People who visited Henry Maier’s home in Seattle often spoke about his study where he was surrounded by his books. The library is now at the Youth Work Learning Center at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where I worked. The other day I browsed again. It’s not a large library, but it is a rich library with Henry’s famous books put on several bookshelves by the staff members here, who like so many of us, were influenced profoundly by his work on “doing” developmental care.
Gerry Beker and Karen Vander Ven, two other leaders in North America probably have much bigger Child and Youth Care libraries. They never seem to throw anything away. If you have been to their homes or offices you know how the material is organized in ways that only the two of them can probably understand (postmodernism and meaning making in the truest sense). But if you want to know the history of Child and Youth Care in the U.S. it is probably in those piles with many of the most significant and creative contributions coming from them.
Gerry Fewster in Canada has a study with books about relationships and self, which stretch our thinking, imagination, and practice for working with kids in relationships. I love that library. Thom Garfat and Brian Gannon have created a library for all of us and shared their unique and powerful ways of thinking about our work. There are, of course, thousands of personal libraries in our field.
On one of my daily runs recently (the source of much of the material presented in this column), I thought/speculated, in the middle of my runner’s high, about what’s in all these libraries and my own library, which includes many books by the people above. What’s similar in the libraries of people who have studied and done Child and Youth Care for many years, and how does it contribute to all the new libraries and classes in the field? What do these libraries tell us about who we are as a field? What patterns emerge from these books and thinking that define us and our work? Obviously no one could more than scratch the surface of all that has been written but in a runner’s high anything is possible once you clear out the neuron pathways.
Two themes emerged from the kaleidoscope of ideas, research, and thinking that flashed in front of my eyes, sort of like the patterns that emerge from the randomness in chaos theory: Relationships and human development. Without an understanding of relationships and human development and their multiple applications in the lived experience (interactions between workers and youth), we do not have Child and Youth Care. Everything seems to move forward and back from these two ideas/phenomena, at least for me and many others, at least the ones I read and talk to.
“Well dah,” you might be thinking as the kids often say when something is obvious. And my response would be, “Yes, well dah.” This is not a new discovery or an easy one to disagree with? But if this is true, why do we so often take it for granted and leave it out of our discussions? Unless, unlike me you never find yourself drifting away from this simple yet complex truth about the work? To steal from the political phrase that was used by Bill Clinton's staff to win the U.S presidency, “It’s about the economy stupid” I often have to tell myself, “It’s about relationships and development stupid.” Or I read a new article with a slogan or quick fix that suggests Child and Youth Care occurs with technologies that produce outcomes in a vacuum of measurements and schemes devoid of selves and developing beings and, for a moment I get seduced, before quickly returning back home.
My interests these days is on knowing and describing what is. I think of Child and Youth Care as being in and doing with youth relationships and development. For me that’s the primary goal and outcome of Child and Youth Care and what I try to teach – the dance of relationships and development. When I prepare my classes I often think about the richness and power of thought that has been added during the last fifty years to our literature as we have tried to become and define ourselves as a profession. I am also amazed at the similarities with what people have been saying all along, and the continual refocusing on relationships and development in action as an interpersonal, inter-subjective and contextual process of human interaction in the lived experience. And the way our understanding has been deepened with quantitative, qualitative, experiential, and creative ways of thinking about the work people began to promote years ago as essential for helping children and families.
For example, my colleague Quinn Wilder is conducting an inquiry into the relationships between youth workers and youth in a community organization, and being genuine and sincere is a major theme that has resurfaced again. “Well, dah,” right? But not in the contexts in which he has shown and interpreted these phenomena, based on his unique experience and understanding of previous work, so that his findings show themselves with a fresh set of eyes in a new context, and enlighten us all, and remind us again of all the work that has been done to show development, self, development in action. Reading Quinn also reminds me of the libraries and words of leaders like the people mentioned earlier who show us how we can weave care, learning, relationships, and counseling into the activities of Child and Youth Care. I can see the rich stories in journals and books that show how it is done and the multiple was we connect, discover, and empower with youth. What a wonderful library it is that we have created together and continue to build and how clear it becomes when I am high in the middle of a run.