Sunday, January 22, 2012

Do we really want to listen to our children?

If you’ve been listening to the conversation about ed reform you may have noticed that there is one group whose voice is missing. That group is students and it’s not for lack of trying. Students want to be heard and they have a lot of smart things to say, but adults are often reluctant to listen. The problem is pervasive and overt with many organizations having no remorse or misgivings engaging in such practices.

Until now, these activities went largely unnoticed. This is no longer acceptable. It’s time to blast these doors open. Identify institutions that are engaging in discriminatory practices. Take a stand and tell these organizations that age discrimination is not okay. We can no longer leave out the most important stakeholders in the education reform conversation. Not only is this not okay, but students, educators, parents, and anyone who cares should boycott organizations that engage in such ageist beliefs. It is outrageous that such discrimination and silencing is targeted at the very people they should be serving.  

One such student who has been blatantly discriminated against is Adora Svitak. A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora (now 14) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy and education transformation! In response to this discrimination, Adora has started The Student Union. This is a group designed to bring student voices to education reform. She believes “Students + education leaders = positive change.

We need to be concerned because if somebody like Adora, who has credibility through years of working in the public eyes, is denied of access to share her voice, what about other students who have equal brilliant things to say about their education? Many of them have been told their voice doesn't matter, does not deserve to be heard, or is not wanted. These young people are often shut down before a struggle can even begin. To be clear, this is not about Adora not having a place to speak, this is about all the children don't have a place to speak. Adora has not been rejected because of her ideas, but rather because of her age. A class of people, not a person has, been dismissed. Adora's story is a concrete demonstration of the unjust and harsh reality that our adults have created to shut our children out.

To follow is the type of discrimination taking place within the organizations that inspired Adora to start her online student activism group.

