Dave Winters sent me a very nice message today thanking me for my TEDxDesMoines talk, Extracurricular Empowerment (Getting Beyond Fear). But what was even more fun was getting to see the compilation video of his students’ genius hour projects at Cascade Middle School. This is a touching, inspiring video and is a great idea for any school that wants to capture and share the enthusiasm that can accompany student-driven learning. Happy viewing!
Paul Sinanis, middle school student, said:
I don’t understand the point of school. What’s the point? Everything that I am interested in and connects to my world doesn’t ever come up in school, so what’s the point?
George Couros said:
Sometimes when the statement is made, “it is not about technology, it is about pedagogy”, you then hear the roars of approval, and off we go on our merry way with nothing changing for many students.
In reality sometimes it is about the technology, and the opportunities that it provides that were not there before for a student.
The 7th graders at the International School of Brussels had an entire day of technology- and Internet-suffused awesomeness yesterday. I was asked to send them a short kickoff video for their day since they had previously watched my TEDxDesMoines talk. Here’s what I sent them…
Without having seen the exact survey questions, here are some quick reactions I have to these data…
- Why on earth would students say they feel valued at school? In most schools, students are told what to do nearly every minute of every school day, are generally treated as passive recipients of whatever adults foist on them, have their thoughts and opinions routinely and blatantly ignored or dismissed when it comes to day-to-day operations, and are punished whenever they deviate from organizational compliance structures. The number of schools in which students have significant input into things that actually matter is miniscule. But, hey, it’s all about the kids and we care.
- Kids are bored. Gallup boredom data reinforce the Quaglia boredom data, as do the tidal waves of anecdotes from anyone you want to ask about their school experience. But we don’t seem to care enough to do anything about it.
- Everyone’s a learner, everyone’s a teacher. Online we exist within interconnected, interdependent webs of learning and teaching. But not in school.
Your thoughts and reactions?
Data source: How to help kids find their aspirations
We’ve got to decide if our vision for educational technology is around replication or empowerment. And if it’s about empowerment, then guess what? We’ve got to give up the things that we do that feed replication. We can’t hang on to all of those and get to where we’re trying to go.
What are we going to give up?
But if you go look at the application announcement, it turns out that the student participant on the State Board of Education is a non-voting member. So much for having a real voice… [sigh]
I’m not trying to pick on DE; the non-voting status of the student is encoded in Iowa statute. But it’s worth noting that, along with student councils in schools and student representatives to school boards, these types of positions mostly seem to be a way for us adults to feel good about ourselves for including students. We pat ourselves on the back for ‘listening to student voice’ and point to the token representation to say, “See? We care!” when in actuality it’s just a sop, a meaningless thing given for appeasement instead of truly honoring needs or meeting demands: “Look, you get to sit with us and listen! We might even occasionally let you speak!”
As adults we’re not willing to give students actual decision-making responsibility. We’re not willing to give them power and authority over anything that’s really meaningful. Instead, we give them these artificial input opportunities and then exercise our freedom to completely ignore them – because they’re minors, you know, and don’t really know what’s best for them or the organizations in which they’re embedded – thus patronizing and demeaning the very youth that we’re supposedly honoring.
If we want to give students real voice and real agency, that means providing them with actual decision-making power (e.g., a vote) and something meaningful upon which to decide. What do students learn from tokenistic, inauthentic, powerless participation opportunities?
I challenge us to try this locally. Let’s give a group of students majority voting power over a school’s behavior and discipline policies. Or what courses are offered. Or the daily schedule. Does this scare us to death? If so, what does that say about us?
I think the words were important but when it comes from someone who didn’t write them and it’s positioned as if it is, it becomes disingenuous and very pretentious. . . . [L]et’s advocate for student voice but not fake ones. Our students do have a voice. Most of them are childlike, full of child like ideas and most aren’t as eloquent as adults because they aren’t adults. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing, helping them develop that voice. Yet we do have some that are ready for prime time and we should provide ways for them to share. I know some districts have had students keynote. I think that’s great, as long as the core of their story is their own, not the districts or their teachers. I’d way rather listen to a student share a less polished message that was their own than using them like a puppet to further other adults’ agendas.
Student voice without what Seymour Papert calls “kid power” is worse than empty rhetoric, it is a lie. . . . Too much of what is offered as “student voice” offers a false sense of agency, power, or freedom to the powerless.
Both posts are well worth reading. (hint, hint)
We need to stop putting words in the mouths of children and pretending that they’re theirs. It’s disingenuous and calculating and an insult to our youth.
danah boyd says:
But why should youth not be allowed to participate in public life? Do paternalistic, age-specific technology barriers really protect or benefit teens?
One of the most crucial aspects of coming of age is learning how to navigate public life. The teenage years are precisely when people transition from being a child to being an adult. There is no magic serum that teens can drink on their 18th birthday to immediately mature and understand the world around them. Instead, adolescents must be exposed to – and allowed to participate in – public life while surrounded by adults who can help them navigate complex situations with grace. They must learn to be a part of society, and to do so, they must be allowed to participate.
Rather than trying to protect teens from all fears and risks that we can imagine, let’s instead imagine ways of integrating them constructively into public life. The key to doing so is not to create technologies that reinforce limitations but to provide teens and parents with the mechanisms and information needed to make healthy decisions. Some young people may be ready to start navigating broad audiences at 13; others are not ready until they are much older. But it should not be up to technology companies to determine when teens are old enough to have their voices heard publicly. Parents should be allowed to work with their children to help them navigate public spaces as they see fit. And all of us should be working hard to inform our younger citizens about the responsibilities and challenges of being a part of public life.