Denying Student Voice

dilbert-student-voice

Since I began researching roles for students throughout education and society more than a decade ago, I’ve found a plethora of student voice haters. These folks are most frequently adults who are longtimers in education before they are “brave” enough to speak out against students.

Their basic belief is always the same: Students don’t know what’s best for them; Educators do. That is, adults in general, educators at large, the academy specifically, and/or the teachers who teach students directly. Their argument is always the same: As the unknowledgable, inept, and incapable recipients of Education’s largess, students have nothing of value to contribute to their learning, to teaching, or to leadership in schools.

Recent articles reflect these positions. In a new piece on Slate, a college professor named Rebecca Schuman wrote a scathing deconstruction of the value of student evaluations of professors. Basically denying the value of their contributions as humans towards society, Schuman emphasized that students are basically flies on horse poop, ranting in a really hipster-ish fashion that, “Ostensibly, [student evaluations of teachers] give us valuable feedback on our teaching effectiveness, factor importantly into our career trajectories, and provide accountability to the institution that employs us. None of this, however, is true.” She goes on to degrade everything of value in any student evaluation ever, insisting that professorial knowledge trumps student input every single time no matter what.

Schuman’s narrow thinking is indicative of many educators today. Seeing students as tabula rasa, many teachers and professors inside traditional education systems frequently dismiss the value of student voice, juxtaposing their perspectives against students in an A/B dichotomy of Us vs. Them.

A few weeks ago, a reporter for The Atlantic magazine named Jacoba Urist contacted me for an article she was writing about the ongoing Los Angeles student protests led by the powerhouse Innercity Struggle. We talked for 45 minutes about a range of issues, and I sent her a copy of my Guide to Students on School Boards

Jacoba wrote a piece called “Should Students Sit on School Boards?,” essentially propping up the idea with several professors’ opinions, along with my perspective as an advocate. With few opposition perspectives in the article, it was essentially a cheerleading piece. However, it was in the comments (which, btw, are not the same as SETs) that things got ugly—as they often do.

From basic adultism through advanced antipathy towards youth, commenters on the article reflected the blatant disdain that is obvious in so many student voice deniers’ words. They routinely doubt the maturity, effectiveness, and value of student voice. They question the authenticity of student knowledge, the potential of student learning, and the perspectives of students as the recipients of adult-driven education systems. They also rally to the power of adults, calling for increased adult control over students amid smackdowns on student voice.

These denials of student voice represent the narrow self-interest of so many Educators today. Unfortunately, their closed-mindedness is undermining the American education system. Students who grow up in oppressive educational environments grow up to become adults who are disaffected voters, routinely voting down education levies, pro-democracy elected officials, and other bastions of the once indefatigable American Democracy.

I can hear the haters right now, dismissing these brash future voters for expressing their wills against the wills and whims of educators today. Oligarchy be damned: Educators love meritocracy!

Congrats, student voice deniers, for destroying education and democracy for everyone. Surely you have to feel good about that when you go to bed at night, or head off to school in the morning. Good job.

Guide to Students on School Boards by Adam Fletcher

The SoundOut Guide to Students on School Boards provides information, research, tips, and more about how to get students on boards of education. Written for SoundOut by a student activist and national advocate. Download your FREE copy of the Guide here!

What is an Adult Ally to Young People?

An “adult ally” is “a person who is a member of the dominant or majority age group who work to end oppression in his or her personal and professional life through support of, and as an advocate for, young people.”*
“Allies are adults who advocate and support young people. They assist young people in their lives, support them when they struggle, and let them know how important they are and that change is possible.”

Adult allies have been remarkably effective in promoting positive change in society. Over the past 40 years adult allies have worked in organizations and communities around the world to make adult culture more aware of bias and discrimination against young people, and challenging of the privileges automatically given to adults.

20 Ways to Be An Adult Ally to Young People

An adult ally strives to…
  1. be a friend to young people and adults
  2. be a listener
  3. be open-minded
  4. have his or her own opinions about age
  5. be willing to talk
  6. commit him or herself to personal growth in spite of the discomfort it may sometimes cause
  7. recognize his or her personal boundaries about age
  8. recognize when to refer young people or other adults to additional resources
  9. confront his or her own prejudices about age
  10. join others with a common purpose
  11. believe that all persons regardless of age, sex, race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation should be treated with dignity and respect
  12. engage in the process of developing a culture free of age-based oppression
  13. recognize his or her mistakes, but not use them as an excuse for inaction
  14. be responsible for empowering his or her role in a community, particularly as it relates to responding to adultism and adultcentrism
  15. recognize the legal powers and privileges that adults have and which young people are denied
  16. believes that youth can “be youth” and be partners and meaningful participants
  17. is clear about his or her intentions as an adult ally
  18. fosters environments where young people feel comfortable and respected
  19. does not assume that youth only know about “youth issues”
  20. supports young people’s development as meaningful partners and leaders

As important as it is to define what an adult ally is in a positive sense, it is also helpful to understand the boundaries of an adult ally’s role.

An adult ally is NOT…
  • someone with ready-made answers
  • necessarily a counselor, nor are they necessarily trained to deal with crisis situations
  • expected to proceed with an interaction if levels of comfort or personal safety have been violated

Sources

Sources in this post include Washington, J. and Evans, N. J. (1991). “Becoming an Ally,” in N. J Evans and V. A. Wall (eds) Beyond tolerance: Gays, lesbians and bisexuals on campus. Alexandria, VA: American College Personnel Association and (2002) Get the Word Out! Boston: Youth On Board. Some other sources I’ve used for this include this PDF and this PDF, this PDF and this PDF. Learn more here, here and here.

Related Articles