Getting Clear about Meaningful Student Involvement

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Students should be co-learners with adults, and that they should have an ownership over their education.

Why Meaningful Student Involvement?

This far into the current education reform movement (25+ years) something radically different must be tried, and I stand beside the notion of Meaningful Student Involvement. Young people are already and routinely fixing many other problems throughout society that adults have failed at; why shouldn’t they continue to target schools as the focus of their energy? They’re the ones who are most directly affected by the outcomes of schools, and they’re the ones with the largest stake in their own education and the education of future generations of students.

Abdicating Responsibility

I would never, ever call for the abdication of adult responsibility in relationship to student authority. Instead, I believe there is a distinct opportunity for students and adults to work together and redefine the historically didactic, pedantic relationships that define so many classrooms today. Done responsibly, this could revolutionize teaching, learning, and leadership throughout the education system in ways that are utterly necessary in order to sustain and grow our democratic societies. Done irresponsibly, as a lot of homeschooling and unschooling are, and educators merely promote hyper-anarchistic individualism. (Ironically, this is what a lot of public schools are doing today as well!)

Student Behavior

Students “in any classroom go a little crazy” because they’re raised in environments of hyper-sensationalized adult importance, almost wholly disassociated from the respectful responsibility of social camaraderie. The students who do know “how to act right” are those who are raised in genuine community with their families and friends. However, all that is a ruse of sorts: Students don’t “act right” when they act in ways that adults don’t want them to. We routinely invalidate their human experiences in order to squeeze them into our expectations to meet our objectives using our methodologies. If we had truly committed democratic public schools, students would routinely, wholly and knowlingly co-create the learning they participate in everyday. Adults would facilitate that learning, rather than preach and teach it. And ultimately, we would more effectively, more honestly reach every single student all the time.

My Role in Schools

As a consultant, I offer a requested eyeball from outside the classroom and local school that can provide perspectives not available from within. Please don’t minimize my contributions because of my title though; let the principals, teachers, students, and other education officials who I’ve worked with speak for me. Check out my website for some <http://bit.ly/afgoodthings> and my linkedin profile for others.

What Grade Levels Should Be Involved?

As the examples in the article (which you read) illustrate, my research has found students in the first grade who have participated as co-creators of classroom curricula with teachers. I named examples from 1st through 12th grades in the article, and linked to dozens of other examples from across all grade levels. The fact is that students of all ages and capabilities are being engaged as partners with adults in improving schools increasingly throughout schools. Brain research routinely demonstrates that even the youngest of students have the capacity to participate in critical deconstruction of the learning activities, teaching styles, and curriculum content they’re taught. That shows that its really not a case of whether students are ready to be engaged in fixing schools; instead, its whether adults are actually capable of engaging them in doing so.

Am I Calling for Student Independence?

Engaging students as partners is by no means solely a call for independent learning, as that is antithetical to the goals of education in a democratic society. Instead, its a call for co-learning, co-teaching, and co-leadership for all students in all buildings all of the time. This is an important distinguishing factor that I tried to illustrate in the examples throughout the article. The case I make for teachers is separate from what I made in this article. Instead, this was written for a general audience made of the public. For a more education-oriented article, you can read a piece I published in ASCD’s Educational Leadership magazine <http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/nov08/vol66/num03/The-Architecture-of-Ownership.aspx>.

By working with students as partners, adults can continue their roles as teachers and leaders throughout education. Your responses seem like you’re trying to dichotomize the roles of adults and students in schools by painting them as having polar opposite roles. (Note that I never called for students to have more “freedom”, as I think there’s a tyranny to such a notion.) Maybe instead of that, you can envision students and teachers walking next to each other as allies. In many circumstances that embody Meaningful Student Involvement today, students and adults hold each other mutually accountable for the outcomes of their actions. If any party involved doesn’t like what’s occurring, everyone involved is able to address that and working together, take action to create change. Students and adults work together to “set the standards, the criteria, the evaluation of education… set and enforce rules…”, etc. And those aren’t hypothetical situations; they’re happening right now, and have been for more than 30 years. Luckily though, they’re increasing in frequency, and as an advocate, I’m merely calling for them to increase more.

A lot of adults are threatened by Meaningful Student Involvement with a kind of gut reaction. I talked about this once in an interview with Scholastic Administrator magazine. Rather than having those responses, maybe it would be worth studying the idea more closely and truly considering the proposition beyond a short article. My short book is called Meaningful Student Involvement: Students as Partners in School Change.

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