When Elizabeth Rusch was interviewing a room full of kids in Plainwell, Michigan, for her KidSpeak column in Child magazine a few years ago, she had a revelatory moment. 'What do you think we should do about pollution?' she asked. The classroom went silent-and Rusch started to worry. As a journalist, she had rarely gotten blank stares in response to her questions. But slowly the kids raised their hands to offer insightful, creative ideas. 'I realized their silence was an indication that they took my question seriously and took the time to think about it,' says Rusch, who then set off on an intensive research project to find out how kids think about world problems.
Along the way, Rusch made a demographic discovery: Generation Fix. Next in line after baby boomers, Generation X, and Generation Y, Generation Fix, now 8 to 16 years old, is growing up before our eyes. While kids have always had an immense capacity for innovative thinking, today's younger kids are engaged in the world in a way no other generation has been, already volunteering for community service at higher rates than their predecessors even before September 11. 'These kids are really creative,' Rusch says. 'Their ideas-maybe a little wacky-are fresh, lack cynicism. They aren't just parroting back ideas they read in the newspaper. They are really thinking: What could I do?'
Rusch's new book Generation Fix: Young Ideas for a Better World (Beyond Words Publishing) is written for kids and includes in-depth profiles of 15 Gen Fixers. And the book is packed with great ideas. Twelve-year-old Hannah Hironaka of Durham, North Carolina, seeing that punishment hasn't decreased violent crimes, suggests offering a reward to people over the age of 30 who have a history of nonviolent behavior. Kaitlyn Lauletta, 13, of Floral Park, New York, thinks restaurants should be required to cook simple, healthy meals every day for 10 people in need. But the big impact of Generation Fix, Rusch says, will only happen when adults start listening. 'Just ask kids: What are you concerned about in the world?' she suggests. 'Then ask them: What do you think should be done about that? Then take their answers seriously.' For more information, go to www.generationfix.com, which includes a volunteer match program and a forum where kids can share their ideas.