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CEC in the Fresno Bee

Fresno County youth face an uncertain future. We need their voices to guide us | Opinion

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Should we listen to youth? According to Alexander Hamilton, “The fabric of American Empire ought to rest on the solid basis of the consent of the people. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that ... original fountain of all legitimate authority.” Does the “consent of the people” include youth? Are they capable of civic intelligence? Do they know themselves and their community well enough to make informed decisions and contribute to the common good? Students have this capacity, if they learn democratic skills and American civic values to govern themselves and their community, with opportunities for guided practice, solving real problems and serving those in need. Should they be included in the “original fountain of all legitimate authority?”

From 1999 to 2010, Jim Coiner and John Minkler led the Fresno County Youth Service Council, sponsored by the Fresno County Superintendent of Schools and local school districts. This included an annual Youth Summit at Wonder Valley Ranch. Council members led and supported many civic engagement projects to solve problems facing youth in the Central San Joaquin Valley. At the 2001 Summit, then-County Superintendent Peter Mehas challenged the council to facilitate a gathering of 750 youth at the Fresno Convention Center to respond to the terrorist attack of 9/11. The result was a commitment by students to defend American values by preventing any hate crimes against students from the Middle East. At the end of that school year, Dr. Mehas reported no hate crimes in county high schools.

At the 2008 Youth Summit, students identified the dropout crisis as their primary issue, with almost 1/3 of students dropping out before graduation. They got a grant from State Farm Insurance for $72,340 to engage youth across California in dialogues about this crisis and what students proposed for solutions. Their dropout dialogue took place over four days with about 300 students and 20 expert advisors. Council leaders presented their recommendations to California Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell.

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