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Draft Program on Climate Change, for your comments (updated March 5, 2019) (short version now available)

 

Young People’s Classes

Many people ask me how to set up young people’s classes in their Regions. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from teaching classes for young people, it’s flexibility. There are, however, certain guidelines I follow when setting up a young people’s class. Here are the basics.

WHO SHOULD TEACH THE CLASS?

Where there is a young person ready, it makes sense for a young person to play the primary leadership role.

If no young person is ready, an adult can teach the class. In this case, young people need chances to do lots of talking and increasingly take on leadership roles.

WHEN IS A YOUNG PERSON READY TO TEACH?

Before teaching, a young person should take a fundamentals class, have regular Co-Counseling sessions, and participate solidly in the RC Community. Young people should only lead when they want to, not just because there is a need for more young leaders. Their RC teacher, Area Reference Person, and Regional Reference Person should agree that it will be useful for the young person and for the Community, and there needs to be enough resource around the young person to make his or her leadership successful.

Of course, even when a young person wants to lead, he or she may need resource to work through the messages of internalized young people’s oppression that say, “I’m not smart enough, I’m not big enough, I can’t do this.” Young people who are leading usually need frequent reminders of their true intelligence and power. Young teachers need at least one committed adult ally who can Co-Counsel with them, listen to them plan the class each week, help them organize the class, and offer information when needed. This adult might also assist with the class, playing as big a (minimal) role as is needed for the class to go well for the young people.

SHOULD ADULT ALLIES BE IN THE CLASS?

An all-young-people’s class can be powerful. Different things go on when there are no adults present, and adults can’t know what these things are because their very presence changes the dynamics drastically. An all-young-people’s class can be uniquely intimate. Young people get to stretch to be there for each other in ways that don’t happen elsewhere in their lives. For these reasons, an all-young-people’s class should be considered.

At the same time, young people’s internalized oppression, along with their real needs for play and attention, can make a class consisting entirely of young people a lot for one young teacher to handle. A class can restimulate young people’s feelings about school, and if there is not enough resource and outside perspective about these feelings, a young teacher might be targeted. Also, young people don’t usually have close adult allies in their lives, and it’s a precious opportunity when this can happen. Having parents as allies has sometimes worked well.

Adult allies in a young people’s class need to be aware of several factors. 1) Adults take up far more space in a young people’s class than the young people do, and direct efforts must be made to counteract this hard-to-avoid-phenomenon. 2) Young people will tend to seek the adult’s attention instead of figuring things out with each other. This can also make it more difficult for a young person to lead. 3) Young people may have a harder time talking and sharing their thinking in front of adults than they do with just young people. All that being said, an adult ally can add important resource and increase the safety in the group. When a young person is teaching, adult allies should focus their attention on backing the young leader and playing whatever role is most helpful to them.

WHAT YOUNG PEOPLE SHOULD BE IN THE CLASS?

In forming a young people’s class it is useful to recruit young people who are leaders outside of RC and/or who look like they could be leaders in RC. Just as with RC in general, we’re building a movement. We want young people from a variety of backgrounds and skin colors. We want young people who can support the RC Community goal of working to end racism. We want young people who have free attention and particular areas of clarity. This way, in addition to taking attention for themselves, they can give attention back and can fully participate in the RC Community. Don’t confuse patterns of being loud or always needing to be in the center of things with leadership skills. Additionally, young people who rebel or break the rules do not necessarily have extra clarity about young people’s oppression.

Part of having the potential to be a leader is having the support you need. Young people can get support in the RC Community, but having a support base at home is helpful, too. Many of our young leaders have parents who are in RC. Trying to participate in a Community that is dominated by adults and presents different expectations than elsewhere in your life is a challenge for young people. Having support at home can be very useful. When we recruit young people whose parents are not in RC, there are certain things to keep in mind. As long as young people are living at home, they are under the control of their parents to some degree. Young people whose parents do not support what they are doing will have a hard time participating in the Community fully or for long. Therefore, it makes sense to get parents on board with your project. You probably want to talk with parents before starting your young people’s class.

When you talk to parents, be completely respectful. These are the people who have devoted their lives to supporting the young people who you’ll be seeing for a couple hours a week. No matter how it looks to you, they’re doing an excellent job of parenting given the resource they have. Talk about your class as something that you’re doing to support their young person, and them, as well. Talk about how young people don’t get enough support and neither do parents. Talk about how your class will help the young people to get support and information that will help them have good lives and better relationships with people in their family. Talk about how you see their young person as someone special who can make a difference in the world. Validate the job they’ve done as parents. Additionally, you may want to (or you may want an ally to) get together with parents of young people in your class periodically to listen to them and hear any worries or questions they may have about your class and to give them information about it.

HOW OLD SHOULD THE YOUNG PEOPLE BE?

