A few years back, I was talking with one of my students. Somehow the conversation led to me asking what people in his neighborhood thought of our school. Very emphatically he exclaimed: “Nobody in my neighborhood knows about this school. This school’s for white people.” I learned then that if you wanted to know about how your school measures up in terms of equity and access just ask your students.
Over the weekend, I attended EdCamp Pittsburgh and had the opportunity to co-facilitate a discussion on diversity and equity in education. This is a topic that forms the basis for the work that I do each day. Allowing every student to have an equitable opportunity at a quality education should be the primary objective of education in this country. Truth be told: “It’s not.” I was excited to engage with educators who have realized that this creating equitable opportunities for students isn’t just another topic, it’s THE topic. What I wasn’t expecting was being graced by the presence of two students who attended Sci-Tech. As each person in the circle was asked to talk about the reason that they had decided to join the conversation, the students showed up. What ensued was a very articulate and critical assessment of how their school measures up in terms of equity across the lines of gender, race and class. The voices of these students were spoken with the poise and clarity that only someone who could have
They discussed their remorse for having had access to an abundance of materials and quality teachers while students in the same district were relegated to using second-hand materials in classroom led by struggling teachers. One student admitted that the voices of girls in the classroom were heard far less and the voices of students of color were all but silenced. Although I’m sure that those who teach and run this school are very well-meaning and likely do not mean for this happen, there is so much that can be done with this information. All you have to do to get this information is ask a student.
Hearing these students speak, I continue to wonder: “Has anyone ever asked them what they thought about their school?” I am heartened by the fact that they were in the presence of one of the upper administrators of the Pittsburgh Public Schools while they spoke. When engaging in conversations about schools, we should be asking ourselves: “Whose voices are missing or not being represented?” In conversations about improving our schools in any number of ways, the voices of the people in the communities are very rarely asked what they think— least of which are the voices of students. The students exist in these spaces every day. They are more aware of the pulse of the school than any of us give them credit for. If we want to create more equitable spaces for our students to learn and grow as people, then we need to bring their voices to the table and start asking them how they feel about their schooling. The truth is that their voice matters most of all. After all, isn’t it their education? We spend countless hours and dollars treating the symptoms of a problem that we haven’t even identified in the first place. All this time, energy and money would have been better spent if we would have just asked the students.
For More Information:
If you are interested in learning more about this topic and how you can bring more student voice to the places that you teach, I highly recommend reading Chris Emdin’s work on Cogenerative Circles in the book For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood— and the Rest of Y’all too.