What does real student voice look like? Like,
for real student voice. I’m not talking about forcing kids to come attend a board meeting, and making them stay up past their bedtime just to read from a card that an adult wrote for them with the promise of pizza. Let that baby go to bed! I mean seriously, when is the last time we really met young people where they were and fully engaged them? Again, not talking about where we inject our political leanings on them—I’m looking at both the anti-reformer and reformer crowd here. I’m talking about actually sitting down, asking questions, listening and then offering the support they are asking for. The antiquated model of “lifting student voice” is children working to serve adults and we need to completely flip that.
A kid being paraded at a school board meeting = a kid working for adults.A kid being displayed front and center for a funder = a kid working for adults. We need to fix the equation.
An adult listening and supporting what students say and what students show us through their actions = adults working for kids. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF-Rg53V44A Imagine if we thought of empowering student voice as an opportunity to instill leadership. What if we built a capacity for leadership in our students and then we just followed them? How do we do this? I’m talking about spending time in their classes, learning about how they get to school, better understanding what they like to do and we document it. The things that students need become evident quite quickly when we truly elevate their voices. Doesn’t that seem more authentic? Doesn’t that feel different than when we, the adults, have already chosen the issue we want them to focus on? Young people often have a lot say, we just struggle to hear them a lot of the time. If the way we’ve committed to helping students has no trace of their actual voices, then we are missing quite a few valuable opportunities. Let’s look at doing things differently in service of young people. We, as adult education leaders should be listening to what students need and then we work for them. Let’s actually work for kids.
Charles Cole III is an educator and media producer focused on the advancement of all youth of color, but more specifically Black males. The passion comes from his own experiences growing up without proper support. His life’s goal is to better the communities he grew up in through his work. He has served as a social worker, a director for Teach For America, the vice chair of the ...