Young people of all ages can use RC. It’s always useful for young people to hear accurate information about the world and to have opportunities to discharge and to challenge themselves.

Do think about what resource is needed for young people who are at different places in their lives. Younger young people should have a chance to release feelings spontaneously, as they come up in play and other activities or challenges. I also think about what resource the young people themselves are ready to offer, or should offer. Young people generally should not be put in the position of listening to others discharge before they clearly understand the distinction between past hurts and the current reality.

HOW DO I GET YOUNG PEOPLE TO COME TO THE CLASS?

Young people are eager to learn RC. They crave correct information about young people’s oppression, about human beings, and about the world. They need much more attention than they get. They want to be close to other young people and to adults. They are excited to have a chance to take their lives seriously, make a difference, and change the world. This doesn’t mean it’s always easy for young people to come to class. Young people usually don’t have a lot of control over their lives or their schedules. They have obligations to school and to their families that may make it hard for them to get to class. Transportation may also be a problem. When you schedule your class, do what you can to accommodate young people’s schedules and their transportation needs.

HOW DO I GET YOUNG PEOPLE TO KEEP COMING TO CLASS?

Internalized oppression may make it hard for young people to keep coming to class. The expectations RC has for young people, while correct, are so far from the expectations young people face in the rest of their lives, that it’s often challenging. Young people may have trouble coming to class if they feel bad about not living according to RC theory. Ways that young people’s oppression and internalized oppression come up in the class and the RC Community may also make it hard for young people. Don’t forget internalized oppression from racism, sexism, classism, and so on. Moreover, young people are not used to being taken seriously or thought of as important. They may have trouble remembering they deserve support, that young people’s liberation is important, that they matter to the group, or that they can make a difference.

You, as a leader, can do several things to help people deal with the feelings that may get in their way of coming. Having parents on board to support their young people at home is one of these things. In class, be open about how young people’s oppression may make it hard to come to class. Train young people to be allies to each other around different oppressions. Create space for people to work on feelings that come up. Also, encourage people to share how different their lives are outside of the class. Hold out rational ways for human beings to treat each other and themselves (including clear perspectives on drugs, alcohol, competition, “coolness,” and sex). At the same time, show that you understand the tremendous pressures of young people’s oppression, and never blame people for ways they’ve given in.

Allow the young people in your class to work in session on discouragement about RC, but don’t let them dramatize outside of session. Instead, explain how they can create change from a powerful position. RC is the best chance young people have to get space outside of young people’s oppression—you’ll probably need to be clear about that to lead an effective young people’s class.

In the end, trust the process. In particular, trust discharge. We often forget how precious it is just to have a chance to talk about your life with a thoughtful listener. Trust good information: Correct information about racism, sexism, classism, and young people’s oppression will keep young people coming back. Trust relationships: Focus on your relationships with each other and do explicit work on building these relationships. Finally, trust the challenge of leadership: Taking leadership is a key contradiction to young people’s oppression. Give young people chances to think about taking leadership in their own lives. Also offer increasing opportunities for young people to take leadership in the class and in the RC Community as they become ready.

WHAT SHOULD I DO IN THE CLASS?

A young people’s class should be straight RC. There’s no need to change RC theory to make it applicable to young people. Watered-down versions of RC will only have watered-down effectiveness and may be downright confusing. At the same time, steps can be made to make RC accessible to young people.

Young people in your class need the counseling process and RC theory. For younger young people, using the counseling process will mean receiving one-way attention while they play or challenge themselves, and releasing feelings as they come up. With these young people, information or theory may be given in small pieces during the course of play, or while they are resting in your lap during a break from play.

Earlier than most people suspect, however, young people can benefit from some structured theory and counseling time. A young people’s class for school-age younger young people can be like a special time group or playgroup (where young people mostly play and receive one-way attention), with as little as fifteen minutes tacked on to sit people down and talk about some piece of theory and give everyone the chance to go around and take turns to share something about their lives for a minute or two. Short mini-sessions where the young people can try listening as well as being client can be great, too.

Don’t forget to incorporate news and goods, validations, self-appreciations, present-time questions, and goal-setting into your young people’s classes. Think flexibly about young people, but don’t forget what we’ve learned about all human beings!

As young people become older and/or more ready, they will enjoy sitting for longer, listening for longer, and sharing more themselves.

HOW SHOULD THEORY BE GIVEN?

Theory should be given straight-up. No tricks are needed for young people to understand correct information about the world. Pictures, songs, games, and other activities that relate to the theory can be used on the side, but should not stand in the place of straight information. Young people should learn about young people’s liberation early in a fundamentals class. Linking other topics to young people’s oppression is also useful. Never make the mistake, however, of thinking that young people are only interested in information about young people’s oppression.

