Monday, January 23, 2012

Listen to the students before it's too late

Our country has made many advances when it comes to human rights, equality, and discrimination. Women and minorities are allowed to vote and own land. Salaries of men and women are coming more into alignment. People of different races are given the freedom to marry and states are moving toward giving marriage equality to couples of same sex. We still have a way to go when it comes to discrimination, but we are making progress in a number of areas with the exception of one group that is making no progress at all.

This group’s rights are being horribly violated.  They are being denied the right to have a say in matters directly affecting their daily lives. They are being forced and coerced into doing things they don’t want to do and are having harm inflicted upon them in more and more ways. They are having their belongings confiscated from them like prisoners and are banned from things that free members of our society have access to. Those who stand up and speak out are often drugged into compliance. They are being silenced and told their voice does NOT matter, they have no say, and our nation is not ready to hear them. They are our nation’s second class citizens.

The group being discriminated against is school children.  

Ironically, the refusal to hear and consider the voices of children, may very well be what leads to the demise of the public schooling institution as we know it.  Kids are smart. In many ways, especially when it comes to technology and social media, kids are often smarter than the adults who are trying to control them. Students are using social media to connect and take a stand on a variety of issues.  They are staging protests and boycotts. They are telling educational software providers that they hate their product. They are starting their own student-led schools and they are uniting to opt out of high-stakes tests.

Now there’s a new way for students who want a voice in ed reform to have one.  High school student, international speaker, and author, Adora Svitak has formed a new group on Facebook called The Student Union. This group is designed to bring students (and adults who support them) together on issues that affect them. In many cases these will be the issues where they have been silenced for far too long.

The first issue they are uniting on is this:
Adora Svitak
Alright, how about this for a first topic:
Technology in education.
Students, how do you want to see technology being used in education? How is it being used (badly or well) in your current learning environment?

Here are some of their conclusions. Adults should be listening.
Technology Implementation in Education
1. Replace expensive schoolwide solutions like interactive whiteboards with more easily accessible, properly functioning technology (laptops to check out/bring your own device)
2. Live streaming and recording classes so that students are not hampered by inability to come to class in-person/can watch lessons again any time. (Ustream, Livestream, YouTube, etc.--all free).
See all responses are here.

Adora was inspired to start the group after a series of rejections by education organizations who were shutting her out of the ability to take part in the education conversation. Can you imagine that? Educators and educational institutions are telling students that they have no place in the conversation about matters affecting them. I’m not surprised by this as my own efforts to include student voice in the education conversation have frequently been dismissed.  Most recently in the conversation of teacher evaluation I have brought up the point that students must be included in this conversation. Below is a typical reaction this idea receives:

Lisa --in a perfect world I would love to have student input as formal components of the evaluation; but it's silly to merely lambaste an approach for a specific school district culture because student input is not formally incorporated.  

Lambasting an approach for a gross omission is not silly. What is silly is to even consider any approach to teacher evaluation that doesn’t incorporate students. Sadly, I stand in the ed reform minority. In the national conversation about teacher evaluation, you rarely hear students mentioned.  

The silencing and discrimination against students is is not by accident. It is by design. The students know it. They want to be heard but feel helpless in a system that refuses to consider them as these two high school students shared on The Student Union.

Blake Copeland
If only the teachers and administrators would include students in the process it would accelerate the whole process and make it smoother. The schools do not see the students as an untapped resource like they should.

Ethan Perrin
A while back a bunch of students and I were frustrated with the curriculum of our social studies and English classes so we wrote a letter voicing our concerns. Not even a class discussion followed, though we requested it.

It is no longer acceptable to leave our, capable, brilliant, creative, and passionate students out of the conversation.  They have a voice and a right to be heard. If the adults in the world won’t bother listening, there is very little stopping students from taking matters into their own hands. There are people already doing this like Dale Stephens whose Uncollege movement is providing the world with an alternative to the often over-priced and inadequate services offered by colleges whose diploma is no longer the key to employment. Students know today’s industrialized model of school where they are ranked and sorted by their ability to compliantly memorize and regurgitate will do nothing to lead to their success in life. Families across the nation are supporting their children in leaving school at higher rates than ever before and finding that they can have very successful lives without school.  

There is nothing stopping students from taking ownership of their learning when it comes to secondary school as well. While all the adult ed reformers and unions are fighting over how to analyze, rather than inspire, today’s youth, the students may very well take matters into their own hands and leave behind a system that doesn’t value THEIR voice and THEIR success. If you want to be a part of this solution, join your friends at The Student Union.


  1. Most schools use content filters to exclude twitter and facebook. Actually, I would prefer students NOT have cell phones in class.

  2. I agree with your idea that students should be more interactive in taking ownership of their learning. I find it very interesting that some students have even taken their efforts to the Student Union via social networking. They should be able to voice their opinion and express their beliefs and not be penalized or punished for doing so. Students are discriminated as it pertains to voicing their opinions regarding THEIR educational experiences. Some students may be passionate about their views, but it important that administrators and educators listen to their opinions and take them into consideration. This only unites the educational setting and makes it a conducive atmosphere for learning.

  3. Maybe you don't realize, but the civil/human rights that you mention at the beginning of this post are rights for legal adults.
    Being that school children are, well, children, and minors, it can be tough to know if they understand enough of the big picture.

    Addressing an issue of curriculum is a really interesting point--what would one expect to come of it, though? Curricula are pretty universally set by a school or district and based on state or national standards, all of which are set by school politicians. So an individual teacher may not have the power to change their own curriculum. If you take that voice to the district or state education office, you might be able to get somewhere.

  4. @Jules: Great point. Using your voice in an effective manner and talking to the right people is a great way to get things done, as opposed to screaming, which can often be perceived as a temper tantrum.

  5. @Jules, I do realize that minors are excluded from having rights. In the past so were minorities and women. Having laws that discriminate and render a group silent does not mean that the law is right. Sadly, the group doesn't even have the right to vote to change these laws.

    As far as curricula, it is set in government schools. There are many schools not run by the government where learning is student driven rather than government mandated. Such schools should not only be for the rich, but rather for anyone who chooses that.

  6. Lisa,
    I have shared this post with a Facebook group that was created with one ultimate purpose: to help bring awareness to the way one of the teachers at the school is being treated. The issue of what she did or didn't do is not clear, but what is evident is that the students working to help this teachers have figured out how to use social media. I think this is going to become one of those examples where students were able to make a difference because they found a channel for their collective voices. They have definitely figured out how to rally the public to get them to support their efforts!