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These days, I'm the director of the American Library Association' s Office for Intellectual Freedom. I'm also executive director and secretary of the Freedom to Read Foundation. See "About Me" for contact information.

Monday, April 14, 2008

First Douglas County Youth Congress

Last Saturday I gathered with some 45 teenagers, and a bunch of elected officials, for the first Youth Congress, organized mainly by Carla Turner, of the Douglas County Youth Initiative. (I serve on their advisory board.) The point was to help teenagers begin to understand, and influence, public policy around some of the issues that affect them, such as the use of tobacco, status offenses (where the only crime is doing something as a minor), graffiti, behavior during the hours of 3-6 p.m., and something else that escapes me.

We had a good turnout of elected officials: all three county commissioners, a couple of state representatives, the sheriff, and a couple of town council people from Parker.

I had four final observations:

1. These kids are bright. Most people are.

2. We, the adults, should have spent more time listening to them, and less time talking at them.

3. I was confirmed in my notion that most kinds of problem solving meetings -- which is most of the meetings in the adult world -- follow a predictable "arc." Describe the problem; brainstorm solutions; narrow solutions; set out some next steps. Teaching that, modeling that, for kids, is a good idea. It's an efficient and respectful use of people's time -- and leverages the collective intelligence of multiple perspectives and insights.

4. I think the right answer to most teen issues is closer integration into our shared community. Library idea: maybe all our public computing stations should be overseen by teens.

Next year, I think we should start not with an elected official panel, but with a teen panel. What are the problems THEY think matter?

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