A Fear of Students?

I don’t write this lightly. After all these years of teaching educators and education administrators about student voice, student engagement, and my frameworks of meaningful student involvement, I’m led to believe there’s something more insidious behind the reluctance to not engage students as partners in learning, teaching, and leading in schools. I’m led to believe that there is a pervasive fear of students among adults in the education systems.

Sharing my frameworks, which focus on integration, efficacy, and sustainability for meaningful student involvement, I frequently have seen an almost knee-jerk reaction. Teachers and principals and counselors all recoil against the notion that students of any grade and any ability can be full partners with adults. They tell stories, collected from years of experience, about the incapabilities of learners. They focus on the few students who’ve routinely disappointed/upset/frightened them, and generalize across all their experience as if all students have this inability.

Education leaders, namely the building leaders, district and state administrators, and elected officials who guide schools, scoff when introduced to the notion of meaningful student involvement. And I’m talking about my decade-plus experience in small meetings and gigantic conferences, safe places and very public platforms. The reaction is almost always the same: No way!

To be fair, my advocacy for engaging student voice doesn’t stop with student government, using technology in classrooms, or other tokenistic gestures. I am talking about the full-scale integration of students as partners in curriculum, classroom management, building culture, and educational leadership. I am challenging the dominant paradigm which is satisfied with the placated, suffocated segregation of students fro mainstream society, who in the meantime are suffering from inadequate skills and knowledge preparation for their future- not ours.

It’s kind of ridiculous.

Our public schools are on the brink of whole scale irrelevance, and we’re ignoring the very people who could fix the problem, the very people who are most affected: students themselves.

The fear of young people is a tricky phenomenon that positions students as the habitual “Other”. This role makes them different and alien to adults. It’s both dehumanizing and fetishizing, as adults see students as too foreign, too far out to support. This is why school levies are failing at a rate American society had never seen before. This is why the sneaky tendrils of privatization are reaching further into public schools than ever before.

Adults must reclaim our children and youth, not by insisting they be more like us, but by acknowledging their birthright, affirming their inheritance, and reinforcing our own support for them. We need educational campaigns that teach adults about our connectivity and caringness for young people, and how that’s beneficial for all of society. We need social and cultural opportunities for young people and adults to work together to generate and transmit culture and society together.

We need to reclaim our futures, together.

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

2 thoughts on “A Fear of Students?

  1. Adam, this is so true. I think even the best-intentioned administrators and teachers are so conditioned to tokenize youth involvement. As an administrator and former student leadership teacher I have to continually remind myself of what authentic student involvement looks like. I use that fear you speak of as a gauge… is this a little scary? Does it push me out of my comfort zone? Yes? Then I must be close to authentic youth involvement! We are trained as educators to always be in control… sharing that control with youth is scary and requires a re-conditioning.

  2. Thanks for your comment Amanda! I like your framing of the fear as a gauge. It’s important because it reframes an essential discomfort that many adults repress, let alone make work on their behalf. How can more educators be encouraged to have the critical perspective you share?

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