Bringing Student "Voice" Into Education

On Friday, March 22, 2013, The Washington Post published an article about the "The Independent Project," a youth-driven initiative whose mission is to help students design their own schools. For some readers, it may seem that this movement is merely a direct result of the utter failure of schools designed by adults, and that the primacy of the student’s desire to get rid of grades and testing is merely a direct result of the utter failure of a movement that has left far too many students, and most of their teachers, way behind. Not only are we falling behind in attendance and graduation rates, but also in passion; in the desire of young people to participate fully in this thing that we have come to call "becoming educated.”  For me, this Project is a result of all of these failures, and of much, much more.

The guiding principle of the Project is to give students a "voice."  This will not only provide a means of including them, it will become the actual means of educating them. Most of what young people now engage in at school, once they can decode letters and numbers, is a process of disciplining and challenging their minds. Sadly, much too much of this is still done through the primitive act of memorization. In contrast, higher order brain activity is a process that advances creative problem solving, and relies on coherent communication.

Young minds should be as heavily engaged in acquiring self-knowledge, and other-knowledge, as in acquiring knowledge of the natural and abstract worlds of science and math. Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the literacy of being able to read others and to respond appropriately; in short, it is about communication…it is about voice.  The specific spirit inside each student has a specific voice, and that voice grows and is strengthened by the opportunity to exercise it in discourse and inquiry, which is the true meaning of being liberally educated. The outcome of this will be that when young people have an opportunity to develop strong voices, they will become strong leaders - of themselves, and of one another. How poetic, then, that the groundswell for this right-minded approach to educational reform comes from those who will tolerate being voiceless no more.

To watch The Independent Project in action, view the video below on students designing their own school: