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
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 https://www.facebook.com/Scholastic
      • 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 https://www.facebook.com/groups/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 http://www.facebook.com/ascd.org
      • 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 https://www.facebook.com/groups/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 (http://www.childrensfestival.ca/contact_us.php) 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  https://www.facebook.com/KidsFest.
      • 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
Schools
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.
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