#StudentVoice is NOT the Same as #EdTech

Technology in education is not student voice. Using tech in schools is not student voice. In no way, shape or form does student voice require tech. When it comes to student voice, BYOD, 1:1, tablets, smartphones, labs, carts, texting, social media are OPTIONS, not requirements.

There’s a myth being sold by some ed tech companies today that using their specific kind of tech, their unique product, or their proprietary program. That’s simply not true.

Student voice does not belong to any one company, nonprofit, approach or activity. This is as true for ed tech as it is for curriculum writers, test writers, policymakers, or anyone else. Just like there can’t be a student voice robot that speaks for students, there can’t be a single technology, innovation or activity that wholesales student expression.

This is true for many reasons, but perhaps the elemental reason is the very definition of student voice. Student voice is any expression of any student about anything related to education and learning. People don’t like that definition because it doesn’t meet their particular desire for students.

From my own experience working with a variety of partners in ed tech, I have found a few who are earnestly committed to engaging student voice throughout education.

However, a large number of ed tech professionals are more committed to selling product and making schools do what they want them to than they are to student voice. VERY few people today are earnestly committed to student voice.

I am not a Luddite or anti-tech, largely because I’m committed to authentic student engagement. Tech can authentically engage students. However, tech is not student voice; there’s a difference.


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Adam Fletcher on Social Media

Here are some of the social media channels Adam Fletcher operates!

The Freechild Project—Connecting young people and social change.

SoundOut—Promoting Meaningful Student Involvement in school change.

Adam Fletcher—Youth engagement consultant, speaker and writer


Youth Power in 2012

Long-ranging, deep, effective social change largely happens through communication, people talking with people. Education and entertainment are tools of manipulation as well as enlightenment, and they work to change society. 

In mainstream social change, the 1960s and 70s hippies in the U.S. relied on educating their peers and young people in order to bring more people into the ranks. They held workshops and sit-ins, classes and rallies all focused on raising individual knowledge and awareness of the social change they wanted to see. In the 1990s and 2000s conservatives in the U.S. relied on manipulating people through the media in order to spread their message and bring “believers” on board. Perhaps the most sophisticated approach to large scale social change happened from the 1920s through the 1960s, when the African American Civil Rights Movement in the U.S. staged a two-pronged approach to transforming American society. Their usage of mainstream media pulled on heartstrings while their consciousness-raising education activities effectively reached every American, and caused transformations that still ripple through society today.
In the process of the last century, youth power emerged as a startlingly effective force for communicating social change. Starting with the 1936 Declaration of the Rights of American Youth written by the American Youth Congress, young peoples’ voices are being heard with ever-greater power and impact on society. This 1936 creed resulted in the creation of the National Youth Administration, which while it was short lived, showed the power of youth when it was destroyed by Joseph McCarthy’s Red Scare. The 1943 Zoot Suit Riots in Los Angeles showed the compelling power of Latino youth to control popular culture, and the effect when white American adults don’t like that. Their actions led to an increased awareness of the presence of Latinos throughout the U.S., and introduced the weapon of cultural awareness into the battle against discrimination.  The emergence continued in the early 1960s with the formation of Students for a Democratic Society. Their Port Huron Statement effectively set the agenda for a generation of white, middle class young people who were determined to fight for democracy. In the 1970s, the Youth Liberation Press of Ann Arbor, Michigan, began printing and mailing thousands of copies of publications written by young people, for young people- and adults. And many read these pieces, too. There are so many other ways youth power became more real than ever before, but that’s the past.
In 2012, young people are educating and manipulating society as never before. Social media, which is the predominant tool for popular culture manipulation and education, is being used by children, youth, young adults, and their adults in order to create, grow, foster, sustain, and enhance social change. There has never been a force like it before, and young people have never experienced power like this before.
Youth power is by no means limited to the Internet or computers, either. I predict we will see a surge in the development of participatory technologies throughout society that allow, encourage, and build social action in all corners of our community and world over the next 20 years. We will see more effective democratic voting platforms, more engaging community group activism, more substantive usage of social media. All of these tools are being built to engage; more importantly, they are going to enhance and grow. 
Communication is power, and that power belongs to young people today.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!


According to the ever-definitive Urban Dictionary, oversharing is “providing more personal information than is absolutely necessary.” Named word of the year in 2008, its a phenomenom of modern times, brought to us by texting, twittering, blogging, Facebook and other social networking mediums. In popular culture so far, we’ve seen oversharing expose inner-most thoughts about relationships, ruin perfectly normal days at the office, and otherwise run amok throughout society. But what effect does oversharing have on Youth Voice?

