Student Voice or Youth Voice?

“Youth Voice”, as it were, cannot be engaged in schools. 

Once a young person walks through the doors of a public school building, they are automatically thrust into the role of learner, which we call “student”. This is a public role that benefits society, similar to the roles of voter, public servant, or politician. 
The private roles of young people, including that of youth, child, kid, kiddo, yute, youngin’, etc., are completely different from their role of student. When I work in schools I am not looking for youth voice; rather, I am seeking to engage youth voice in the place youth voice exists: schools. 
Therefore, I am seeking student voice – a subtle, yet important distinction. Learn more from the SoundOut website
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam F.C. Fletcher

I'm a speaker and writer who researches, writes and shares about youth, education, and history. Learn more about me at

3 thoughts on “Student Voice or Youth Voice?

  1. Adam, interesting thought and I’m not sure I agree. Are you suggesting that we teach/train students to have a hard, defined boundary between their “school life” and the rest of their lives? Really this seems at odds with the way I counsel people, because my focus is on congruence and “being oneself” in all facets of life. I don’t think we can really be fulfilled until we can be authentic in both our “public” and our private lives. If the greater focus of the young person is on non-school matters: athletics, parks, family issues, religion and spirituality, recreation, opportunities, work, coming out (for gay youth) etc… how can we turn a blind eye to those needs?I’m open to hearing your thoughts. My intention isn’t to confront but just to have some dialogue on this and better understand your perspective. Thanks!


  2. Totally not confrontational, and I really appreciate your pushback! Its awesome! You’ll find my following answer is a little rambling, as I’m struggling to put words to concepts I’ve only written about in academic tones before. I want to say them easier, and this my attempt:I absolutely agree with you! That genuine authenticity of purpose and belongingness is essential to whole beingness, and complete intra-personal engagement and extra-personal engagement throughout our lives. That said, my work focused on schools is an attempt to address the discrepancies facing the larger roles of young people throughout society. Disenfranchised from social purpose beyond schooling, I am seeking to reinforce the notion of young peoples’ public personhood and existence beyond the crass economic subjugation that motivated the identification of “youthhood” originally.In the same way we honor public intellectuals, I want to heighten the role of the public student. This modern learner is the engine of democracy, fueling all other social, cultural, spiritual, educational, and economic developments throughout society. Without the specific role of student, democracy would simply fail. Today’s neoliberal education policy would reduce the role of student to that of consumer and product as well, and oftentimes denies their roles as producer and engine. This occurs not only in classrooms, but also in school offices, school boardrooms, and education administration offices. That said, in a society that systematically segregates young people from adults, I think its important to acknowledge the unique role that only children and youth occupy, which is that of K-12 student. Historically, that’s been the *only* place in society specifically designed for children and youth. In reality, today it’s being claimed by economic imperialists who believe schools only need to serve their capitalist hegemony, rather than the larger democratic good. Students are innately attuned to this discrepancy too, and have over several decades come to see their role in school as prisoner. I want to reframe the place of schooling in society so that it’s seen as the right that it is, as the powerhouse of democracy, and as the hope for the future that it is and should be.Acknowledging the distinct identity of students by deliberately calling out student voice is vital to integrating them throughout the education system that serves them, which is the purpose of my work in schools. Rather than alienating them from the rest of their lives, the goal of this identification is to situate them as in their unique role as student in the only institution that gives them a unique role.Does any of that make sense, or did I just ramble too much?!?


  3. An unexplored avenue in which youth voice can be developed and heard is through film festivals showcasing independent films with an important message to convey. School need not be their only outlet for input, but instead in the world they live in. One example of a film festival which educates and empowers youth to not only realize the power of their voice, but to use it, is the Global Peace Film Festival.For those in the Orlando/Winter Park area, I highly encourage students check out some of their films. See below for information on one film in particular that has been making a name for itself by trailblazing a path of social activism within youth.“The world of environmental direct action has remained a secretive one, until now. “Just do It: A Tale of Modern Day Outlaws, is an adventure into the lives of everyday individuals, just like us, who decide to take social good into their own hands. This look into the world of social and environmental activism will inspire, entertain, and above all, empower.Retire the clichés of how you can be the change you want to see in the world…and Just Do It. They found their voices; so why cant we?Global Peace Film Festival will have two showing times in the WINTER PARK area:Rollins College- Sun Trust AuditoriumSaturday, September 22nd7:30pmANDWinter Park Public LibrarySunday, September 23rd1:00pmAdmission price: $8For more info:


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