Q: What is Youth Work?
A: Through my experience and studies, I believe youth work is informal education, led by a reflective practitioner. It is voluntary and creates opportunities for youth participation and empowerment. It works in a way that is both dialogical (meaning through dialogue rather than lecture) and anti-oppressive.
Below is an excerpt from my Master’s Dissertation ‘Letters to a Child: A Critical Study of the Effectiveness of using Child Sponsorship as a Method for Engaging Young People in Global Issues’, published in 2009 through the Faculty of Health and Life Sciences at DeMontfort University, which goes into a bit more detail about what youth work is and what the role of a youth worker is.
As it was an academic paper, there’s more academic language and referencing than we normally provide in our blog. If you’d like the bibliographical information on the references provided, please contact us.
I strongly believe that the primary role of the youth worker is to be an informal reflective educator who seeks to work in an anti-oppressive way in order to help young people develop through “choice, voice, convivial settings for learning, reflection on experience, conversation and interaction.” (Smith 2000:22) A worker must also help young people make connections that show that learning is a “fully human activity,” (Smith 2000:33) one which I believe carries on beyond school and throughout life, thereby making it an important concept to understand and skillfully master.
Firstly, learning must be modeled by the practitioner; this is done through reflective practice. Smith (2000) describes two methods for understanding the youth worker’s reflective role within the learning process. Through “reflection-on-action” after a youth work session and “reflection-in-action” during the youth work session, (Smith 2000:102) youth workers have the potential to improve their own practice and actions for future youth work sessions.
Voluntary and Participative
Youth work is identified as a ‘voluntary relationship’ (Young 1999) in which young people and youth work are in a partnership designed to support young people’s learning. Article 12 of the UNCRC (Unicef UK 1990:4) says that young people have the right to have a say in decisions that are being made for or about them. Voluntary participation can be identified on the scale of Arnstein’s (1969) ‘Ladder of Participation’ which was later updated by Hart (1992) to reflect work with children and young people. The ladder has eight rungs which range from “manipulation” to “child initiated and adults sharing in the decision making.”
Informal and Dialogical
Paulo Friere is noted as a key figure in shaping education, particularly informal education, by identifying problems within curriculum-based education and posing solutions based on respect, dialogue, action and finding opportunities for learning in every situation; the two forms of education being mainly non-formal “dialogical” education (Friere 1996:70) or formal curriculum-based education. For the youth worker, non-formal education principles based on respect and conversation can be more effective than rigid forms of “banking education” (Friere 1996:53) in which the educator is only concerned with depositing information into the educatee, rather than having an environment in which both parties can learn from the other. These foundations for informal learning mirror modern principles which underpin youth work.
Members of society experience unfair discrimination every day; sexism, racism, and disabilitism to name just a few. What is the difference between being discriminated against and being oppressed? Oppression is internalised, making it deeper and more systemic. According to Friere, oppression is the “dehumanisation” of people, or at the very least stopping them from fully realising their full “humanisation,” or “vocation” in life (1996: 25-26). He goes on to say that “[humanisation] is thwarted by injustice, exploitation, oppression and the violence of the oppressors.” (1996:25-26) My understanding is that oppression is using the perceived or actual power within a relationship to maintain control over a person, the situation or circumstances. One is actively encouraging the superiority of some to the detriment of others, working to maintain this level of power in the relationship, as the status quo.
Question: If someone asked you ‘what is youth work?’ what would you say? Share your ideas in the comments below.
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