Back in 2004 the ever-insightful Anastacia Goodstein at YPulse suggested young people might be oversharing on their blogs. She says, “Personally I think if teens want to use blogs as full blown diaries where they are sharing everything about their lives (especially incriminating info), they should probably do it under a pseudonym.” In this sense, oversharing may be a sort of trojan horse that takes Youth Voice and encourages otherwise well-meaning adults to advocate for anonymity among young people struggling to make their voices, ideas, experiences and wisdom relevant to the world. Perhaps a different angle on this would be to promote actively educating young people about the opportunities and challenges of writing online, as Goodstein herself knows well. This would empower young people to maintain their identity, as any good journalist strives to, while reporting on the issues that matter to them most- which in many cases seem to be their own lives.
Still others have warned about the dangers of oversharing on the futures of young people, as they seek to be taken seriously in job interviews, college applications and other scenarios. Some see oversharing as a blight upon the lands, while others laud oversharing as a way to break the ice in otherwise awkward social situations.
This has been an overview of oversharing. Let me think about this, and I’ll revist the actual impacts of oversharing on youth voice soon.
Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to http://commonaction.blogspot.com. Learn more at adamfletcher.net!

True Story: Senior fights Gaggle Net

The following editorial written by a hero of mine, Adam King, who is a senior at A. C. Reynolds High School in Asheville, North Carolina. I don’t call Adam a hero easily; he’s earned it. Read the following screed and find out why student voice is alive in schools today.

“The Stupidity of Gaggle Net”
Letter to the Editor
November 6, 2008

Once again, despite the efforts of many teachers and students, the student voice at our school has been suppressed. After two years of debate, the county’s technology department has decided to carry through with the controversial decision to ban all personal email accounts for students and teachers alike. This decision has created a huge lapse in student rights; however, invasion of privacy and restriction of first amendment rights seems to be a common theme in schools across the country.

Over the past three years at Reynolds, I have responded to this growing crisis by talking to the administration and members of the school board, but my arguments have fallen on deaf ears. The school system believes that it is acting in our best interests, but they need to tone down their efforts. Like other students, I need to check my email daily for many different reasons. I use email to communicate with my employer, my senior project mentor, and my fellow state HOSA officers. I have enough maturity and common sense to know how to use email and the Internet safely. I realize that some students abuse their Internet privileges, but the county should not punish the entire student body for the actions of a select few. I am offended that the county believes it has the need to monitor all of my thoughts and actions. The school board clearly underestimates and undermines our intellect and duties as students.

I encourage you to protest the use of Gaggle Net. Gaggle Net is a big deception, which not only deprives us of our rights, but more importantly, it is not preparing the student body for reality or the workforce.

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

Wikipedia Articles

After spending three years and 100s of hours on the cause I am wrapping up my time served as a-lot-of-time Wikipedia editor. Contributing as “Freechild” and a few anonymous IP addresses, I have created more than 400 articles, including dozens about the issues I originally explored on the Freechild Project website. Following are some of those topics listed for your easy reference and contributions. Please make Wikipedia better by getting in there and monkey-wrenching around yourselves – and don’t be shy! Want to know how to write a good article, defeat an “article for deletion” proposal or find references about obscure topics related to young people? Respond to this post!

Here’s a list of some of the articles I created on Wikipedia about topics focused on young people:




Other stuff

This list is almost complete. Also, please understand that Wikipedia is a constantly moving target, and I cannot be held responsible for the content of the articles beyond the last time I edited them.

Please let me know what you think, and again, please let me know how I can support YOU contributing to Wikipedia!

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

Youth Marketing Blogs Tangent #3

In my continuing saga to rid the world of the crass commercialization of youth and the marketing of homogeneity, I would like to bring your attention back to YPulse. As some of you remember from my other forays into this conversation, I’ve got beef with people who sell youth, sell to youth, and promote the manipulation of Youth Voice as a marketing tool. I stand against the commercialization of childhood and youth-dom, and YPulse, along with several other blogs, does this very thing with exacting science and precision analyses. Frankly, I am scared of the power of Anastasia Goodstein, its founder and operator.

Goodstein has shown deft skill at defining and driving youth consumption, particularly as it relates to popular culture and technology usage. She is joined by a small bevy of other bloggers* * * * who do this for a living, and honestly they all have their interesting moments. But Goodstein’s successful marketing of herself as the Carrie Bradshaw of teen marketing is what puts a briar in my britches. Profiteering off mass explotation bothers me – call me particular that way. Perhaps what bothers me most is that it appears that Goodstein got her start from a righteous place: she started her work at Teen Voices, a Boston nonprofit youth media organization. Bleh.

