Activist and educator Alfred H. Kurland offers an expansive overview of how to best mentor teens for civic participation and community improvement.
Kurland’s ambitious project covers enough material for multiple books. In the opening section, he reflects on his 30 years of involvement in youth education and services, noting experiences of violence (including a roommate murdered by her husband), anti-war protests, and work as a special education teacher that shaped his ethics and calling. This section describes numerous initiatives he successfully led, which formed his perspective on teens’ unique gifts. Rather than being dismissed for their “raging hormones and underdeveloped brains,” Kurland argues, teens should be valued for their curiosity, optimism, and idealism.
Reaching for spiritual paradigms to frame this discussion, Kurland invokes, in the second section, the archetypes of the orphan, rebel, and lover to describe the teen soul—the same archetypes, he says, “informing the heart of American democracy.” With appropriate understanding, mentorship, and empowerment, teens can participate in civic leadership and provide transformative solutions. He cites, among others, climate activist Greta Thunberg and movements like Black Lives Matter.
A third section highlights others who have launched initiatives to positively mentor teens, though the many profiles soon blur in similarity. Finally, a fourth section recaps the hope that youth, with proper guidance, will solve the perplexing problems facing society today.
These ideas are noteworthy, but unfortunately, the volume of material is daunting and plagued with repetition (including mentions of Kurland’s part in forming an organization called the Uptown Dreamers and changing a law so teenagers can serve on New York City Community Boards). Throughout, he broadcasts what’s coming and refers back to previous points unnecessarily, creating a wearying reading experience.
Kurland’s voice is humble and conversational, his prose proficient, but the sheer volume of detail weighs down his message. One wishes he had condensed his theme into a format that was more accessible to busy activists and curious teens.
Also available as an ebook.