This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
LEARNING TO LIVE
Edgeryders is a distributed think tank advising European institutions on youth policy reform. It was launched by the Council of Europe in October 2011 as a “social game” and “peer-to-peer learning environment” with three main aims. The ﬁrst of these has been to provide inspiration, information, encouragement and support to a generation of young Europeans who are striving to build futures based on meaningful work and political participation in the most challenging socioeconomic climate in several decades. The second aim has been to explore the stories of project participants in order to better understand the speciﬁc challenges they feel they face, as well as their goals and aspirations, and the resources they draw on to support their pursuit of a satisfying and successful life. The third and overriding aim has been to use the information generated by the “think tank” approach adopted by this project to inform policy initiatives around young people’s transitions to adulthood. Participants in Edgeryders are self-selected, join without permission and coordinate through the Edgeryders online platform and various social media channels. To date there are over 1000 participants and thousands of pages of ethnographic data that are currently being analyzed by the community in collaboration with a small team of researchers well versed in contemporary youth policy. Final results are to be published at the end of 2012.
About this paper
When we raised the prospect of contributing to Ms, Kovacs report with input on how education can contribute to lowering rates of acts of self-harm such as drug abuse and suicide, several members of the Edgeryders community voiced skepticism about the context for two reasons. The ﬁrst was that doubt was cast about the value of addressing symptoms of complex social issues in isolation as opposed to targeting the root causes. Secondly it was questioned whether positive or negative correlation between education and self-harm prevention really are indicative of causation: “perhaps learning and education are not an immediate factor in preventing that (young) people expend their energies in d, s, s h, b, u, and/or m d. That it is rather the case that education etc. can, for a select few(er), allow for entry into a tribe of the hopeful. If you are too wise, you might think that this hopefulness is delusional, and that any tribe that excludes the non-hopeful is asking for trouble...” [Bembo]
The paper aims to make a contribution towards surfacing some approaches, initiatives and resources from which we can learn how to better help our young to lead active, meaningful lives without feeling the need to resort to self-harm. While a detailed discussion is out of scope, we acknowledge and accommodate the voiced points of concern regarding how the call is framed by exploring the topic from a different perspective. Our point of departure is that it is not necessarily speciﬁc initiatives or approaches that explicitly have the aim of combatting self harm, or any other expression of complex interdependent issues, that are the most effective in lowering the number of incidents. Rather, the members of the Edgeryders community who collaboratively drafted these recommendations propose that it is more appropriate to explore a plurality of initiatives that taken together make a positive contribution towards creating and sustaining environments which encourage young people to develop healthy relationships with themselves. More speciﬁcally these are spaces, initiatives, projects, people, communities etc, that directly or indirectly contribute to providing one or more of the following: 1. Recognition: Why because the "need for signiﬁcance in the face on non-recognition can lead to bullying. 2. Connection to welcoming & mutually involved communities/ encouragement toward personal communication: Why? Because it seems "isolation and despair and no encouragement toward personal communication lead to empathic shut down and suicide in worst case scenarios, lack of connection to welcoming and mutually involved communities leads to drug abuse (false sense of union) and youth pregnancy”. 3. Having a voice: channels for self-expression and the opportunity to be heard and noticed. 4. Responses well grounded in understanding of psychology of self-harm: Why? Because "the psychology of self harm shows the act as an inwardly directed response to injustice experienced outside a person and beyond their control, the needs to effect the appropriate response is fulﬁlled against the self". The paper was heavily contributed to by : Ksenia Serova Eimhin David Jorge Couchet Luke Devlin Bembo Davies Ola Möller The summary of the state of education and learning policy in Europe heavily referenced an unpublished report produced by researchers Prudencia Gutiérrez-Esteban and Piotr Mikiewicz for the Edgeryders project. This paper was curated by Nadia EL-Imam.
Where Are We Looking?
