This summer, my colleagues and I will help run a pilot course for adolescents in Prince George’s County, MD. We will teach these young people to identify issues or problems that they want to address, and then “map” the networks of groups and individuals that could make a difference. They will document their work for public display, although we haven’t decided what medium they should use: their art works, audio recordings, audio plus still photos, or video.
Along with colleagues at the University of Wisconsin, we have submitted a large grant proposal that would allow us to develop and pilot elaborate software for such courses. This software would allow teenagers to make diagrams of local social networks, much like the “network maps” that are popular in sociology today. However, our community partners cannot wait to find out if we get money for software-development. Therefore, we have committed to teach the pilot courses whatever happens, if necessary using old-fashioned tools like magic markers and poster board.
Two of the essential principles are: youth voice (students should be assisted in developing their own agenda and analysis, without presuppositions from us) and a particular understanding of power. “Power” will be defined not merely as official authority (like that of a mayor or a school principal) but also the capacity of ordinary residents to make a difference by working together. That is why we will help youth to map local networks of citizens.