Cole Harper - NYRA pictureI became interested in the National Youth Rights Association through a passion in education reform. America’s education system is falling behind. A shocking amount of schooling is about organizing and controlling students – telling kids where to line up, keeping them still while they sit through a lecture they aren’t listening too, or making them stare at a wall while they wait for their classmates to finish a test.

If we want our education system to truly thrive, we need to trust our students and create more opportunities for them to independently study and learn what they’re passionate about. The poor performance of our students is a product of babying and micromanaging them.

“Forty years ago, the distinguished anthropologist Clifford Geertz said that human beings are “unfinished animals.” What he meant is that it is human nature to have a human nature that is very much the product of the society that surrounds us. That human nature is more created than discovered. We “design” human nature, by designing the institutions within which people live.” [ref] Schwartz, Barry. “The False Rationale.” Why We Work. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2015. 10. Print.[/ref]

Attending the NYRA Fellow Orientation this summer in Washington DC helped me see how problems in our education system are part of a large problem of how we view youth in our society.

We have constructed a society in which we treat youth as helpless children who need to be watched and controlled at all times by adults. In the words of Dr. Robert Epstein, we have “extended childhood” beyond its normal, healthy limits, and “infantilized” our youth. [ref]Males, Mike. “Why ‘Adolescence’ Was a Harmful Invention.” Youth Today. Youth Today, 01 Aug. 2007. Web. 26 June 2016.[/ref]

While there are many organizations that fight for youth and child related entitlement issues, National Youth Rights Association is the only organization fighting to protect and establish civil rights for young people. This includes fighting for the civil rights of students, rights to participate in our democracy, protection from youth discrimination laws, etc.

Often we are quick to associate certain issues with a certain political party. You care about more funding for education? Well then you must be a Democrat. You care about gun rights? Well then you must be a Republican. NYRA is a refreshing break from this partisan jigsaw puzzle.

Prominent Democrats think our society’s views on youth are outdated. Nancy Pelosi has openly endorsed the idea of lowering the voting age to 16 or 17. [ref]Kay, Jazmin. “Nancy Pelosi Proposes Lowering The Voting Age To 16 or 17.” Generation Progress. Generation Progress, 6 Aug. 2015. Web. 26 June 2016.[/ref] Prominent Republicans think our society’s views on youth are outdated. Newt Gingrich, in his review of Robert Epstein’s book Teen 2.0 remarks “Adolescence was invented in the nineteenth century to enable middle-class families to keep their children out of sweatshops. But it has degenerated into a process of enforced boredom and age segregation that has produced one of the most destructive social arrangements in human history…It’s a social experiment that failed.” [ref]Epstein, Robert. “Reviews and Awards for Teen 2.0.” Teen 2.0. Robert Epstein, n.d. Web. 26 June 2016.[/ref]

NYRA advocates that if we want our youth to be contributing members of our society, we need to entrust them with rights equal to every other member of society. It’s a position advocated for among political leaders of each major party, prominent academics, and one I’m proud to represent as a NYRA Fellow.