October 6, 2020

Critical Civic Inquiry: Students Master Academic Content Through Rigorous Action Research Projects | by Ben Kirshner

Youth organizing groups in communities of color, often working in partnership with adults, offer rich and transformative contexts for young people’s learning. Young people investigate damaging or unjust education policies, develop promising solutions, and press for policy change in their schools and communities. In Colorado, for example, members of Padres y Jóvenes Unidos (PJU) celebrated the passage of a Colorado state law that dismantled the “school to prison” pipeline and worked with the Denver Public Schools to launch new restorative justice practices after a multi-year organizing campaign ( Groups like PJU offer learning environments where young people come together to share stories, identify injustices, and organize campaigns to influence policies that affect their lives.   More difficult to find, however, are examples where schools nurture robust civic learning of this kind […]
October 6, 2020

Dear Educators, Stop Being Jerks and Amplify Student Voice | by Carlos Hipolito-Delgado

Sometimes educators can be jerks, particularly when youth are trying to teach decision-makers (school board members, school administrators, or lawmakers) about the lived experience of young people in schools. Decision-makers can be dismissive, calling youth “cute” or “cool.” They can also be downright rude and ignore student voice altogether. In fact, the more the voices of youth seek to disrupt social structures, challenge the status quo or rescript the dominant narrative, the more likely decision-makers are to react negatively. In other cases, educators in the roles of coaches or mentors can let down youth. I’ve seen it happen where students put together an awesome youth participatory action research (YPAR) or action civics project. The project is well-conceived, the research is comprehensive, and the implications are compelling. Unfortunately, too little time […]
August 1, 2020

Critical Civic Inquiry Curriculum Supports Transformative Student Voice | by Dane Stickney

For one of the largest high schools in a major western U.S. city, homecoming turned more nightmare than celebration, as young female students reported several instances of sexual assault. Enraged students called for something to be done. The school’s student voice and leadership team conducted research on the issue and proposed a solution: a comprehensive health class that educated students on healthy sexual relationships. The team and principal have met regularly — even as learning went online during the COVID-19 school closures. The principal has allocated money to hire a full-time health teacher. At a large high school in an eastern suburb, students gathered during their lunch period to discuss issues of discrimination based on race, gender, and sexual orientation that directly impacted them. They organized into a student voice […]
April 13, 2020

Finding Voice, Taking Action: Sociopolitical Development for Middle Schoolers and Beyond | by Dane Stickney

College pennants hang on the walls of a charter middle school and shout the names of academic institutions far from this western US city. “HARVARD,” one reads in big, block letters. “MICHIGAN,” “TEXAS,” “WILLIAM & MARY.” The charter school has gone all-in on college. Students start the day by gathering in a large room the school has named “the Quad” – an homage to the open areas on college campuses. The principal – a White woman who attended a prestigious university in the intermountain west – leads a daily chant. “Why are we here?” she asks. “To strive for college!” respond the 350 students, roughly 95 percent of whom identify as Latinx and qualify for free or reduced lunch. One student, a 6th-grader named Jorge, makes his way to his […]
April 13, 2020

Student Voice: Transformative or Symbolic? | by Ginnie Logan

Francis is the student body president. She has a 4.3 GPA. She is enrolled in honors and AP classes and has gained early admission to Stanford. She is a regular contributor to the school newspaper and a member of the varsity tennis team. She has also won 2 state championships in speech and debate. As part of her presidential responsibilities she chairs the prom and senior trip committees. As student body president she often meets with the principal to update him with the student body pulse. Francis works hard and is determined to use her leadership as a platform for enhancing the quality of her and other students educational experiences.  Josephine is a sophomore. She is enrolled in one honors class and has a 2.9 GPA. While she plans on […]
Students Making Policy