Scholastic, the global children's publishing, education and media company, has a corporate mission supported through all of its divisions of helping children around the world to read and learn. They are focused on encouraging children to learn to read and love to learn, helping teachers carry out their important jobs and supporting parents in their role as their child’s first teacher.
  • Discriminatory act: Scholastic contacted Adora for a picture because they wanted to use her TED speech in their paid website program, but they refused to consider any of her book ideas. They unabashedly shared this as their reason: We don't work with child authors.
  • Response: It is hypocritical and unethical for a children’s book publishing, education, and media company to refuses to work with the people they say they say they are serving. A publishing company that is sending a message to young people that they are not worthy of being considered as authors is discriminating against their very audience, not based on quality or message, but based on age.
  • Call to action
    • Boycott: If you  are a reader of books, support companies that support children authors. Scholastic is not one of them.
    • Facebook: Let them know student voices matter at their Facebook page at
      • Sample update: Scholastic should stop discriminating against children. We believe you can be an author at any age. Why don’t you? What will it take to get you to lift your blanket policy against working with children authors? We’d love to read a book by Adora Svitak and other young people. Stop censoring children.
    • Twitter: Send them a Tweet at @Scholastic
      • Sample Tweet: Tell @Scholastic to stop discriminating against students & start working w/children authors. #thestudentunion
ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development)
This educational leadership organization with 150,000 members says they are dedicated to advancing best practices and policies for the success of students. Their members are professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members.
  • Discriminatory act: Adora proposed a book idea to ASCD after speaking at their conference. The book would bring issues of student voice, reciprocal learning, and education technology to the forefront. Adora was told that the project was not something that ASCD can pursue because based on their research, the educational community is not yet ready to receive the message from a student.
  • Response: Any member of the ASCD should know that they belong to an organization that believes it’s members are those who aren’t ready to hear from students.  If you are an educator that doesn’t want to hear from children, you are in the wrong profession. If you are an educator that does want to hear from children, and you are a member of ASCD, you should know that you belong to an organization that condones the silencing of and discrimination against students.
  • Call to action
    • Membership: If you are a member of ASCD that is offended that they believe you are not ready to hear from kids revoke your membership.  
    • Contact: The 2012 ASCD Annual Report is title “The Value of Each Voice.”
      Let them know whose voices they are missing.
      Write to President of ASCD is Sarah Magana Shubelor. Exec. Director/CEO is Gene R. Carter
      Snail mail: 1703 N. Beauregard St. | Alexandria, VA 22311-1714 USA
    • Facebook: Let ASCD know student voices matter at their Facebook page at
      • Sample message: Ready or not young people have big ideas about education reform and the ASCD should not silence them. Stop age censorship and discrimination and give authors of all ages an opportunity to share ideas and lend their voice to the important conversation of education reform.
    • Twitter: Send them a Tweet at @ascd. Tweet abt them using #ASCD.  
      • Sample Tweet: #ASCD thinks adults aren't ready to hear student voices re: #edreform. Tell them they're wrong! #TheStudentUnion
Children*s Festival
A world-renowned festival of performing arts for young audiences, the Vancouver International Children's Festival has been educating, entertaining and inspiring young audiences since 1978.
  • Discriminatory act: After posting Adora’s teaching video, her mom contacted them about having Adora present at the festival.  They responded saying, “At this point we do not invite children authors but that could change.”
  • Response: It is absurd that a children’s festival does not invite or allow children to present. It is outrageous that an organization whose mission is to educate, entertain, and inspire young people also discriminates against them.  This organization is happy to take ticket money from children and invite them to attend, but they don’t want to do business with them.
  • Call to action
    • Contact: The Children’s Festival ( and let them know you will not be attending if they continue to discriminate against young people.  Tell others to do the same.
    • Facebook: Write on the Children’s Festival wall on Facebook at
      • Sample message: The Children’s Festival should stop making policies that discriminate against children. Age should not be the solitary factor in the refusal of a person to present. Stop the discrimination. Change your position. Let Adora Svitak present. 
    • Twitter: Send a Tweet to @vicf and let them know that children should not be discriminated against.
      • Sample Tweet: Tell @vicf they should change their position & stop discriminating against children. Let Adora present. #Thestudentunion
Our tax dollars go to support institutions of learning that are entrusted with our most precious resources. These institutions should be responsive to those whose tax dollars they are collecting. The government should not overstep its bounds when it comes to educating children.
  • Discriminatory act: Most schools are governed without considering student voice. Rules are made for students, but they have no say in them. Classes and teachers are chosen for students whether they like it or not. Teachers and schools are evaluated without the insights or input of the very people they were created to serve.
  • Response: Schools should be incorporating students into the decisions that govern them. They should also give students input when it comes to what kind of job their teachers are doing. Students should have a say in what they learn, how they learn, and who they learn from.
  • Call to action
    • Tell: Tell schools how you feel.  
    • Facebook: If students are dismissed, they can start a Facebook group for their school to unite, share their ideas and how they might implement them.  Join other students around the world to share ideas about student rights and ed reform at The Student Union.  
    • Twitter: If your school is not honoring student voice Tweet about it. Use (or create) your school’s hashtag and #TheStudentUnion. Tell your school student’s deserve a voice.  
      • Sample Tweet: Students at #YourSchool deserve to have a voice. Who will support us? #TheStudentUnion
Adora Svitak is not alone. There are students being brushed aside and shut out of education conversations by the adults in schools and organizations around the world. This is no longer acceptable. Students want to be heard, acknowledged, and included in the conversations that affect them. Are you ready to listen? If so, join Adora and other students and those who support student voice at The Student Union.


  1. While the first three are unfortunate, such rejection is not censorship. Censorship is changing or banning someone's work because you object to the work's content. It is not rejecting a student author because you don't work with student authors.

    Granted, Scholastic and Children's Festival are probably missing a good opportunity, but you didn't really present enough details of the rejection to really allow a full evaluation of her situation. Take Scholastic for instance, which is a huge publishing company that probably still holds itself to the old (and admittedly archaic) submission process, which means that they normally accept things through agents.

