One of the most powerful experiences in my career has been to be part of the emerging Student Voice movement. After rattling around the US and Canada promoting student voice for a decade, in 2012 I heard from several different young people and adults that they were starting campaigns to promote Student Voice. Some of them burnt out quick, but a few have kept going. Joining the ranks of the long-timers, these campaigns have had tremendous impacts on K-12 schools across the nation, and its been exciting to be part of.
One of the greatest concerns that I’ve developed, though, has been the homogenization of Student Voice. It was something I feared when I wrote the Meaningful Student Involvement Idea Guide back in 2002. When adults start listening to students, they routinely and almost inevitably whitewash those voices and gloms them into one convenient, predictable and easy script. Suddenly, all Student Voice is the same, with adults hearing students saying the same thing in the same ways, no matter what their backgrounds, experiences, or ideas actually all.
There are a lot of problems with that, not the least of which being that its inauthentic and dishonest. Maybe the worst thing to happen is that it robs students of their diversity, which no other place in society does.
With adults ignoring reality, it becomes vital for a counternarrative to emerge. Something has to balance out the stereotyping and invalidity this Student Voice represents.
10 Questions for Authentic Student Voice
Here are some questions you can ask yourself to see whether you’re ignoring reality:
- Do your Student Voice activities engage students who are not traditional student leaders?
- Are some of the responses you receive about Student Voice surprising or upsetting to you?
- Have any of your Student Voice activity participants ever failed a class? Gotten in-school suspension? Been suspended from school?
- Are there more ways to listen to Student Voice than simply talking and listening?
- Do the adult allies in your Student Voice activities reflect the diversity of your school’s student body?
- Are students’ hesitant to talk in your Student Voice activities?
- Do Student Voice activities routinely discuss diversity, difference, stereotypes, or other daily realities of students?
- Can students share things that adults might not agree with?
- Do students actually share things adults do not agree with or appreciate?
- Can students do things, or are their actual voices all that should be heard?
If your school genuinely values Student Voice, it is essential to make space for all students to be heard no matter what they have to say. Its also important to understand that Student Voice is any expression of Any Student about Anything related to School. You can find more information about how to engage diverse students at SoundOut.org.