Thoughts on Student Voice

I'm a fan of student voice. I believe in having students express themselves in blog posts and in podcasts and in documentaries. I want them to explore their passions and share their ideas. I want to listen to them. And yet, I shy away from most conversations about student voice, because there's this sense that anything less than anarchy is a failure.

People are quick to point out that students need to speak out against the system, break the factory mould and make something new. They should be the hackers changing it from within. I get it. I've felt those things, too. But I've also left those conversations feeling guilty about asking a kid to sit down and get to work. I've had moments where I forgot that listening to them doesn't mean I have lose my own voice. I know a thing or two about learning and that's not bad. Sometimes I get to be the expert.

I think it's critical to understand that student voice isn't a singular entity, either. There is a certain set of talking points to #stuvoice and these ideas often fail to encourage students to articulate something that goes against the rail-against-the-system style of progressive ed.

I had a girl in tears today talking about her family. She said, "If I could live here, I would. This is where people care." I know, I know. It's a factory. It's broken. It's industrial. But it's also a refuge for some kids. It's also less broken than a broken home in some cases. Sometimes it's a place where, within the brokenness, beauty breaks through.

Two years ago, I had a student write a blog post called, "Kids Hate School, Because Kids Hate Everything." It was slightly snarky, unpolished and honest. The main premise was that 7-8th graders hate all institutions: school, family, church, etc. That's part of being that age. So, maybe we should take it with a grain of salt. She ended it with, "someday we'll look back and realize that we didn't have all the answers."

When I tweeted this out, I had accusations that I had prompted the post (or even written it) or that the kid was indoctrinated. They called it "conservative" and a sign that kids lacked true agency. A fellow blogger even accused the student of having Stockholm Syndrome.

In other words, student voice can only be student voice when it advocates a set of policies that are popular in the ed tech, unschooling, PBL communities. Real student voice is messy. It's chaotic. It isn't a singular chorus. It's a cacophony of noise - often immature, often profound, typically authentic and varying from kid to kid.

The bigger question should be, "Am I listening even if they're saying something I disagree with?"