    Maybe it's the same with with the Children's Festival people, although they might have been skeptical because they didn't know how many hits her video had gotten. It's very possible they get a lot of moms calling and feel the need to have that policy in place because they have a vetting process for their speakers.

    Does Adora have an agent? Did she and her mother know the business end of things? I don't see much information of that based on this post. I mean, plenty of publishers don't work with certain types of authors. Again, these businesses missed an opportunity but it's not necessarily discrimination and it certainly isn't censorship.

    As for schools? Well, again, I'd like you to provide more specific examples. I agree that censorship is rampant in schools and there are practices that tend to be discriminatory, but because adults make rules for children doesn't make them automatically discriminated against. Granted, there are some rules that students should be consulted on--"proper technology use" for instance--but then there are others that shouldn't (I don't know ... getting in trouble because you beat the crap out of someone).

    Have you also considered how much censorship and discrimination against children comes from the very community you are calling to action? As someone who is a student publication adviser and is an adamant supporter of the free student press, I have seen more issues with parents getting upset over the content of a book in the library/article in a newspaper/spread in a yearbook than teachers, administrators, or boards of education ... and I will tell you that some of your talking points are often the result of parents and not administrators.

    While it's great to stand up and say "Won't somebody please think of the children?!" you might want to be a little more factual.

  2. discrimination? sounds like business decisions to me. unfortunate ones, but business decisions. censorship? no company or organization has an obligation to publish just because somebody wants their work published.

  3. @Tom,
    I disagree. Censorship applies to when a group is silenced because they want to suppress that groups ideas.

    The details are that these companies are censoring and discriminating based on age. They believe that is the end of the story. In the case of Adora, it is quite possible she has an agent. This was not the reason given. The reason given was they would not consider her work because of her age.

    Children's Festival requested Adora's video and it only takes a moment to see her popularity given that her TED Talk has over 1.5 million views. A vetting process is fine, but when that process discriminates based on age, that is not fine.

    Regarding knowing the business end of things...Yes. Adora is an internationally recognized public speaker and author who has successfully managed the business ends of things around the world. You state that publishers don't work with certain types of authors which is fine as long as by "type" we are not discriminating based on age, gender, race, etc. These organizations are.

    Schools: I gave one very specific example that is easily verified. Students are rarely included in making the rules that govern them and are rarely a part of teacher evaluation. There are PTAs instead of PTSAs ("S" for student). When one group makes rules for another without the other group being included or even allowed in the process, that is discrimination. Stay tuned for my post tomorrow Tom and you will see plenty of actual examples of school policies that discriminate against children.

    I'm disappointed to see you say students shouldn't be consulted for some rules like "beating the crap out of someone." Do you really think young people would think that was okay??? No! They would not and thinking they could not have valuable input on such things is disrespectful to young people.

    Regarding parents contributing to the problem, that is fine. Many people are contributing to it. Awareness must be brought to the issue.

    As far as being factual, the facts are simple. If you're not an adult, you will not be considered.

  4. I know that this particular reasoning doesn't fit your brand of punditry, but what if they're "discriminating" against young authors because they know that young authors don't sell? The children's and YA markets are saturated at the moment and maybe they don't see the reward from taking the risk on her? If she's an internationally recognized public speaker who knows the business end of things, then she should also know that rejection is part of things. Having you scream discrimination is actually a bit patronizing, to be honest.

    And no, that is not censorship. I'm sorry. It's not. It's simple rejection. If I wrote a book about teaching and submitted it to HarperCollins and they turned me down because they didn't want to publish it, I certainly wouldn't say that they're trying to suppress ideas.

    I think your audience would probably appreciate the view from the other side instead of what satisfies your meme.

