Author: Shella Zelenz
As educators and parents, we are often told that it is our job to control the children in our care. We are told that we are irresponsible if we do not. We fear the consequences of allowing students to solve their challenges without intervention. We are told that it is our duty to decide for them what they need to know and how they need to learn it. We may even believe that all of this is fact.
Simultaneously, we are controlled just the same by administrators and government figures who decide for us what we can and cannot do in our classrooms. It angers us. It frustrates us. It makes us feel smothered. It disrespects our knowledge and makes us feel that we are given no respect or dignity. It makes us even angrier to add corporations to the list of heavies lording over our every move in our classrooms. Imagine how the students must feel.
What? Did she just say what I think she said? How do the students feel? Interesting how that isn't a question we ever ask or even give ourselves permission to ask. Perhaps you have, but you feel your hands are tied. Maybe you were like me, relating to the students and feeling the entire situation was unfair for all of you. What other choice do you have? The parents push you to meet their needs, which can go for or against student interest. That is the quandary of our society. When are students considered persons who deserve a voice in their own education? Is there a set age? Is it a maturity? Is it a level of intelligence or establishment of basic skills? What would happen if the students started their educational journey in charge from the start?
Oh I know she didn't just say that! Yes, actually, I did. Students are the voiceless in education. They feel just as you do when you are controlled in your experience. They feel frustrated and angry. Some are so eager to be in school that they will thrive at anything handed to them. However, there are many who feel oppressed. Their behaviors are a result of the way that they are respected. Yes, I said respected. This is a tricky term that is often seriously misused in our society.
What does it mean to be respected? Respect means that your voice is valued. Respect means that your personhood is acknowledged. Respect means you have the right to protect your physical being from unwanted invasion. Now, consider what behaviors adults often do to children and how they don't align well with these definitions of respect. How do teachers feel when their physical beings are infringed upon? How do teachers feel when their voice isn't valued? How do teachers feel when their personhood isn't acknowledged? That's the point.
What can be done to change this? Well, for starters, classroom management has to be student generated. What does that mean? That means that the students have to select what rules they feel are important to them. They should have the opportunity to vote on them as a collective body. They should be entitled to nominating consequences for infractions and to vote collectively on the nominated consequences. They should have democracy. For how else will they ever understand what it means to live in one, if they never experience one?
Imagine the impact that would have on our future society, if all graduates were fully aware and skilled at utilizing and implementing democracy? How would that impact what we see in our country now if we had all been educated in schools that treated us that way?