It’s like we have lenses in our ears.
Adults, in all our vain glory, seem to have a distinct inability to simply listen to young people. Instead, all our well-intended programs and processes designed to listen to youth voice and student voice are all filtered through the ed reform jargon we speak, or reduced into media sound bites and legislative testimony. Our culture has become so attuned to the political polls of Gallup et al that we think ourselves to be the great amalgamators of children and youth. They can’t speak for themselves the ways we want them to, so we speak for them.
The upshot is that young people learn their words don’t mean anything without adult interpretation. Every time we compile another report or drill down into another snippet the thoughts, feelings, ideas, wisdom, and experiences of young people without allowing them to say what they said and have that stand alone, we deny them their authentic identities and essentially invalidate their humanity.
We, the adult allies of children and youth, need to practice listening without lenses by removing the filters in our minds and simply hearing what is said. That may be the greatest first step we can take towards engaging youth.