  5. @Jeff Branzburg,
    Business decisions that result in excluding particular groups of people based on things like age, race, gender, religion, etc. are discriminatory decisions that result in silencing this particular group. No company has an obligation to publish just because someone wants their work published. There is no disagreement there. The disagreement is that companies are making the decision not because of the work but because of a demographic.

  6. @Tom,

    Rejection based on age is censorship and discrimination. If you told a black author you would not consider their book because black authors don't sell or you said this to a woman or you said this to a senior citizen...all are discrimination. Eliminating a class of people based on a demographic and not allowing their voice to be heard is indeed censorship. They are turning authors down based on age. That is discrimination. Silencing and censoring a targeted demographic.

    The other side is welcome to share their view. I don't censor or discriminate.

  7. I spend a few hours a day deleting posts off of the message boards of a national network news outlet. We get accused of censorship all the time, but technically it's not....the company is private, and they can choose what to let remain on their message boards, just as I can kick someone out of my house for talking about how we need more testing in schools.

    However, the word "censorship" also has a cultural meaning. In general, we give ourselves excuse after excuse to not listen to the voices of children. I see it happening right in front of me. I've been on my school board for 8 years and we still haven't managed to get a student sitting at the school board table, because we keep making excuses. What the $%&@ do we think will happen if we let kids talk?

    Organizations should be running around with microphones paying kids to talk. We shouldn't be silencing them. It is a shameful admission of how we feel about them, and how afraid we are that the harm against them that we perpetrate as a culture might come out from behind the desks and speak their minds.

  8. @Lisa Cooley,
    I appreciate you sentiment about acknowledging that we should be giving students the right to share their voice.

    As for as your example with a national message board, you delete based on content. You do not delete everyone of a particular group because of their race, gender, or age. If you did that would be censoring and discrimination. I am not a lawyer, but I believe it is a violation for an organization to exclude people of a particular demographic...unless it is illegal i.e. drinking age.

  9. It's quibbling, and not important to the main question, about which we are in complete agreement. We should not be so comfortable in a society that lacks the children's voice. We need to make the organizations that do it very uncomfortable.

  10. But again, you're making the assumption that she was rejected simply because of that because it's what she presented as her side. If you are so interested in why Scholastic, for instance, rejected her, be a responsible writer and get in touch with Scholastic yourself instead of being all "they can come to me."

    Which, by the way, is a tactic used by school boards to do the exact suppression you are railing against. How many times have school boards and administrators said that nobody came to them with any issues regarding a new rule, so they went ahead and made the rule?

  11. @Lisa Cooley,
    Both issues are important. Student voice is important and companies that target children / students should not censor or discriminate against them.

    I am sharing the reasons these organizations gave Adora and her mother for not including her. These responses were directly from each of the organizations. If a company doesn't know that dismissing people based on age is an issue, that is an issue too.

  12. Lisa: A publisher deciding what to publish does not fall into the area of illegal 'discrimination' no matter what the reason. It's not the same as job discrimination based on gender, age, etc. But as Lisa C said, no use quibbling. Scholastic, ASCD, etc make their decisions, you are pointing out what you see as wrong with it, and we all can make our decisions based on all this info as to whether to do business with them or not. That's capitalism, that's individual choice.

  13. Are they directly from each organization and is that exactly what was said? I'd like proper links, please, because none of the links you provide take me to the source material.

  14. Discrimination: The unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, esp. on the grounds of race, age, or sex.

    @Jeff Branzburg, it may not be illegal for a publisher or organization to discriminate. I am not sure of the law but it is still discrimination. I never proposed folks should sue them, though I think it would be a great suit and one that might be interesting for the ACLU to look at. What I am bringing attention to is the fact that these companies are engaging in discriminatory practices. I am not quibbling. I am giving the public a way to share their dissatisfaction via outlets like Twitter, Facebook, etc.

  15. Yes Tom. They are directly from each organization. Emails and letters don't have links. They were shared with me from the source.