Teen Librarian Toolbox
Inside Teen Librarian Toolbox

RevolTeens: Rethinking Adolescence and Education, by School Librarian Christine Lively

I have been thinking about teens and books. That is no surprise because it’s what I think about almost all the time anyway.

I love young adult literature, and reading broadly from YA books has been my main source of entertainment and inspiration for years. I’ve been thinking about why we have taken books about teens and segregated them from books with characters of different ages. There aren’t middle aged books. There aren’t elderly books. There aren’t thirty-something books. Why?

Part of the answer, I think, is that there are one million ways to BE at all of those ages. A forty year old could be a parent or not, employed or not, in love, or not, in school or not and on and on. The same is true for all the other ages of adults. But teens are all going through the same trials, institutional structures, and milestones regardless of who they are. If you’re 17 in America, you’re working through your senior year of high school by spending 7 hours each day in classes, trying to graduate, applying to colleges or for jobs, and a host of other common challenges. It’s the same thing for every teen. 

WHY?

In the spirit of RevolTeens, I want to ask why we haven’t dismantled this sameness – this factory style churning of kids into adults through the exact same education system we’ve had in place for generations. While that may seem like a very different idea than the way we categorize and market books, I believe that the rigidness of adolescence affects both and they in turn reinforce each other.

I have raised three kids to adulthood – the youngest is now a high school senior – and I can tell you that school in its current form has not served them equally well. It’s been detrimental to their development and learning at times. It’s been the main source of stress in their lives, and all throughout the years of middle and high school, none of us has had any meaningful choice. Why can’t teens decide to work and take high school as a part time endeavor to help with stress and ADD (attention deficit disorder)or parenting or anything else? Why isn’t there any credit given for learning that cannot be scored on a standardized test? I know that standards are important and that we want to raise kids to have broad knowledge of the world, but how many kids are really getting that?

Another reason for segregating YA books I think is because so many adults are still scarred and upset about their teen years. It’s a time for “coming of age” that is often anything but beautiful and romantic. Many of us adults would rather not ever think about those years and just plow ahead with our lives. Some of us do like to think and ponder the strife and struggle of our teen years by reading about others who have struggled with the same things we did. We take comfort in knowing that we are not alone.

Teens need that comfort as well. They find it in stories about people like them and people who are different. They learn empathy and get to have an idea of what people who are different than they are experience and struggle with every day.

One of the problems is that they rarely experience, discuss, and read these YA books in their classes at school. They are relegated to the space of indulgent choice reading that teens have to do alone or with a few friends if they’re lucky. Teen experiences are not valued as literary in most cases once again reinforcing the idea that the laborious reading, annotating, and essay writing of English classes is what reading is. It’s enough to turn all teens away from reading by removing all the joy and freedom from it.

Every month I write about incredible teens who are actually changing the world, and every one of them does that outside of and often in spite of school.

We all need to think about that. There should be as many ways of being 17 as there are of being 32 or 49 or 73. One of the greatest services we could do for this world would be to unleash teens to find their own way to learn, grow, and question this world. We can help them find the freedom to be teens in whatever way serves them, rather than the same way that has served adults for generations.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

RevolTeens: The Long Dark Winter of the Soul, by Christine Lively

RevolTeens have been busy throughout this pandemic and the quarantine of 2020. They have made their way out to the community to lend a helping hand to their neighbors. They have taken to the streets to demand justice and to ensure that Black Lives Matter. They’ve spoken up for themselves and those who have no voice. They have been busy shaking up the world and making their voices heard.

Of course then school started. Our school is completely online, but students have been stopping by school to pick up their school materials, food for themselves and family members, and to check out library books from our outdoor “pop up” library. It’s been a joy to see even just a handful of our students on these days and to hear how they’re doing. All of the casual conversations that kept me going through days in the school library are now gone and are replaced with hours of staring at cold little blank squares on Microsoft Teams and hope that I might be reaching at least one student with my lesson. Teens similarly are feeling isolated and powerless in our strange new reality.

