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In conversation with members of the Scottish Youth Parliament

Written by  Thursday, 02 April 2015 14:28

"The Scottish Youth Parliament must be getting a lot of what they do absolutely right if the work results in such positive and respectful relationships."

I had the absolute pleasure of speaking with some members of the Scottish Youth Parliament on Saturday 21st March during their 56th National Sitting. There was a great buzz on the day as the SYP Awards had taken place the night before and the current Chair, Louise Cameron, was addressing her fellow MSYPs for the final time as Chair. The hashtag #SYP56 was trending across the UK on Twitter, which goes to show how skilled MSYPs are with social media and how much value they place on it. I was struck by the upbeat, occasionally emotional, collegiate and friendly atmosphere. The Scottish Youth Parliament must be getting a lot of what they do absolutely right if the work results in such positive and respectful relationships.

 

GROUP

 

I was invited to facilitate a discussion entitled “Questions of Character: Learning to be Human”. The pretext was that the ‘participants would explore human values, skills and attributes – collectively known as character – and their relevance in the lives of young people. Employers are asking for young people with so-called ‘soft skills’, but what are these skills and how are they developed? Who or what influences young peoples’ character: parents, family, friends, communities, teachers…? What impact, if any, are stories in the media of conflict, injustice, extremism and climate change having on young people’s views of human character and values? There are many issues here, but what are the questions that young people think we should be asking?’


We started by having a general blether about the work of MSYPs. Straight away, without even trying, we were talking about values; especially those of democracy, respect, diversity, equality and the representation of young people. I asked the MSYPs to tell me what they thought the main challenges are for young people today. They came up with this list:

FLIPCHARTIt was immediately apparent that I was speaking a group of well-informed young people who have a clear sense of purpose and citizenship. Using a well-recognised framework for Universal Values (Schwartz, 1992 – see Common Cause) I asked them to decide in groups:


• Which values are helpful in addressing these challenges they listed?
• Which values are unhelpful in addressing these challenges?
• Which values are currently the most prevalent in society?

 

The groups categorised the values as follows:

 

Helpful (green dots)

 

Universalism
Equality, broad-mindedness, peace, social justice
Self-Direction
Freedom, curiosity, creativity
Stimulation
Daring
Achievement
Daring, ambitious
Benevolence
Responsible
Conformity
Self-discipline

Unhelpful (red dots)

 

Power
Wealth, social power, authority, social recognition, preserving my public image
Tradition
Respect for tradition, accepting my portion in life
Hedonism
Self-indulgent
Conformity
Obedient
Achievement

Current (blue dots)

 

Power
Social recognition, wealth preserving my public image
Achievement
Intelligent, ambitious
Self-Direction
Freedom, independent
Hedonism
Self-indulgent
Tradition
Detachment
Security
Sense of belonging

 

There was a strong consensus that values such as equality, broad-mindedness, social justice, freedom and creativity (located towards the top of the map) are helpful and values such as power, wealth, authority and tradition (located towards the bottom of the map) are unhelpful.


There was also a consensus that the values are currently most prevalent in society are extrinsic values such as power, recognition and wealth. Two important findings were that the values of universalism were seen as helpful but are completely absent from the values most prevalent at the moment, and that power was seen as unhelpful but it is a value that is currently prevalent.

 

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The group also came to some broad conclusions and questions which can be summarised as follows:

• Young people do not get enough time to discuss values in this way
• Youth is a ‘window of opportunity’ in terms of exploring values, as people can become more fixed and set in their ways in adulthood
• A young person’s sense of identity has a ‘fluidity’ about it as they grow and develop
• The issue of ‘changing peoples’ values’ is complex: should we do it, and how?
• Multiculturalism, spirituality and migration can bring about positive societal change
• It is important for young people to make their own decisions about values. This means not just accepting what they are told but constantly questioning. An example discussed was school: questioning what is taught and why, and the importance of young people doing their own exploration, reading and research
• Questions remain about the influences on young peoples’ values: society, peers, other generations with different values, employment/labour market and the media. What is the nature of these influences and what does it mean for young people?

 

For me, this is proof that there is a lot we can learn from young people's insights and their reflections on values. Thank you to all MSYPs involved for such a fascinating discussion!


Scottish Youth Parliament are a partner for our upcoming conference, "Character, Culture & Values" on 15-16th June at the University of Glasgow. They will also be hosting a seminar workshop entitled Leaders of Learning. Find out more and register for the conference here.

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