I’ve written a few stories about civics education over the years. One interview subject pointed out that while schools are expected to educate students to become active citizens in our democracy, our schools are run like dictatorships, with all the power in the hands of a few.
It’s a jarring truth, one that many educators and school leaders have tried to remedy. Traditionally, many schools allow students to participate in decision-making, albeit decisions with low stakes, like a new food in the cafeteria or the theme of the school dance. Student government and even student school board representatives are some other avenues for expression.
But students crave authentic involvement and engagement. They know when their opinion, views, and reactions are taken seriously. And some need to be asked in different ways. Some districts are changing the way they engage students in the governance of their schools. Students give input on meaningful decisions, like scheduling changes, class offerings, and homework loads.
Some include students in their equity efforts. One recent Magna Awards winner had students give their teachers an equity audit of their classes. They are making sure all students are included in these efforts, not just the high-achieving or the best behaved.
In this month’s cover story, “Student Voice,” Contributing Editor Glenn Cook visits a rural South Carolina school district to profile a program that gives students a chance to express themselves.
Cook quotes a 2019 report from the Center for American Progress: “Students have the greatest stake in their education but little to no say in how it is delivered. This lack of agency represents a lost opportunity to accelerate learning and prepare students for a world in which taking initiative and learning new skills are increasingly paramount to success.”
Not only will student agency improve their lives, but school leaders also will gain valuable information. Find ways to listen to your students formally and informally. You may be surprised by what you hear.
As always, I welcome your comments and suggestions.
Until next issue. . .
Kathleen Vail, Editor-in-Chief
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