Monday, May 30, 2016

HYH: Student Voices and Lawrence, Mass

The fourth episode of the podcast Have You Heard has been out for a while, and as usual I am way behind because I can read or type under almost any circumstances, but listening is a Whole Other Thing. So here we go, theoretically better late than never.

The episode features Jennifer Berkshire and Aaron French on their first road trip, for which they head to Lawrence, Massachusetts. Berkshire notes that while the ed debates are "all about the kids," it's rare that the kids' voices are actually heard. And Lawrence makes an interesting destination because the state took over the schools about five years ago.

We find our intrepid podcasters in the Boys and Girls Club of Lawrence, surrounded by students who are writing responses to the question, "What is education?"

But what they're really talking about is finding a voice, and expressing that voice through writing. "I was angry about a lot of things," says one student, in particular noting "decisions that were made for me" without ever involving her in the process. This is a student-run workshop, even though there are some adults present.

"You don't get many opportunities to experience something bigger than yourself," says one writer in reference to an open-mic night at a local spot, and that really hits me as I listen, because school really ought to provide many of the Bigger Than Yourself opportunities. This is one of the less-often-mentioned aspects of test-driven standards-centered ed reform-- the whole education process has been shrunk down from the business of finding things in the world that are bigger than yourself to a tiny, cramped activity that isn't bigger than anybody.

I'm also struck by how specific this is. Students are largely Dominican immigrants who find themselves in the poorest city in Massachusetts, but they are surprisingly focused on fixing the city, rather than escaping or destroying it. The program addresses turning writers into advocates and activists, and one student talks about pushing back against a system that is set to turn them into robots.

And as an English teacher, I can get really excited about students who see authentic connections between their voice and their writing and their way of being in the world. Even in a classroom that is not dominated by test-centered instruction, it can be hard to get students to see writing as a means of authentic expression and not just some dumb thing the teacher makes you do.

These students surveyed over 600 students in Lawrence about education (imagine that-- surveying students about education) and created results that include a short film (a podcast listener has added a link). But even the description of that film is compelling. You can find it at the bottom of this post-- and it speaks to all of us who work in a classroom, not just reformsters.

This is a great episode, and it's exciting to hear students speak with such strength about finding and using their own voices. I'll make it easy for you to listen-- it's about ten minutes of your time well spent.

1 comment:

  1. You are absolutely right about the lack of student voices in discussions about education.

    I find that the Hechinger Report pays some attention to students. At least I can find stories there where real students are quoted. Here is an example: