Student voice is often discussed as an entity that needs to be brought to existence by a person authority. However, student voice exists whether we give it the space or not, hear it or not, student voice is there. #EduColor chat a few weeks ago focused on student voice and activism, and in prepping for the chat, #EduColor members discussed the concept of “empowering” student voice. Melinda Anderson says that we shouldn’t think of the concept of student voice as “empowering student voice” because that might imply that “they have none and what teachers or others do can inculcate this quality”.
Melinda reminded us that “Students are already empowered. What teachers and activists and other adults can do is help them see what they already possess, offer but not mandate ways to channel, provide space in classrooms and schools for them to build / grow / refine skills in this area”.
Her words reminded me that it’s important to think about the ways where we can help to support, channel and grow student voice in and out of the classroom. But also had me reflecting back on Michael Fielding’s work about student voice and how he stresses the importance of evaluating the conditions for student voice. Fielding has some great ideas here that we need to consider, and my favourite two categories to look at (although they should all be assessed) is Systems & Organizational Culture.
It is within evaluating these conditions in and out of the classroom that we become better informed on how we’re able to provide the support, nurturing and growth for student voice.
Fielding’s work is prominent when it comes to research on student voice but the one critique that I have of his work is he is not explicit about giving particular space for marginalized student voice and activism. Often students of colour’s activism is not welcome and in fact discouraged in schools and on campus. So it’s important to think about how we can support their voice, knowing that they might face harsh consequences if they use it. Relating back to the conditions, how can we take part in helping build a system, or better yet, demolish a system, that would in turn provide the appropriate condition to cultivate the voice of students of colour?
If you’re interested to read more about student voice + activism, check out the January #EduColor chat storify.
And if you happen to be in Philly January 30, Xian, Melinda and I along with High School youth activists will be holding a panel on cultivating student voice & activism at EduCon.