Word is not the privilege of some few persons, but the right of everyone


Credit to Anna @_bananna_2.0, a young artist from Newcastle

To round off Youth Work Week 2019 we are delighted to share the second article in our series of Critical Student Voices – a really moving and reflective article that might resonate with some of you who have been tempted to write… we hope you feel inspired!

Word is not the privilege of some few persons, but the right of everyone


Chesley Conlin

Why was this so difficult?

A few months ago I was asked by one of my university lectures if I’d like to be involved with a new series on In Defence of Youth Work, aiming to gather contributions from students.  I could write about anything youth work related and it could take any form I wanted. I was so excited to be asked and at first a host of ideas came to mind: what the open letter means to me, holding onto professional values in neo-liberal times, a whole range of reflections from practice. These may well come at a later date (hopefully), but as I will explain, this post will be about something different.

After my meeting with my lecturer I came home and sat down to write. Nothing came. How could I write without a brief? What criteria do I need to fulfil? How many words should it be? Who should I reference? What question do I need to answer? Armed with an abundance of questions I returned to uni and spoke to my lecturer again. They answered my many questions with a delightful ambiguity – with the intention of reassuring me that my opinions were valid and worthy, whilst still leaving me with enough flexibility to allow me to be creative and run away with my thoughts.

Re-enthused I returned home again and sat down to write. Again, nothing came, then something came. Instead of positive ideas about potential topics, my mind started to fill with thoughts of ‘who am I to be saying anything important about that?’. (I recently learned about the notion of imposter syndrome, which resonated strongly with me – see link below to BBC Four Thought Podcast). Hoping for inspiration I looked back on posts from previous contributors, but this only made things worse.

Now instead of struggling on, in typical youth work fashion I decided to stop and reflect what I was experiencing. Reflecting helped me to work through my thoughts and feelings, below are some of my ponderings, related to some of the key features of the banking method of education (Freire, 1972:46).

“(2) the teacher knows everything and the students know nothing – As I have mentioned, looking back on the previous contributions on the IDYW site made me feel worse about writing my post. The likes of Tony Taylor and Bernard Davies were names I’d only ever seen on my reading list. To me they were people who ‘know’, I felt like someone who did not. Why would my name ever be alongside theirs? I felt there was more value in the thoughts of those who I viewed as ‘experts’ in the field than my own.

(4) the teacher talks and the students listen—meekly – I am so used to partaking in passive, banking education that even when given the opportunity, I had a resistance to using my voice. My creativity has been stunted. I am comfortable with being a listener, but struggled with a ‘new position’ as someone who speaks.

(10) the teacher is the Subject of the learning process, while the pupils are mere objects – When my lecturer proposed that I be involved, I felt an immediate shift in this power relationship. I felt enthused to become involved and that there was value in what I had to say. However, the idea of no longer being a passive object within education was so different to me that it was difficult to manage.

I have had a lot of experience within formal education, which utilises the banking method. This experience has had lasting impact on me, and my feelings around the value of my thoughts. My time at university as well as on placement and at work has supported me to begin combatting these thoughts but there are certain restrictions within our current education system which will always reinforce the very ideas we may aim to debunk as workers.

Whilst writing has been a difficult process for me, it has also been enlightening and felt freeing. As youth workers we aim to overcome the oppression caused by the banking method, using dialogical, pedagogical methods instead. In doing this we can support young people to think critically. To those who may be thinking about contributing but may be feeling the same anxieties I did, ask yourself what would you say to a young person who came to you feeling the way you do right now? Then, take your own advice. The more of us who contribute the more we can start to undo and overcome some of the impacts of banking education for ourselves and others.

I would absolutely encourage anyone who is considering contributing to go for it! Contributions can take any form and be any length. I personally tried hard to reject using a lot of ‘academic texts’ to try and truly feel the value of my own thoughts and opinions (though I couldn’t totally resist in adding some!). So whether you have a short poem or a 2000 word fully referenced essay, you can contact.. to get involved.

Now here I am, on the IDYW website, with my name amongst the youth work greats!

Chesley Conlin is a Community and Youth Work student at University of Sunderland and Youth Work practitioner in the North East.

References and further reading

Freire, P. (1972) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Middlesex, England: Penguin Education.

BBC Four Thought – Working Class Women – Rachael Gibbons discusses class, social mobility and Imposter Syndrome. https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/m00094hj


  1. Great work Chesley your comments resonate with me, especially those around feeling like an imposter. On the flip side we spend so much time listening to young people and asserting that they are experts in their own lives. How encouraging to hear you say the same about your own experiences which are equally as valid, I have no doubt that this blog will help others find their voice to.

  2. Thank you Chesley. A powerful piece of writing. I loved your use of the dominant banking approach to education to find your voice. Your reflections and bravery will inspire others to share their thoughts.

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