Continuing a Conversation – Is IDYW too political, out of touch? Tony Taylor wonders.

Find below the third part of the conversation between Colin Brent, Bernard Davies and myself, which took place a week or so ago.


Dear Colin and Bernard

I’ve got to admit that Colin’s comments re the overly politicised nature of the IDYW campaign have left me both perplexed and concerned.  On the one hand from the outset the campaign has been explicitly political, because the assault on youth work is political. Speaking politically is not a trend in the Campaign. It is at its heart.  This clear and open perspective has attracted a measure of support [ for example, 3,500 visits per month to the web site, over 1000 supporters on Facebook] or we wouldn’t exist five years down the line. On the one hand a strong message from some youth workers – not just academics, who might be seen also as practitioners – has been that IDYW is one of the few places where critical and political argument about policy and practice takes place.  On the other I have expressed at regular intervals my concern about my role as coordinator and by default the overwhelming contributor to the web site. Because unlike Colin’s father  my colleagues over the years, the young people with whom I have worked, have always known where I stand politically. Indeed if this was not my position I would never have drafted the original Open Letter, which launched the Campaign. Thus I have always been sensitive to the accusation that the IDYW site reflected unduly my politics. This has come up on a number of occasions, when I have suggested that I step down from my role. As to my consistent requests for alternative thoughts to be put on the site, silence largely reigns.

Forgive me for focusing on the content of the IDYW site, but Colin’s implication that we don’t listen to the field flies in the face, as I understand of it, of our series of Stories workshops, which are all about a process of supporting workers in unraveling the distinctiveness of their practice. In no sense do these workshops, as I understand it, attempt to impose a particular political line. From all accounts they have been especially rewarding. In this context it is our presence on the internet plus the Critically Engaging seminars where politics are seen to be problematically explicit. If I am being over-sensitive it is because the content of the latest seminars around ‘Outcomes’ and ‘Ethics and Politics’ has been informed by papers I have prepared and which then have appeared on the site. I presume that the many youth workers known to Colin, who baulk at the politicised tone coming from IDYW have attended the seminars, have read the papers or are put off when visiting the web site/ the Facebook page or indeed put off by the views of other colleagues, who allegedly know that IDYW is some sort of anarcho-communist conspiracy. Or if not, from whence does their suspicion steal?

As for political dogmatism I will hold my hand up personally to lapses in this regard over the years, to moments when I have been unhelpfully hasty and harsh. And I am on record as arguing that the discourse of ‘anti-oppressive and discriminatory practice’ took an authoritarian and counter-productive turn. However in the present circumstances it is not within IDYW that I locate the dogmatists. They are to be found, I would suggest, in the ranks of middle and senior management, who have closed down debate across many agencies and services. Their mantra is do it, get on with it. In their blinkered eyes there is no alternative.

Whatever our differences I don’t think we concur with their fixation upon imposed targets and outcomes. However we do need to find a way of revisiting without excluding people ‘where we are up to?’ There is a straightforward and democratic way to address this question. I suggest in all seriousness that the 2014 IDYW conference now fixed for April 10 should address the question of the Campaign’s failure to have a wider appeal and how this might be overcome. I am not taking the piss here. Some folk know that every week I am plagued by the dilemma of whether in any sense I am reflecting how at least some youth workers feel about ‘what’s going on’. Let’s get the issue out in the open.

Any road enormous thanks to Colin for opening the door to exploring the question of whether the Campaign is out of touch. It shouldn’t and cannot be brushed under the carpet.

Best as ever



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