On Developing a Sense of Purpose
“Interruption, incoherence, surprise are the ordinary conditions of our life. They have even become real needs for many people, whose minds are no longer fed by anything but sudden changes and constantly renewed stimuli. We can no longer bear anything that lasts. We no longer know how to make boredom bear fruit. So the whole question comes down to this: can the human mind master what the human mind has made?” Those are the Paul Valery 's words with which Zygmunt Bauman begins his book “Liquid Modernity”. A book where him is using the metaphor of liquidity in an attempt to explain the precariousness of human relationships in a privatized and individualistic society. A society marked by transient and volatile relationships, where the endless race of consumerism has become our élan vital. In this senseless race in competition with everyone and with no chance of winning, because there is always more to consume, and where the fundamental rule is "everyone looking out for their own", the feeling of belonging to a project that transcends individuality evaporated, and thus leaving us purposeless. Dismissing mental problems, bulling and other stressing factors, this lack of sense of purpose, is one of the root causes of hopelessness and subsequent detachment from life. And the question is whether or not formal education is not actively contributing to the problem due to its perceived purpose... Below the argument to support this claim in the form of a short overview of the state of Education policy.
Formal Education as an Obstacle
In the 20th century we have seen increased access to primary, secondary and tertiary education in Europe. The effect of this is a consistent increase in the numbers of people with higher educational credentials - as well as prolonged periods of education, which in turn means a longer of transition period, i.e. the period of “youth” or “not yet adulthood” is stretching far into people’s 30s. This has been driven by: 1. 2. logic of the market: the need to adapt the workforce to changes in the labour market Different strands of ideology pulling in different directions: • classical functional vision: education is a sorting machine. It exists to effectively organize the training, selection, and allocation of individuals into set positions in society via different professional identities • theory of human capital: more educated people = more effective economy • discourse of equal opportunities and open access: equal access to education at all levels for larger number of people eliminates inequalities resulting from social origins. It is compatible with theory of human capital in that if everyone has educational credentials efﬁciency of the economy will be maximized and social awards will be distributed on the basis of professional and personal competence and not social characteristics
Consequences: education has held and still holds the promise of a good life; being better educated than your parents has implied that you could expect for a better life than the one they had. But since the 1980s the role of education has shifted from ticket to a better life to necessity without which you are excluded from the labour market. However, recent developments with regards to availability of student loans, reducing grants and increasing tuition fees are making it increasingly difﬁcult for young people to continue or access higher studies. This is set against a background with record unemployment rates amongst young graduates who are frustrated because the promise of a good future for those who worked hard at school was not fulﬁlled. The policy makers' perception of why we have unemployed graduates falls into two categories: • • the fault lies with the education system: it is not working well as sorting machine the fault lies with unemployed individuals: there is no problem with the sorting machine, but individuals lack of competence makes them incompatible with the professional (social) structure and so they are out of it.
Education policy therefore aims to : 1. 2. improve the efﬁciency of operation of the sorting machinery provide support for people, who “do not ﬁt” the market by providing them a proper type of training (again in the machine of preparation and sorting them).
Where much education policy thinking fails is that the underlying premise is false. There is no rigid occupational structure due to: • • • • prevalence of short term employment precarity/ uncertainty, escalated by a worldwide economic crisis and the ﬂuctuations of the global economy, affecting all social layers variability of working conditions lack of transparency
The assumption that some social actor manages the above processes is also false. Education as sorting has another problem. It fails to recognize that some young people don't necessarily want to follow in the path of the previous generations, but are considering new ways, and in fact new goals. Some of them are freedom, self-actualization, satisfaction in work and personal lives - even though young people - at least from the vantage point of Edgeryders don't know how to achieve them, or if it is even possible. But to escape from the consumerist race in which we all are participating and be able to develop that kind of self-fulﬁllment that comes from a sense of purpose based on the relationship with others and with oneself, education is essential, but not in the sense of “normal” education (**), but education in charge of teaching healthy habits (eating, exercise, etc.), discipline, reﬂection, introspection (meditation), solidarity, etc. Precisely the kind of education that nowadays is hardly taught anywhere, and the kind of education that enables the individual to seek and enjoy “doing
activities which help center her/him”, as it is also pointed out by e.g. this suicide hotline councelor
On Developing Healthy Relationships
“Suicide is not just an individual act and cannot be explained by individual traits alone, but the characteristics of the society affect the probability of suicide in its members, with the key determinant being the extent to which individuals are integrated or bonded into social groups” (Durkheim E: Suicide: A Study in Sociology. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul; 1952).