Young people need information about other oppressions, the true nature of human beings, and counseling tools. Young people need information about RC guidelines and policy, as well as the goals of the Communities, like the ending of racism. Particularly, don’t forget that young people are members of different constituencies. Also remember that young people play oppressor roles in relation to each other. Information about how to work on oppressor material and how to be allies to each other will be important.

To make RC theory accessible to young people, do four things. First, talk long enough to say what you need to, but not longer. Second, use language the young people in your class can understand. Third, relate the theory to their lives using examples that are meaningful to them. Fourth, give them a chance to talk about something related to each week’s theory topic so that they get to process the theory for themselves and make it theirs.

HOW SHOULD YOUNG PEOPLE LEARN ABOUT BEING CLIENT?

Young people should receive information about discharging feelings from the start. In addition to setting up spaces where they can release feelings, young people should have information about patterns, and about how we can make choices about when and where to get feelings out and when and where to step over feelings.

From a very early age, it can be useful for young people to know they have a set time to get attention. This attention may be in the form of special time, where young people should know there is resource for feelings if they come up. The attention can also be in the form of taking on a challenge—like wrestling, reading, singing, or doing a particular activity that may bring up feelings. Additionally, the attention can be in the form of more focused discharge time where you let the young person know this is their time to talk about something that is hard and get feelings out if they need to. All of these forms of attention can be incorporated into a young people’s class. In fact, young people should not have to choose one form of attention to the exclusion of the others. Even during a single class it may make sense for a young person to have ten minutes to wrestle and three minutes to talk about something hard in his or her life, or vice-versa.

Bringing up feelings during a set period of time takes some figuring out. Talk directly to young people about the value of doing this and how it can be done. Let them know that it takes some practice, and give them chances to try. Give them examples of how you and other people focus your attention on hard things and access your feelings during a set time. Offer possible things to work on and possible directions to try. Make it clear that they get to experiment and figure things out.

Crying is not the only form of discharge, and young people can benefit from their turns even when they don’t cry. Just having a chance to talk about their lives with a close, connected listener is a big deal for young people.

Furthermore, the goal should not be for them to cry this week or next, but rather to have the counseling process available to them long-term. Pressure to discharge will not serve this long-term goal. In fact, even pressure to come up with things to talk about can be hard on young people. If young people have trouble talking during their turns, don’t leave them hanging! Offer topics to talk about and ask them questions. Let them know they can use their time for a variety of things, including sharing their life stories, talking about successes, setting goals, or taking on a particular challenge. At the same time, continue to set up explicit chances for the young people in your class to cry or get out feelings, even when it isn’t immediately easy.

HOW SHOULD YOUNG PEOPLE LEARN ABOUT BEING COUNSELOR?

Once young people want to and are ready to listen to other people discharge, they should have the opportunity to learn about being counselor as well as client. Young people need information about what to do as counselor. Let different people share what they find useful for a counselor to do. Provide lots of chances to see other people be counselor. Then, give the young people in your class opportunities to try being counselor. Once they try, they can notice what was good and what they could do next time to make a session go even better. The young people may want to ask questions of the client about how the session went. Remember that young people care about others and wish to be of help. Being a counselor for someone can be an empowering experience.

HOW SHOULD YOU HANDLE YOUNG PEOPLE’S DRAMATIZATIONS?

Young people should not be allowed to dramatize their distress outside of session. People often shy away from interrupting young people who are running patterns for fear of being oppressive. Letting young people dramatize patterns, however, leaves them alone and communicates a lack of high expectations, as well as being hard on the rest of the group. Particularly, young people’s teasing of each other should be interrupted and named as a form of internalized oppression. Young people should be challenged to treat each other well.

WHAT ABOUT PLAYTIME?

Time to play or “hang out” can be a wonderful part of a young people’s class. Certain things deserve thought in setting up this time. In some classes, particularly with younger young people, you may play for most of the time. Here the goal may be to facilitate discharge as opportunities arise. In other classes, the play may be a chance to take a break or let people connect with each other and have fun. In this case, the goal may be for people to keep their attention out and step over feelings to think well about the whole group.

Think about the goal of a particular playtime beforehand and let the young people know what the expectations are. Let the young people think with you about how to make the playtime good for everyone. Having people make commitments about how they want to treat each other can help this time go well.

If the goal is to facilitate discharge, more resource will probably be needed than if the goal is for the group to keep their attention out and have fun together. Either way, however, feelings are likely to come up during play and you may want additional adult allies around during this time. Indeed, although play or hang-out time may seem like it should be the easy part of the class, it can be the most challenging. Don’t assume that if young people look like they’re having fun they are having fun. Young people who get lost in feelings during play or hang-out times often hide it well or go unnoticed. Learn to tune in to the subtle dynamics of internalized oppression during playtimes.

