Last week I read an article that riled me up in such a way I had to take a walk and
shake my head and call my mom and vent for an hour about how screwed up
everything is and the system and how are adults so blind, Mom. How are adults
I don't know about you guys, but my mother raised me to believe that
my voice mattered. Even as a teenager. I spent my adolescence speaking on
behalf of my peer group about everything from Columbine to
"popularity" to motherhood. Yes, I spoke about motherhood (on CBS' "Women to Women") before I was a mother. Because my perspective as a daughter was
A great mother recognizes that in the
same way a great teacher recognizes his/her students. In the same way, a great system recognizes the validity of ALL
voices, great and small.
I spent my teen years advocating for teenage
voices, including my own, and now, all these years later, I've found myself
coming full circle, remembering what it was like then, but also seeing what
it is like now—with my son and his peer group, with some of the teenagers I
have had the opportunity to work with, listen to and read about.
"Adults don't understand us," was our
mantra and, as an adult I can now say with authority—we were right.
"We're supposed to get wiser with age and
This was the conversation my mother and I had after reading the
article that I am about to quote like whoa because the entire thing is required
reading for all.
I have often wondered with the PTA isn't called the PTSA for
this reason. (S for the students obvs.) Perhaps I would be more interested in
getting involved in our school if kids were part of the conversation. Because
they should be.
We recently had a
school beautification day which led to the chopping down of several trees in
the play yard. Trees that children played on and adored. The kids were furious.
They created a petition and everyone signed it.
But it was too
The choice was not
there choice to make and therein lies one of the fatal flaws with our education
system. Beyond the obvious fiscal hardship, the
powers that be don't get it.
One cannot strip the
power from the people they are serving and expect said people to flourish. We
do not value our youth the way we should, plain and simple. We discount their
awareness, wisdom and fight.
Archer, who has had the same teacher two years in
a row, told me earlier this year that "this was the year he realized his
power" at school, and I credit his teacher for 100% of that. Archer's
teacher allows his students to disagree with grades so long as they provide an
explanation—and lets students bend rules according to how best they work and
learn. Every day at pickup, the parents have to pull their students from the
classroom. They literally don't want to leave.
It is a stunning example, and at an LA public
school at that. (I recently interviewed Archer's teacher for an article
soon-to-be-published because he truly gets it in a way very few do.)
And his students are flourishing.
Volunteering in his class has been eye-opening. The kids can write better than
most people my age and they are fearless speakers and peer advocates. And his
students go above and beyond what they are asked to do on a consistent
Why? Because a great leader does not demand to be followed. Instead, he/she listens. He/she recognizes the power of thirty
voices and harmonizes with them.
Because, here's the thing: We cannot elevate our student body
without allowing them a say in their lives. We cannot tell our young people to
use their voices while simultaneously unplugging the microphone. And demeaning them.
Which happens everywhere and every day in ALL states.
To me, it is a crime that in America, as children and young
adults rise every morning to pledge their allegiance to the flag, with justice for all, they are systematically being
denied a say in an education that is rightfully theirs.
In the words of teen advocate, Hiatt Allen of Kentucky in his
recent op-ed for Kentucky.com:
I just hope that he, like so many adults, doesn't grow up and
forget what it's like to be a teenager. That he doesn't forget the importance of
valuing young voices, in giving them a say in their (and OUR) lives.
In the meantime, perhaps "teach
them well and let them unteach us" is more accurate.