Wednesday, January 8, 2014

How blogging can give students a voice

Guest post by Connor Wood

Author’s note: Lisa Nielsen offered me the chance to do this guest post after I requested an interview from her for my blog Trismegistus Nab-tu-we. My blog is devoted to writing, politics, and philosophy of education. She was impressed with my blog and asked me if I would share information about my work. This post provides a student’s story about how I’ve used a blog and my personal learning network to share my ideas and give students a voice.

I run a blog called Trismegistus Nab-tu-we. I originally started the blog as a project for my high school English class. Unlike my classmates, who quit after the three posts required by my teacher, I kept going a while, trying to turn it into another type of blog. I talked about books, languages, liberal arts, programming, and internet culture. Then I got into politics, and occasionally, I still digress into copyright law and freedom of speech.I covered a whole mess of things. But it was not regular. I realized from my pageviews that without consistency and focus my blog did not seem to be worth anybody’s time.

Five months into my little foray into the blogging, I wrote a post on Standards. While I did not have any uniform agenda, it was a start. I cannot say that I agreed with everything I wrote then. My ideas were a product of the times, with the end of school, and a new superintendent looming, I just went where my mind was. Then, I let it rest.

Until summer came around.

Summer is a weird time. Students take this three month break from school. I did all sorts of things...and I still got bored. So I set out with a list of goals. I knew I would not complete all of them but they lead me to accomplish what I wanted them to. Along with my main goal of trying to start a writing career, they set me up to be more social and less afraid to approach people. I also became involved in the online community around me. I started commenting on Simply Unbound and Random Musings. Interestingly, just about everything I am doing now is a product of last summer’s boredom.

One of those things was the Educational Heretic Manifesto.The Manifesto is a declaration of freedom from the idea of proper education prevalent today. It was a collaborative effort of two people in Wisconsin and one in Colorado. I co-wrote and host it on my blog. Dante (the Colorado Manifesto writer and blogger) hosts the Manifesto on his blog too.

The Manifesto helped provide me with a direction for my blog. My blog had progressed from a class project to random musings, and now it had a focus. It has become a blog about changing school in general. I am currently in the process of doing a series of interviews with people on education reform. The interviewees range from Diane Ravitch, to Dante, to Conrad Wolfram to Lisa Nielsen. I also do a post every Wednesday about student life.

My latest project is a Student Anthology containing student’s reactions to their education. This is another attempt to get student voices heard. I have already have a publisher who is interested. In the meantime, I am working to get more students interested, and will follow up with the publisher when I do.

Why I am promoting student voice

The overall answer to “why” is pretty simple: Somebody should.

Last year I was in a club that talked about socialism. Before we realized that the club was dying, we talked a bit about plans for the future of the club. One person brought up the possibility of a student union, a year or two in the future. Then I got bored over the summer, and thus the timeline got moved up a year or two and the West High Student Union was formed.

The student union creation was prompted because there are currently some major changes going on the top level administration at my school. We got a new superintendent last year, a new assistant principal this year, and are getting a new head principal next year. It should get interesting here soon. So, to help aid in the transition, I created the West High Student Union. This was a perfect opportunity to bring the work I was doing on my blog to life locally.

I originally started the Union with plans to have us address problems brought to us by students on an issue-by-issue basis. However, as I began probing into the education reform movement, I realized what really needed to be done was have some organization to help students be a part of that movement. So, I have organized us into committees, each committee focused on issues students face from district policy to school board elections and even to national education laws.

However, as I started investigating, I only saw more reasons to work towards a better education system, such as:
  • Limited course selections
  • graduation requirements that do not make any sense (why would I need three semesters of P.E. all in different years?)
  • counselors who would only encourage one to live an average life
  • non-committed administrators
  • lazy teachers
  • a lack of communication between educators and students
  • lack of student determination
  • lack of student involvement
  • standardized tests
...and all sorts of other reasons.

In regards to standardized tests, most of my peers listened to the teacher who told us that the mature thing to do, as a part of growing up, is just accept things. Sure, some things one cannot change, like gravity. But for something like education? That should be fairly easy to change with enough support and momentum.

So now I am trying to get more support. Pointing out problems to friends and teachers, questioning policies publicly (like with my recent open letter that I published on my blog), and addressing trends that need attention. Some big ones include:
  • Schooling needs to be applicable to the real world. It needs to apply to the way students look at the world, and they need to enjoy it. If they do not, there need to be alternatives. A lot of people will be using those alternatives.
  • There is a big difference between schooling and education. One is important, the other one is not…
    • Everyone gets an education. A lot of people get schooling when they would rather not, and a lot want it when they cannot get it.
  • Standardization is to be avoided. Students are not all the same, so their schooling should not be either.
  • Children have certain inherent mental gifts, especially creativity and imagination. Letting them go unused is a waste.
  • No national programs so far have worked in the U.S. , especially the No Child Left Behind Act.
  • Everybody is learning. Everyone is a student. Schools and especially education should not be limited to only those of a certain age.
  • Schools exist for students to learn, not simply for teachers to teach.

With a lot of hard work and some patience, people are starting to listen to me. I even had a meeting with the head principal of my school about some policy changes and questions I addressed in my open letter. They had policy, but now, through my blog and my learning network, I had a connections and a voice which led to publicity. The more support my actions gain, the more people will follow, addressing their own problems. Once students learn to speak for themselves, education will change for the better.

Connor Wood is a student and education activist. He is the founder of West High Student Union and is organizing an anthology of student reactions to their education.
Connor blogs at:

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