All of that said, don’t forget the importance of play! Young people often recognize the importance of play better than adults do. Young people know how to learn, challenge themselves, and connect with each other during play. Playing and hanging out with people in a space that’s removed from the usual oppression is often what young people value most about young people’s classes in RC.

HOW DO YOU GIVE YOUNG PEOPLE CHANCES TO LEAD IN THE CLASS?

Young people should be offered increasing opportunities to lead as they become ready. Of course, many of their chances for leadership will be in their own lives outside of RC. Talking about these leadership chances and setting goals for taking leadership will be an important contradiction to young people’s oppression. Young people can also have opportunities to lead in RC. Talking about what true leadership is will be important, since young people’s oppression skews the picture.

Once young people have a clear picture of what it means to be a leader you can think together about what their next step is in making the class go well. As they are ready, young people can take leadership by reminding each other to be thoughtful, encouraging each other to take on challenges, and counseling each other. You may assign particular leadership roles or jobs to young people—for example, keeping the group on schedule, timing people’s turns, reminding people not to tease, or leading the group in a song each time. As people are ready, you might give them chances to try leading different parts of the class from time to time. For instance, one week someone could lead playtime by teaching and facilitating a game. Another week, someone besides yourself could counsel people. Another week you might let someone give theory.

If you’re an adult leading the class, you may want to think about whether it makes sense for a particular young person to eventually take over a part of the class on a consistent basis. This should be done in a way that the other young people don’t miss out on important resource or experience you have to offer. They should not be set up to compare the young leader to you in ways that are hard on the young leader. At the same time, don’t overlook the strengths a young leader may bring.

Whatever role you let a young person take, support them to figure it out so that it’s a successful experience. Young people should know that there are no limits to what they can do as leaders. Becoming a leader is a gradual process, however, and young people should have the chance to take each important step along the way so that they have a solid and successful foundation.

HOW DOES THE CLASS FIT INTO THE LARGER RC COMMUNITY?

It’s important to think about how the class fits into the larger Community. Two areas are particularly important to consider. First, think about the role of adult allies. A young people’s class needs a team of adult allies who can back the class in different ways, from attending class, to listening to the leader, to transportation, to talking with parents, to Co-Counseling with the young people. Adult allies need a place outside of the class to consistently discharge on being allies. This could be mini-sessions with each other before or after class, or a support group of their own at a different time.

Second, it’s important to think about making events that happen outside of the class accessible to young people. In preparation for having young people in the Community, all the adults need to hear theory about young people’s oppression (in their fundamentals classes is a good place) and should have opportunities to discharge on their experiences with young people’s oppression, both as young people and adults. Young people should have opportunities to Co-Counsel with people from outside their class. Also, young people need chances to connect with other members of identity groups they belong to, such as women, men, and people of color. Young people should get chances to participate in the liberation work of these identity groups.

In addition, young people need chances to join in general Community projects, such as thinking about the Guidelines of the RC Communities, or working on the United to End Racism* project. Often it makes sense to have a well-trained ally backing each individual young person as he or she participates in a support group or workshop. Sometimes it makes sense to put out information about young people’s oppression at the start of such an event. You may want to put together a team of allies who can think with the leader and organizer of a particular event to make sure it’s accessible to young people. Not all events will be accessible to young people, and that’s okay for now. Young people should generally come to events when they can participate in the way expected of the group as a whole. However, there should be events available for young people to attend at each stage of their leadership in RC.

WHY SHOULD I TEACH A YOUNG PEOPLE’S CLASS?

As you teach your young people’s class, keep in mind the importance of the work you are doing. Challenging yourself to think well about young people is sure to push your material in ways that move you ahead in your general leadership. This work is great for your own re-emergence!

When you teach young people RC, you change the world. Giving young people the tools of Re-evaluation Counseling allows them to keep a space open as the oppression is coming in on them. That is important. Their minds will have more possibilities available to them because of your efforts. That is important. They will make different decisions in their lives because of your work. That is important. Whatever ways you reach young people, whatever good information gets in, whatever clear attention they get to figure out their lives—it is important.

Young people are eager to make a difference. When you teach young people, you have the chance to develop leaders who will spread the work of RC and young people’s liberation far. Furthermore, young people’s participation in our Communities is key. Young people have close-at-hand strengths and perspectives that are more distant in adults. They offer important contradictions and resources. We will move forward far more rapidly with young people at the center of our work. Moreover, ending young people’s oppression is key to unraveling all the other oppressions. By teaching young people RC, you advance young people’s liberation and the liberation of all humans.

Ellie Brown
Former International Liberation Reference Person for Young People
Wilmington, Delaware, USA
Reprinted from Young and Powerful, No. 7


Last modified: 2019-05-02 14:41:35+00