Now, as Halloween approaches, the world seems to be slowing down. People are spending less time outside and everyone is thinking about the next big wave of COVID-19 and the accompanying quarantine that will likely follow. I have spent a lot of time worrying about teens in general, and the students at Wakefield High School where I work in particular. Times have been tough, but at least we’ve all been able to get outside to enjoy ourselves and to say hello to neighbors or other people we encounter when we’re out and about.

But winter is coming and teens will be faced with cold weather, winter blues, and mental health challenges that they’ll need to revolt against.

Dreading a Dark Winter Lockdown? Think Like a Norwegian offers some great advice and research for getting through the winter months that I want to share. In Norway, the sun barely rises above the horizon for three months. Researchers there have found that despite this, Norwegians are not less happy in those dark cold months. Their mindset makes the difference. They see the winter as an opportunity to slow down and enjoy different experiences than in the warmer months. Preparing for the winter and not dreading it keeps them from despair.

How does this translate to a winter of COVID 19 for teens? As the researchers explain, “the aim is not to sugar-coat the situation or to deny the difficulties that we will face; we can’t hide from the shadow cast by the pandemic, any more than the citizens of Tromsø (Norway) can pretend that the sun is still rising. By recognising our own capacity to control our responses to the lockdown and the changing seasons, however, we may all find some hidden reserves of strength and resilience to see us through the days ahead.”

Thinking of all the teens getting ready to face a long dark winter of cold temperatures and looming danger of the coronavirus, I’ve begun to brainstorm how to help them revolt against that dread and instead think of this as an opportunity.

First of all, let’s talk to them about it. In my young adult life coaching, I speak to a lot of clients about what they can do to change their lives. Maybe they can’t control their surroundings and situations like adults can, but we can talk to them about what they can do so that they’re prepared.  Asking them think, “What makes you feel safe, secure, and comforted?” It’s not going to be the same for everyone, which is why we may need to help them think it through. If they need social engagement, they can make sure to schedule time online with friends via video call, playing video months. If they like novelty and new experiences to feel fulfilled, this may be a time they could try something that they have never had time to do.  Without the hustle and bustle of bus rides, and other outside of school activities, maybe they could give NaNoWriMo a try this year. Attempting to draft a novel in the month of November is definitely in the plans at my house. Or, maybe learn a new instrument, language, or other new skill? There are a lot of possibilities still open to them.

We can help RevolTeens get ready for the winter. Maybe they haven’t really thought through the next few months and how it may get harder. Maybe they have and they’re paralyzed about what to do about it. Gathering ideas, and thinking of the possibilities together can make this winter something to embrace. Having a trusted adult to talk with may just make all the difference.

This is an opportunity for RevolTeens to gather their resources, make some plans, and thrive through this winter. Once we emerge from the cold weather, they will emerge too ready to take on the world outside and once again, make it more just, inclusive, and beautiful for the rest of us.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.

RevolTeens: Teens and Art Changing the World, by Christine Lively

Everything is just too serious. I realize that this is not news to anyone. There are so many overwhelming terrible things happening that it’s hard to find hope or joy in the news. There are so many news articles about how teens have been hit hard by the pandemic and quarantine.

But, I have learned in the last year, one of the most amazing things about teens is that they will remind us that they can find hope and joy as an act of revolution. The spirit of teens never fails to amaze me, and this month I’m amazed at their commitment to art and justice.

In Teen Arts Councils around the country high school students work to learn about arts and exhibitions in museums and advise the curators during their time of service. Many Teen Councils also design programs where they give tours to other teens and facilitate discussions with artists. They also host their own exhibitions and sometimes social events just for teens to come and enjoy the Arts.

Many art museums have teen art councils. The Museum of Fine Arts in Boston describes their Teen Art Council this way:

“The Teen Arts Council (TAC) is the MFA’s leadership development program for Boston-area teens. The TAC offers participants the opportunity to engage with art, culture, and history; develop workplace and team building skills; and learn about a range of professional options and career paths.

  • Advise the MFA on engagement strategies for local teens
  • Implement programs and events for peers and the general public
  • Learn about the arts and cultural sector in the City of Boston by engaging with the city’s other teen programs and cultural institutions”

As with all RevolTeens, though, many of the Teen Arts Council members at these museums have not been content to continue the status quo, they have begun revolting.