Oh, and let me be clear: this isn’t just about the blogs. Goodstein has a book, as well as several conferences every year. More than a half dozen other other youth marketing conferences* * * apparently want to grow up to be half as influential as Goodstein. Her website is up there, too, ranking 171,334 in total popularity across the Internet. That’s compared to the Best Buy Corporation’s @15 website, which competes with the nonprofit YouthNoise, and ranks in at just over 10,389,000 in popularity. These say nothing of the beer-promoting websites Goodstein also promotes on her youth marketing blog* *. Classy.

Admittedly, there is a lot to learn from what the Youth Voice marketers have done, as well as their analyses. DK, a thorough social marketing maestro from the UK who routinely brings his expertise stateside, is one of the people in this area I watch closest. I readily credit his Mediasnackers with teaching me a great deal about my own work, even if – or especially because – he is a marketing expert. The difference between his work and Goodstein’s, though, is that from DK I get the sense that there is a genuine commitment to actually bettering the lives of young people through better marketing. With Goodstein, not so much. I get that it is about bettering the lives of the marketers involved, rather than the people they’re targeting.

Let’s remember why Youth Voice matters – because it comes from young people and benefits all of us. In this same way I would challenge many youth marketers to remember why their work matters – because it benefits more than them individually. As Dr. King implored us, “An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity.” Let’s keep that in mind no matter what our angle is.

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

Freechild Activity for YOUR Classrom

I think I’ve mentioned the new series on youth activism coming out from the Capstone Press? Last month I finished consulting on a four book series for middle school students, each focused on topics like social justice, the environment, and animal rights. Well, I’m excited to note that I just found out that McGraw-Hill, a major publisher of school curricula, has devised part of a classroom lesson plan based solely off The Freechild Project website!

In five questions students are asked to read through the site and vital the answers to a variety of questions, including…

  • What is the Midnight Forum and what does it use hip hop to do?
  • Why do older adults and teens make good allies?
  • What are some examples of ways students can get involved in the decision-making process at their schools?

This type of exercise does a few things for Freechild: first, it legitimizes the intrinsic value teachers find in the website by enshrining it in curriculum; second, it legitimizes the value students place on the website by engaging them in using it within the formal boundaries of the classroom. While its true that there also drawbacks, I think the usage is primarily positive.

Find the entire plan here. And please let me know how YOU are using Freechild in your classroom or youth program. Thanks!

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

Interesting Promotion

A new social bookmarking website called Mister Wong has interviewed me and is currently featuring my youth and student involvement-related bookmarks on their frontpage. Check it out. Following is the bio they included on the site:

At the age of 14 Adam Fletcher led an environmental justice campaign in his local high school. Since then he’s worked to engage youth voice in dozens of programs and hundreds of schools in communities across the United States and Canada. He founded two internationally-recognized programs focused on youth voice: SoundOut, promoting student voice in schools, and The Freechild Project, focused on engaging young people in social change. Today Adam works in the Washington State Department of Health and is a private consultant.

Its great to see the technology field embrace my use of interactive web technologies.

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A Future So Bright…

Who do they write these articles for? In a recent edition of Fast Company, a “cutting edge” business magazine, editors paired up a high school student from California with a corporate scientist to talk about technology. They chose a senior from a private religious school tucked away by a golf course in the Bay Area.

Not being one to rant, but come on. This article was clearly written for the demographic the magazine represents. The student says things like, “The future is exciting,” “Society puts too much pressure on teens… to have a plan,” and “I’ll follow the path as I go, I suppose.” The picture of her takes up 1/4 of the page, and she’s striking a painfully cliché pose; her “counterpart” looks thoughtfully at her, as if he is really paying attention (see right). Meanwhile, he’s blowing past her dialog with bullets like his opening salvo, “We are experiencing a ‘Cambrian explosion’ of innovations that will impact every aspect… [blah blah blah- insert empty rhetoric here].”

The magazine juxtaposes the scientist’s pompous adultisms against the student’s “naive” criticisms. And I’ll give her credit – she is critical. She voices concerns that everyone she knows is plugged into media while the world is whizzing past them. He just keeps drilling this notion that “the future’s so bright”.

However, what’s at issue here isn’t the way these two interact, but rather what and how they are interacting. First, let’s take a look at some statistics. According to CIRCLE, there are 40.7 million 18-29 year-old citizens in the United States, over twice the number of 66-77 year-olds. The scientist in this article is pushing 65. And the population of young people today is almost as large as the population of young people was when the baby boomer generation was young. Also, the population of young people of color is steadily increasing, while the population of young white people is decreasing.

All this is to say that if the conversation in this magazine was to truly representative of a conversation that might actually happening in America today it would sound and act entirely different from what is represented here. Try it: First find a young person who you can have a 6-paragraph-long conversation with, and then ask them what the future looks like to them. Challenge them, encourage them to challenge you, and have a conversation – don’t just give them the floor. Then read the Fast Company article here and compare your results. Let me know what happens.

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