Adults Ignoring Reality

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:

  1. Do your Student Voice activities engage students who are not traditional student leaders?
  2. Are some of the responses you receive about Student Voice surprising or upsetting to you?
  3. Have any of your Student Voice activity participants ever failed a class? Gotten in-school suspension? Been suspended from school?
  4. Are there more ways to listen to Student Voice than simply talking and listening?
  5. Do the adult allies in your Student Voice activities reflect the diversity of your school’s student body?
  6. Are students’ hesitant to talk in your Student Voice activities?
  7. Do Student Voice activities routinely discuss diversity, difference, stereotypes, or other daily realities of students?
  8. Can students share things that adults might not agree with?
  9. Do students actually share things adults do not agree with or appreciate?
  10. Can students do things, or are their actual voices all that should be heard?

 

Resources

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.

SoundOut advertisement

 

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

Youth-Adult Relationship Spectrum

 

I have seen three primary ways adults relate to youth, no matter whether the relationship is parenting, teaching, or policing. The first way is over-permissiveness; the second is responsible; and over-restrictive. Before I explain these, its important to remind you that I’m an adult and these are my opinions; a young person and other adults surely will see things differently.

Over-permissive relationships between children, youth and adults allow young people to do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever and however they want. Disregarding the longer term effects of how young people relate to adults, over-permissiveness can incapacitate young peoples’ ability to successfully relate to the broader society around them. By allowing too much freedom, these relationships give children and youth “just enough rope to hang themselves” by extinguishing their inherent away their sense of purpose and belonging throughout the larger society in which we all belong. Based in a well-meaning notion of equality between young people and adults, these relationships conveniently relieve adults of the burden of responsibility in parts or all throughout the lives of young people. They often happen to encourage freedom.

Over-restrictive relationships between young people and adults override the decision-making capabilities of children and youth and disable their inherent creativity in order to assure adults’ sense of authority, protection, and ultimately, ownership over young people. By discouraging young people from experiencing the freedom and ability they need in their natural learning process as well as throughout their social and familial worlds, these relationships can take away enthusiasm and unfettered joy, only to replace it with rigidity and structure. Over-restrictive relationships enforce inequality between children and youth, and occur by adults enforcing their power with heavy-handed education, tight schedules and severe rules, and harsh punishment. They often happen to encourage safety.

Responsible relationships between children, youth and adults are based on trust, mutual respect, communication, and meaningful interactions. Positioning each person as an evolving member of a broader society, they identify roles, opportunities and outcomes that benefit every person in uniquely appropriate ways while holding the greater good ahead of individualism. These relationships occur when adults consciously decide to foster equity throughout the lives of young people by intentionally acknowledging each others’ according abilities, fostering deliberate opportunities and continually embracing the evolving capacities of children and youth throughout their lives, starting when they are infants. Responsible relationships nurture appropriate attachment and encourage interdependence between young people and adults. They often happen to foster democratic sensibilities.

I have not met one adult who is constantly and consistently one of these ways with all young people all of the time. This isn’t meant to provide a puzzle for people to fit together the individual pieces, either. Instead, by showing a spectrum I meant to show that each of us can be any of these at many points throughout our lives.

Share your thoughts in the comments section!

Adult-Driven Student Voice

puppets

Student Voice is any expression of any learner anywhere, all the time, about anything related to learning, schools, and education. It doesn’t depend on adult approval, it doesn’t need specific spaces or energies, and is always present wherever students are. The question generally is whether adults in education want to hear what’s being said.

If a student is talking in front of a group sharing their beliefs or experience, ideas or knowledge, they’re sharing student voice. The same can be true of leadership, community service, and teambuilding activities, as well as many other formal school activities. However, students who cut themselves are sharing student voice, just like student graffiti artists, students who text answers during tests, and gang members. The question isn’t whether they’re sharing student voice, because they always are – the question is whether adults in education want to hear what’s being said.

This leads to the phenomenon of adult-driven student voice.

Characteristics of Adult-Driven Student Voice

Adult-Driven Student Voice is when adults motivate, inspire, inform, encapsulate, and generally make student voice become convenient for adults. Here are five characteristics of adult-driven student voice.

  • WHO: Students who adults want to hear from are selected to share their voices. All students are equal members of the schools they attend, both in a literal and metaphorical sense. However, adult-driven student voice selects specific students who may not jostle adults’ opinions or ideas to share student voice.
  • WHAT: Students say what adults want. They usually echoing or parroting adult beliefs, ideas, knowledge, and/or experience. If they share their own, adults largely agree with what students have said.
  • WHEN: The calendar is determined by adults for students. Students are listened to when adults have the interest or ability to hear them, and not necessarily when students want to be heard.
  • WHERE: Student voice happens in places adults want it to be shared. Whether on a graffiti wall in a forgotten alley downtown, in a boxing gym for teenagers, in debate class, or at a city-run forum for students to share their opinions about something, student voice happens where adults approve of.
  • WHY: Adults solicit student voice about specific issues. Students have a variety of perspectives about all kinds of subjects. However, adult-driven youth voice allows only perspectives on issues that are important to adults or that adults pick for students. If students move outside adult-driven boundaries, they are either re-directed or expected to stop sharing their voices.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each of the above characteristics. However, this article isn’t meant to share those judgments; instead, I want to encourage you to think for yourself about what matters and why it matters. After you’ve done that, visit SoundOut to find tools, examples, and other resources to help you with student voice.