideas of RC.

This class has provided a home base of safety, connections, and experience from which the young people take RC leadership in other contexts. The connections built in the class provide support for them at RC workshops, which aren’t always set up with young people in mind. They have learned a lot about RC at the workshops and have brought the knowledge and excitement back to the class. That the class includes both people who are leading in Co-Counseling and others who aren’t seems to work. Those who are leading take a leadership role and think about the group as a whole. Those who haven’t yet taken on leadership in RC get to see older young people leading in the class and in the RC Communities.

The class is set up with the interests of us young people in mind. One member commented that the leadership of the class has trusted us and valued our thoughts. Another said how great it is that we have dominated the class and have had the power to make it go how we wanted it to. Many of us were struck by what an inspiring model the class is of how close people, particularly young people, can be. It is a useful contradiction to the isolation driven in between young people as part of young people’s oppression. The connection and deepening of relationships are important to our overall goal of building a group in which we can genuinely think about and support each other.

In building the class we have tried and changed a lot of things and have come to an excellent model of young people’s liberation work in RC. We encourage other Communities to draw on this in working toward making RC accessible to young people. For us the class has been a cherished, connected, and significant place for young people to be together.

Alana and Nina Eichner
Somerville, Massachusetts, USA

1 Family work consists of RC gatherings of young people and adult allies, including parents, in which the focus is on young people and counseling young people in the context of play. These gatherings are designed to empower young people, to give them a setting in which they largely determine what happens (in contrast to the usual adult-young person dynamic). The focus is not on “Co-Counseling,” as it is in the usual adult RC.
2 Hang out means spend relaxed, unstructured time.
3 In this context, taking on means assuming.
4 Going on means happening.
5 In this context, cool means alive and interesting.

Last modified: 2014-10-07 18:31:58+00