Education: not ready to listen?

Guest post By Adora Svitak | Cross posted on Adora's blog

Editor's Note: This is the third post published at The Innovative Educator on this topic. The first post was Do we really want to listen to our children?  The second post was Listen to the students before it's too late.

The customer knows best.” It’s an adage seemingly old as time (for us young’uns, anyway). While it’s not always the case (as anyone who has worked an intense over-the-phone customer service job before may know), it’s certainly always valuable for businesses to listen to what clients are saying–whether surveys, market research, or feedback cards, many businesses have some structure in place to listen to their customers. And public feedback can have an important impact–Bank of America cancelled its $5-a-month debit card fee before it even began due to customer backlash.
In almost every area of the private and public sectors (think of representatives meeting with constituents or city hall meetings), there are ways for “customers”–those receiving the services or being represented–to make their voices heard. So why should education be any different?
Education? you might think. Surely there are those school board meetings or PTAs? But a crucial voice is missing in education: that of the student’s. How often do classroom teachers ask students to provide them with feedback on how their teaching could be improved so students learn better? When was the last time administrators sat down with students and gave them decision-making power or at least input–no, not just over the theme of the Homecoming Dance or how to decorate the school for the holidays, but important issues like curriculum, required courses, or assessment?
I’m asking these questions because of an email from a prestigious education membership organization that my mom recently received in response to talks about a potential book I was hoping to write (that would bring issues of student voice, reciprocal learning, and education technology to the forefront). It said that based on their research, the education community “is not yet ready to receive the message from a student.”
If the education community is unable or unwilling to receive a message about education from a student, I think we have problems. We’d find it unacceptable if our representatives suddenly started refusing to meet with constituents or if companies like Bank of America kept on charging ridiculous fees despite public uproar. Yet we accept that education doesn’t want to hear from students? We are the “customers” of our nation’s schools. It’s in our interest to learn in the best way we can–many of my fellow students have plenty of wise insights that I think could help change education for the better–but that simply won’t happen if the adults in the room are covering their ears.
A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora Svitak (now 14) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy and education transformation! Adora just started The Student Union  a group she started to bring student voices to education reform. She believes “Students + education leaders = positive change :) If you’re a student with insights to share about your education or education leader (teacher, policy maker, educational service district administrator, librarian, media specialist, whoever can have an impact on kids’ education), ask to join”
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