This year, the Teen Creative Agency, a Teen Council at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, revolted against the injustices they saw at the museum and launched a campaign to challenge the museum’s directors to do better.

According to Teen Vogue, when a photo was published that suggested that the museum had donated money to the Chicago Police Department, the Teen Council wrote an Open Letter to the museum’s director powerfully challenging her to acknowledge the ways that the Chicago Police had abused their power and demanded that the museum clarify their relationship with the CPD. They launched a petition to gain attention and support for their efforts through their Instagram account @TCAAMCA

“We realized this is bigger than we thought,” says Vivian Zamora, an 18-year-old recent alumnus of TCA. “It’s not just cops. There’s mistreatment of part-time staff, not enough transparency. A lot of our work now is pointing out how this institution works.”

These RevolTeens are not afraid to question not only adults, but revered institutions and demand that they answer for problems, and injustices that they have been able to ignore.

Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts recognized the powerful perspective of teens. They decided to launch  the museum’s first exhibition curated entirely by high school students titled “Black Histories, Black Futures,” The exhibit contains works by 20th century artists of color, and brings a fresh new perspective to the collection, as well as bringing young people into the museum. According to the Museum’s website: 

‘The teen curators—fellows from youth empowerment organizations Becoming a Man (BAM), The BASE, and the Bloomberg Arts Internship Boston program managed by EdVestors—used skills they developed as paid interns in a pilot internship program at the MFA to research, interpret, and design the exhibition. Their work highlights areas of excellence within the Museum’s collection and lays foundations for the future.”

The museum recognizes the energy and the change that teens bring into the work that they do. Collaborating with teens should be a priority for more institutions going forward as they look for ways to increase their social relevance, appeal, and community involvement.

Finally, the Studio Museum Harlem has held a teen art photography education program for eight months every year during which teens learn the art of photography. This year, of course, the whole process has been drastically changed. From the Museum’s web page:

“The online photography exhibition Hearts in Isolation: Expanding the Walls 2020 features work by the fifteen teenage artists in the 2020 cohort of the Museum’s annual program, Expanding the Walls: Making Connections Between Photography, History, and Community. Launching July 30th, the first online edition of the annual Expanding the Walls exhibition marks the program’s twentieth anniversary.

During their eight months in the program, Expanding the Walls participants from New York City–area high schools explore digital photography, artistic practice, and community—a term that took on new meaning this year, when students could no longer gather with one another and their mentors but had to complete the program remotely. As a result, their photographs reflect on themes of home and safety.”

The exhibit can be viewed fully online here: Hearts In Isolation: Expanding the Walls

If you are feeling bleak and alone, go visit the work of these remarkable and brilliant RevolTeens and remind yourself that the future is in their hands, and they have the heart, brilliance, hope, courage, and joy to make this world so much better.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. I am a Certified Life Coach for Kids 14-24 and my website is christinelively.com. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively.

RevolTeens: Being the Change and Leading the Way by Christine Lively

Often when I sit down to write this column, I have only a vague idea of what teens may have been up to in the last month to shake things up and fight the system. I usually search through articles and posts to see what has been happening and keep reading until a pattern emerges to be woven into a column.

This month is different. Teens are making headlines and are at the forefront.

As I have written before, so much of the major change and revolution of thinking in this country has started with the young – teens and young adults whose passion compels them to take a stand and use their voices to be heard. These teens have thrown aside the low expectations that adults have for their activism and have ignored the rules around who gets to be heard. They’re not waiting for the world to change, they’re charging ahead and demanding that the world change now. These are the RevolTeens, and they’ve been busy, brave, and successful this month.

Following the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, protests erupted across the country and they continue today. The passion of the protesters has not faded. The protests against police brutality against Black Americans and against racist policies, monuments, and violence haven’t just happened in big metropolitan areas. These protests have happened in towns large and small and many of them have been not just attended by RevolTeens, but organized and led by them as well.

