Tuesday, March 19, 2013


I came across a LinkedIn post last week from Bill Drayton, a former MacArthur Fellow and founder of Ashoka, an amazing organization that supports social entrepreneurs around the world, including young entrepreneurs through its Youth Venture program. In the post, Drayton explains that when he was a child he wasn't a good student, but he liked to create things, such as a school newspaper. He sometimes missed class because of these projects, which worried his mother. He was not always where he was "supposed to be."

Drayton's school principal, however, advised his mother to trust him: "Don't even show him that you're anxious."

Can anyone imagine a principal saying that to a parent today? Even without the fear of being sued if the child got hurt after the principal said it was OK for him not to be in school, we simply don't trust young people to take ownership of their own learning. Drayton had to organize fellow students, make sure articles were written and the paper edited, and he had to get it out to readers beyond his own school. He didn't learn how to do this in the classroom. In fact, he had to miss class in order to learn it!

Drayton's mother, like any mother, was uncomfortable allowing him to not follow the rules. But it is only in allowing young people the freedom to experiment that they develop the ability to choose between alternative courses of action, solve problems and learn from their mistakes. These are critical civic competencies, and they only come when we begin to trust young people.

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