Is Meaningfulness Arbitrary?

Today, I’m thinking about the design of some new materials. The graphic above was intended to illustrate some of the lows and highs in student involvement activities. Its for any activity that seeks to involve students beyond simply listening to student voice.

The challenge of this visual is to present all these positions in a way that IS NOT linear or sequential. As it looks right now, this chart implies a step-by-step progression, as if activities start with manipulation and end with equitable student/adult partnerships. They don’t. All these positions are often co-occurring, happening at the same time in a flurry of opportunities that are dependent on each student, each setting, and each part of an activity. Sometimes an activity can occupy several slots on the Measure.

Similarly, activities that seem completely powerful and deep to adults can seem utterly tokenistic and belittling to students themselves, and vice versa. Activities can feel punishing or opportunistic to students in the same grade from similar socio-economic backgrounds with common academic achievement and identical resource access.

This brings me to some larger questions. Is meaningfulness arbitrary? Does it all depend on the people, the places, and the activities? Or is it only through the culture, the climate, and the feeling of what’s being done?

Share your thoughts – is the meaningfulness of student involvement completely arbitrary?

Written by Adam Fletcher, this article was originally posted to Learn more at!

Published by Adam

For almost two decades, Adam F. C. Fletcher has led international outreach focused on engaging people successfully. Working with thousands of youth-serving nonprofits, K-12 schools, government agencies, international NGOs and other organizations around the world, his work spans the fields of education, public health, economic development and social services, and includes professional development, public speaking, publishing, social media and more. He founded the Freechild Institute for Youth Engagement, SoundOut and CommonAction, as well as writing more than 50 publications and 500 articles. He has also established 150-plus community empowerment projects.

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