In Nashville, Tennessee, six teens organized and led the largest protest in the area in recent memory. Jade Fuller, Nya Collins, Zee Thomas, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith and Mikayla Smith who range in age from 14 to 16 all met on Twitter. They realized they had a shared desire to speak out after the murder of George Floyd and decided to form Teens4Equality through a group chat and then on Instagram. Soon after that, they reached out to other organizations to form a coalition and organize a protest. The Black Lives Matter Nashville helped organize the protest, but gave full credit to the RevolTeens who made the protests possible.  As Zee Thomas explained to the Huffington Post, “As teens, we are tired of waking up and seeing another innocent person being slain in broad daylight,” Thomas said in a speech during the event, according to Nashville Scene. “As teens, we are desensitized to death because we see videos of black people being killed in broad daylight circulating on social media platforms. As teens, we feel like we cannot make a difference in this world, but we must.”  These young organizers didn’t let their age hold them back from having their say. “We wanted to show people that no matter how old you are you have a voice and can make a change,” Emma Rose Smith told HuffPost.

Sixteen year old Stefan Perez got off a city bus in Detroit and joined up with a group of protesters who were heading to Police Headquarters. By the end of the night a few nights later, he had emerged as the leader of the protests, raising his fist and calling out for calm and safety as the protesters took a knee with police officers around them. Later, someone handed Perez a phone. When he answered, he found that the Mayor of Detroit Mike Duggan was calling to tell him how amazed he was at Perez’s leadership and that he brought tears to his eyes.

After speaking with the mayor, Perez said: “That was amazing. … I didn’t think I was gonna make it to 16. … The fact that people follow me … and the fact that the mayor just spoke to me, the fact that the Detroit police didn’t shoot. And they could’ve. It’s just amazing. I’m glad I’m not a statistic, because I could be.” The Detroit Free Press reported. Perez didn’t wait for permission, a degree, or any membership in a group. He saw what was happening and turned his passion into action and leadership by revolting against injustice.

Video of Stefan Perez in Detroit

https://www.freep.com/story/news/local/michigan/detroit/2020/06/02/stefan-perez-detroit-protest/5314686002/

Finally, teens are speaking out in writing. The Gothamist  has this to share, “Our photographers have been out documenting the historic moment, which is part of a larger national, youth-driven movement working to defund the police and end systemic racism. With hundreds of photos, we asked New York City teens to choose one that resonated with them, and write about it. Below is a piece from Tevelle Taylor, a 17-year-old from Brooklyn, who attends Benjamin Banneker Academy. You can follow him @tevelletaylor

WHAT I SEE

I Am That Fast-Paced Heartbeat At The Encounter Of Police

I Am That Shock Welcomed Into The Mind Of The Majority When The Black Man Can Pronounce His Words Correctly

I Am That Last Breath Taken By George Floyd

I Am That Anger Aroused At Every Melanated Achievement

I Am That Unopened Pack Of Skittles & Arizona Drink

I AM

I Am Suspicion When Two Or More Black People Are Gathered Together

I Am The Loss Of Gravity That Compels The Arms Of Black Men To Float, In An Effort To Cease Intimidation

I Am That Relief After Hearing The Metal *Click* Of The Handcuffs Cutting Off The Circulation Of Every Innocent Black Man’s Wrist

I Am The Sorrow Felt By The Little Black Boy When His Parents Tell Him That He Can’t Play Cops & Robbers

I AM

I Am The Slowing Down Of Black Body Movement When Being Spoken To By The Men In Blue

I Am The Confusion Awakened After Seeing A Black Man Knowledgeable In His Rights

I Am The Sharp Pain, Inflicted By The Cops, Giving Him A Reason To Shoot A “Resister”

I Am The Gravitational Force That Sinks The Hearts Of Black Mothers When They Hear That Their Son Became A Gun Target

I Am The Unfinished Jog

I Am The “Strange Fruit”

I Am The Antonym Of Privilege

RevolTeens are taking up the charge. They are changing the world, and we are lucky enough to follow them to the future.

About Christine Lively

Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively

RevolTeens: The Lies We Tell and the Teens We Hurt

This week’s RevolTeens will be a little shorter in deference to the holiday weekend and will have a different focus. While I have used this space to highlight the mighty teens who are challenging the systems that confine them and demanding that their voices be heard, I’ve been thinking a lot about what helps or shuts down teens who see injustice and prejudice, and what makes the difference between the teens who revolt and the teens who remain silenced. I don’t claim to be any expert, but I’ve noticed some things that we adults can do to help.

