Youth Rights, Dignity, and the Anti-Democratic Values of Public Schooling (My Response)

I just finished reading Youth Rights, Dignity, and the Anti-Democratic Values of Public Schooling, an awesome post written by defitzwater, a teenager writing for the Cooperative Catalyst. In short, the author reminds us “compulsory education creates apathy, harms our ability to engage in real education, and actively harms democracy.” But it doesn’t have to. Later in the post, the author asks us to, “Imagine a world where you can spend your time learning about what you love. Imagine a world where you invite adults to teach you. Imagine a world where you have the inalienable rights of a human being.” A word of caution is offered: the world we imagine “can never be achieved as long as our education is dictated by a state hierarchy and their corporate partners.”

I read this post with great interest. Native Americans teach us when the leader isn’t leading, walk away. The author says the same thing. Students have the choice (within some limits) to walk away. And many do. Even if they are physically present, their heart is elsewhere. Just seems to me there is a much better solution. I was compelled to write a letter to school boards, encouraging them to do just that: find a better way to engage the right people in the decisions that affect learners. I used the current budget beast to make the point. Here’s what I had to say:

Friends (on the School Board),

Budgets are important, I suppose, but I’d ask you to consider if you are missing the point behind them. For example, how important are budgets when compared to the importance of listening to and engaging the young people we serve in THEIR learning. To what extent are THEY involved in the decisions you make on their behalf, especially the closed door decisions? Please take the time to read what a teenager has to say about the direction school boards — and authority figures — across this country have taken them. And consider the real options we leave them when it comes to learning. In my view (and I believe in the view of more and more young people), leaders who have no love for those they serve lack the consummate courage to look beyond the fear they hold within. Let me encourage you to SHOW US YOUR LOVE and stand up to the fear that impedes our progress, to remember who you willingly chose to serve (hint: it is not the Board of Supervisors, the state DOE, the governor, or the federal government), read this teenager’s post (AND the comments!), and then DO something we would be proud of.

BTW, there are some in your midst at this very moment (adults and young people) who can intelligently and objectively help you through what must seem to you a crisis (budget). Some have already offered only to be politely refused, largely because fear and inertia have a stranglehold on the status quo authority holds so dear. It is not the guys and girls at the top of your hierarchy who will make the wisest choices. Like it or not, they have agendas and conflicts of interest. Instead, it is those who must live with the consequences and within the boundaries of those choices. Who are they? I’d begin with STAFF (yes, the janitor or the bus driver probably has far more insight than you could possibly imagine), TEACHERS (who must deal each day with two masters — their heart (serving the learning needs of their students) and their head (tending to NCLB assessment minutia and administrative fear-mongering tied to power wielding and keeping a job)), FAMILIES (who are saddened school leaders think the only answer to any problem is to throw more money at it — yes, an ‘equalized’ rate has the same effect on quality of life as a higher tax rate — it drives DOWN family budgets by taking money away from them and, lest you forget, away from those same young people we chose to serve), and STUDENTS (the heart and soul of why we are here in the first place). Then talk with those who have opted to make the requisite sacrifices to take their children out of public schools in favor of private schools, tutors, homeschools, and the like. Together, they will tell us what’s important, and what’s not so important, if we will but take the time to genuinely listen — and respond — to what they have to say.

You already know I will help. As an advocate and champion for our young people. In one capacity or another. Come. What. May.

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