These statements shows us that the social structure to which a person belongs is a key determinant in their attachment to life and sense in it. The lack of stable and valuable relationships with others makes almost impossible to embark them on projects that transcend their own individuality, and thus feeding this feeling of purposeless discussed above. One of the best ways to create lasting relationships with positive emotional values is through the service to others, i.e. “helping others”, as is mentioned by the counselor. That helps to embark on projects that transcend individuality, a key step to get an enduring and satisfactory sense of purpose, where the person feels that “are not alone anymore” as is saying another counselor (http:// www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/AskIt/Lists/Hotline%20Discusion%20Suicide/Online.aspx? RootFolder=%2FAskIt%2FLists%2FHotline%20Discusion%20Suicide%2FCan%27t%20Take %20Life%20Anymore&FolderCTID=0x0120020065912FC47D755548926B24AE569C2B53).
“The "need for signiﬁcance in the face on non-recognition can lead to bullying (violence being the fast track to signiﬁcance)". A connection to welcoming & mutually involved communities coupled with encouragement toward personal communication can make a world of difference. Why? Because it seems "isolation and despair and no encouragement toward personal communication lead to empathic shut down and suicide in worst case scenarios, lack of connection to welcoming and mutually involved communities leads to drug abuse (false sense of union) and youth pregnancy". [@Involute Conduit]
An example of an initiative that offers the above is one run by Edgeryders community member James Wallbank. Access Space, a Shefﬁeld based initiative, was set up in response to unemployment, urban decline and the transformation of the job market. It provides a free, open access digital lab where people are doing all sorts of things, from computer analysis, repair and recycling to art exhibitions, workshops, peer-learning activities, enterprise incubation, social support and more. The space attracts young participants (under 25) with a range of economic and social disadvantages and enables them to make social progress - by helping each other, and by working together, people learn crucial soft skills, and develop more useful networks. They’ve managed to create a space where a diverse range of participants are helped to make creative, technical and social progress through helping each other and by working together...which also helps them develop more useful networks. You can read more about it here: http:// edgeryders.ppa.coe.int/spotlight-social-innovation/mission_case/access-space-new-modelindividual-and-community-development.
On Being Seen, Heard and Noticed
One might think that the web already provides a space for self-expression, but the more the web evolved the more difﬁcult it becomes to be heard, seen and noticed. A member of the Edgeryders community described their project “Don't Ask Me Where I'm From, Ask Me Where I'm Heading (Project Work for Designing Processes For Social Change Course”,1 which is based on participatory communication and ethnographic action research accomplished at Malmö Högskola, has explored how young people randomly involved in it “live or DO´" such buzzwords as "Diversity", "Identity", "Stereotype" etc. This piece of research underlines a striking difference between, on the one hand, the idea of asking people “where they are from” as a category of identity and, on the other hand, “where they are heading”. The project explores how people feel about being asked where they are from, and all about self- identiﬁcation. “Our project is about is about focusing on the future and creating the identities according to the future. It seems obvious that identities are created in the past, but why not adding a bit more of future to it.” 2 To bridge the past and the future when dealing with young people´s identity suggests that these very young people gain power on their own lives and life projects. They are empowered to describe and recast their stories instead of being described just on the basis of their biography. They perform their own identities and they can decide to change their own trajectories and identities whenever they want. The recognition of this ﬂuidity is missing in policies fostering social inclusion, which are often based on predetermined and ﬁxed categories. [Barabara Giovanna Bello] Another example from the Edgeryders community could be put forward as a prototype of a channel for self-expression and the opportunity to be heard and noticed. The Photo Book about Sweden is a Citizen Photojournalism Project which resulted in a book and exhibitions where 44 young photographer depicted Sweden, in a contrast to a Sweden which normally is depicted in a static and romanticized way with red cottages, ABBA, midsummer, dark forests and blondes. Instead of letting journalists depict young people and their lives. They created a space where young people could take back their right to interpret their own reality. Depicting themselves and putting emphasis on the things that they felt was interesting or important. It is valuable, because, the outcome is a story about contemporary Sweden, presented in a photo book which travels around and outside Europe. The global scale here is important, because contemporary youth is more global-minded than the generations before, and an exhibition in a local library or a pub just would not give the participants same motivation.
See k´s Report “Don't Ask Me Where I'm From, Ask Me Where I'm Heading (Project Work for
Designing Processes For Social Change Course), available at:
The project is also retrievable from: http://askmewhereimheading.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/interviewsmultipleidentity-stories/
See at: http://askmewhereimheading.wordpress.com/category/how-is-it-going/
How Can Policymakers Help?
Provision of Spaces where learning does not reproduce ﬂawed learning
As mentioned brieﬂy in the introduction it was questioned whether education per se really does make a positive positive contribution towards addressing self harm or if e.g. the educational environments used as a basis for drawing the conclusions tend to draw to them people less predisposed to self harm.Pursuing an in depth discussion around this is outside the scope of the paper. What is however clear is that formal educational environments are perceived as failing to equip young people with the skills necessary to make successful transitions to meaningful active adult lives :
“on dealing with the problem of goal based learning in outmoded one way stagnant educational environments I assert that we can introduce self selected education in these spaces utilizing the community's own populations along with tech enabled learning resources and by engaging certain technical and cultural networks. Again this would require knowing what is available locally in terms of knowledge skills and abilities as well as linking these to national networks of practitioners in various ﬁelds and involves a step beyond the SCIM concept to a more personally applicable resource.” [Involute Conduit] “We're here for you, and we want you to get to a place where you can be safe and happy”
This statement, also coming from another counselor in the help hotline, is also telling us something more, that education, cultivating relationships and developing a sense of purpose, do not occur in the air, they need a space where to be seeded and grow. There should be speciﬁc spaces where youth, all youth, are able to attend to start learning these old but new skills, and help them to develop meaningful and lasting relationships, those that enable them to transcend themselves and become involved in something bigger than them, something that gives them a purpose to their life and therefore a reason to be attached to it, because they are having hope and joy in their life. Combining the above stated insights with the ideas that are being carried out in other projects already running (http://www.larche.org/), or projects currently at the proposal phase (http:// manifest-europa.eu/?lang=en), an idea that arises is to establish a network of facilities that may be urban or rural houses (in order to establish different types of contexts), to which young people (in special young at risk) can ﬁnd a space to which attend for a while, so that they can learn those skills mentioned above (reﬂection, meditation, etc.), and can participate simultaneously (in parallel and complementary) in volunteer activities coordinated by the houses itself or related organizations (such the UnMonastery idea and serving also as base-camps for the UnMonastery missions ). These houses may be abandoned facilities, which are recycled by the young people themselves and thus, in addition to providing this much needed space, the process of recycling and conversion the place into a social center also helps to rehabilitate the area. This process could be done with the help of another projects already running, as for example [im]possible
living (http://www.impossibleliving.com/), and and also making use of the idea of co-housing and co-working. “The number of lives lost each year through suicide exceeds the number of deaths due to homicide and war combined” (http://www.iasp.info/ → at the “Message from the President”). Imagine now the substantial beneﬁts, human and material that would be generated if we could save even a small percentage of that horrible waste of human life that we are suffering right now. All that is needed is an abandoned place and the will of a few, not more.