First, we have to stop lying to kids.

Lies like, “You have to go to college.” or “I can’t make any exceptions” or all the other things we say just to force compliance and make our jobs easier have got to stop. When we dismiss a teen’s concerns or questions with these lies and platitudes, we are telling them that their concerns, problems, and passions are not important or valid. Teens always see through our lies and they are smart enough to know which adults can be trusted or not. When we tell them that adults are the authorities and that change or challenge of the status quo is impossible, we are lying to them. If we don’t know the answer or we’re not sure, there’s nothing wrong with saying so honestly and figuring it out with them. Teens respect honesty, not dishonest authority. Pretending that there is only one way to do things or one way to be successful is a lie. If we expect and hope that the young people of today will change the world at some point after they become “adults,” we have to be honest with them. Yes, there are challenges and traditions and other obstacles, but these things can and should be discussed and confronted. We can model that with them by engaging in difficult conversations about who holds the power and who makes the decisions. We can give them agency by telling them what actions they could take and what the repercussions are and then let them decide. We can advise and listen. The moment we lie to them, we lose all our credibility and our ability to help them. Lying to teens is just saying to them, “You cannot trust me.”

Next, we have to stop acting as if bad things don’t happen to them.

Yes, this is a form of lying, I know. Bad things happen to everyone without exception. We suffer losses and setbacks and we receive devastating news. It’s a universal indiscriminate human experience. Many well meaning adults work hard to protect kids’ innocence, but as Chris Crutcher told the ALAN Conference audience, “Innocence leads to ignorance.” When we shelter or protect kids from loss and pain, we invalidate the inevitable loss and pain that they are feeling. When we talk about and acknowledge their pain and help them find ways to work through those awful and overwhelming feelings, we help them build empathy for themselves and others. Telling a teen that they shouldn’t talk or read about the pain of losing someone they love, or of becoming critically or chronically ill, or of any of the ways that life causes pain, only teaches shame and robs their peers of the chance to help their friends. It doesn’t make the pain stop, it just makes them feel alone and ashamed. We don’t have to know what to say, we just have to listen and care. Truly, that is the greatest and most powerful way to help a kid know that they are loved and that their pain and eventual healing is important and universal. We need to stop telling them that their pain isn’t “appropriate” for discussion or for reading about. Instead, we have to make space for that pain and help them see examples of other people who have suffered pain and survived. We have to help them see their pain as survivable by talking about it and showing them how to help each other and themselves.

Finally, we need to expand what success is.

We all see the stories of teens who are accepted into every Ivy League school, or who get perfect scores on their SAT or who start multimillion dollar businesses. Those kids are lauded. Those kids are inarguably successful. Kids earn superlatives throughout school, and that’s wonderful – for those kids. But I know that there are other successes for other kids. Getting up in the morning and just showing up for school is a victory for many students. Raising their hand and contributing to a class discussion is a win for many students. I’m not talking about “participation trophies” because those are too generalized and maligned. Those of us who work with teens everyday know that so many of them have given up on themselves as early as upper elementary school when they start failing state tests. It’s devastating to see happen. Those kids need to be acknowledged for what they do well. We just have to take the time to help them find their successes. They may not realize that they’re the first ones to help another student or that they ask the questions that others need answered. They may be taking risks and challenging themselves in some areas. Those triumphs are just as important as a different student who gets straight As. They’re all important. They should all be acknowledged. Success is relative, ever changing and elusive. We can help kids find theirs so they’ll believe in their own possibilities and potential for more success.

I take for granted that we all want the teens of today to be the happy, productive, world changers of tomorrow. We can help them see what’s possible or we can snuff out their faith in themselves and their belief that the world can be more fair and just. If we are honest with them, acknowledge their pain, and celebrate their successes, we can embolden them to change their world and upend the status quo.

RevolTeens is a monthly column by librarian Christine Lively. Christine Lively a school librarian in Virginia. I read voraciously, exchange ideas with students, and am a perpetual student. I raise monarch butterflies, cook, clean infrequently and enjoy an extensive hippo collection. Christine blogs at https://hippodillycircus.com/ and you can follow her on Twitter at https://twitter.com/XineLively