youth mapping

(Milwaukee) Next week, we start an intensive program for teenagers in Prince George’s County, MD who will choose an issue, conduct interviews of relevant adults, and depict the results in the form of maps and diagrams. We will be testing software that’s being designed by our colleagues at the University of Wisconsin. Our goal is to develop and refine a software package that will easily add an element of research to service-learning programs, as kids identify assets, relationships, and sources of power and thereby make their civic work more effective.

Near the beginning of the first day, I want to show the kids great products that their peers around the country have created. Students at Central High School in Providence have built a multimedia website about their own school that’s pretty absorbing. I can find good youth-produced videos, like the ones collected on What Kids Can Do. I’ve personally worked with kids to create a “commons” website for Prince George’s County that has some video, audio, text, and maps. My organization, CIRCLE, has funded kids in Tacoma, WA to create this interesting documentary on teen pregnancy. We’ve also funded other youth-led, community-based research projects. They are listed here, although some don’t yet have public products.

We want our team this summer mainly to work with maps and diagrams, perhaps illustrated with some video and audio footage. Although “mapping” is a common activity for youth today, I can find few youth-produced maps online that might inspire our team. In one sense, this is good news–we feel that we’re doing something significant by creating templates for more exciting map projects. On the other hand, I’m sure there are good products out there, and I would like our team of kids to see them.

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  • Scott D

    Peter,

    I’m afraid I can’t recommend great public mapping online — I’m not as tied into the cutting edge of youth civic work as you. From your comments on the subject I am able to appreciate mapping as a valuable interim step between simple community service and activism/advocacy/ organizing. The mapping you describe appears to fall under the broadly-defined “service-learning” activities.

    The best civic activists and groups (and we can include businesses too) do extensive issue mapping and strategic planning. Too often civics and service-learning is taught by adults who haven’t experienced an effective movement campaign, active organization or business expansion — and therefore become frustrated when youth and/or volunteers fail to “step up.”

    Do you agree that a major challenge of civic education is that teachers (and most of the country, for that matter) are not experienced in civic life?

    Best wishes on the upcoming summer project.

  • Peter Levine

    I do agree. One of our motivations is to help kids construct what we believe successful community organizers have in their heads–a sense of the relevant networks in their communities. Organizers know who works with whom, who can influence whom; who is central and who is peripheral. I think most of us lack that knowledge and the skills to gather it. But we believe that the skills can be taught.