Reducing the gap between funders and local initiatives
This requires devising processes and mechanisms for providing resources to initiatives run by individuals and small groups of people without requiring them to be afﬁliated with organisations including NGOs, to be able to access funding and other forms of non-monetary support [ link to demsoc report]. Even Access Space they make use of recycled computers, have a proven methodology with results to show and have low running costs, the only way they could gain access to European Grants allocated to support their kind of initiative was by putting themselves under a regional development organization which shielded them from a "frightening" level of bureaucracy: “there was no way we could have accessed ERDF funding with our levels of experience. We came in as a minor delivery partner, insulated from the frightening bureaucracy of the project by more experienced lead partners.” While in the case of Access Space the arrangement worked well the experience was shared by @involuteconduit (his twitter handle) serves as an example as to why it may be worthwhile to explore alternatives: The person and a friend started a suicide awareness and prevention initiative after a series of suicides in the village where they live. They are both from the territory so have personal experience and relevant knowledge about teachers, lifestyles and spaces that contribute positively or negatively to suicide rates. They managed to get a hold of a physical space where they wanted to run some activities and raised over 12000 euros locally to cover the costs of renovating it and were awarded 38000 euros from OCounty Enterprise board on the basis of the 12000. For reasons tied to the requirements of funding bodies, this funding was pursued in collaboration with or under the organizational umbrella of an NGO which is now organization within which their initiative lives. To the initiators the situation is problematic because they feel that the organization’s policies and direction are unproductive. Also, judging from the participants account, people from the organization with whom they have to deal are abusing their administrative power and undermining the two initiator’s ability to deliver a successful project: “ just to mention an explanatory quote from the Foroige chief we work with, he said directly to L "Basically L, it's like this, you have paid for our new sitting room and now we have to let you sit in it sometimes." this is what we are dealing with. Also I aligned a project to make an online resource connecting youth cafes nationwide to facilitate connective self organization among the youth themselves via group speciﬁcally designed social media, and it would have been free, and this guys response was as follows: " We wouldn't want to give the wrong kind of people access to children" to late for that apparently, it serves to mention here that Foroige are the left hand of the RCC in Irish youth organizations, typical! “
Obviously we are aware that two examples do not a proof make, but they are examples from two initiatives in two different countries that were deemed to be credible projects. They seemed to resonate with the experiences of more participants from other parts of Europe when shared on and of the Edgeryders platform. It may be worthwhile investigating the matter further. Individual initiatives are difﬁcult to fund for administrative and economy of scale (processing applications same cost regardless of size) reasons. If it turns out that there is a basis for it, a concrete actionable would be to put in place appropriate administrative processes that remove some obstacles from the ability to support smaller initiatives. The Edgeryders organisation, which community members are discussing in a separate document [link here], is currently at the early stages of devising an international bridging interface between funders and local, small initiatives “The local activities mentioned above are encouraged by local government as a social innovation, but the international exchange for participants doesn’t seem to be there. European programmes for youth exchange exist, but in many cases they are difﬁcult to join for individuals or small non-proﬁts driving promising initiatives, due to the lack of information, speciﬁc training and time. Someone has know how, and have the resources, to write and submit a project description to participate in a youth exchange programme. “[k] “Small, unknown non-proﬁts usually don’t have an opportunity to attract interns, so all the work is done by the limited amount of staff and, if lucky, a volunteer, while international well established NGO’s receive a massive amount of applications for internship and volunteering, because their name looks good on a CV. Though developing a framework for connecting initiatives across Europe might create a new level of engagement and motivation.” [k]
Learning to listen
On a ﬁnal note it was suggested that emphasis should be placed on devising ways of continuously listening to what is happening at a grassroots level outside formal institutional contexts (including NGOs). This would better enable policy-makers to discover novel approaches and initiatives that do not rely on institutions to implement them, but are initiated and driven by individuals outside formal institutions as well as devise more effective ways of supporting and replicating the ones that seem promising. The main reason for this being that there is little incentive for e.g. NGOs to put forward novel, low cost, approaches that they cannot take credit for. Online engagement on the other hand has an ability to talk to people far out in the frequency distribution: The ﬁrst recorded attempt at online participation in 1989 gathered both afﬂuent technologists and homeless people who could only access the internet through library cards in a conversation that precipitated novel solutions initiated by the citizenry and later adopted by the municipality. We encourage policymakers use the Edgeryders project as a prototype of an successful online space and methodology. In addition to serving as a source of ﬁrst hand knowledge about experiences of young people coming into maturity offering almost real time information about
how policy is being perceived by and contributed to to by individual citizens, projects using the Edgeryders methodology offer: • opportunities to cross paths with people from a broad range of backgrounds to discuss relevant issues, develop critical thinking skills and develop personal frames of enquiry • while creating new contacts and building new networks • enhancing development of pre-existing, or gaining new, communication skills (including improving language skills) • stimulating use of online resources and developing personal social media presence