Democratic Education: Why Student Voices Matter in Schools

Democratic Education: Why Student Voices Matter in Schools
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This article was written by Jenna W., an Essex County, NJ Middle School Student.

The following article is a part of a new series, “Listening to Youth Voices in the New Year.” Each Sunday, articles written by Essex County Middle School students will be published, each week relating to a new topic. You can learn more about this series here.

Schools should be more of a democracy. It's the students’ education, and their future. At school, many teachers look at us and don’t invest in the ideas we have. They think of us as immature and unable to make important, responsible decisions. However, there are benefits of providing students a chance to have a say in their education. This year at school I have been given an opportunity to have a voice and it has changed how I view my education. Getting to have a say in decisions in the classroom has changed me, and I want other teachers to give their students a voice, too. The benefits of giving students a chance are huge but teachers seem to push them away.

Democracy in our country is a huge part of our history and it should be implemented into the school system. Teachers and students need to communicate to include the students’ ideas as well as giving the students a strong and well rounded education. Students should have more of a say about their school because they will learn in a way they can understand. School should be a democratic environment because it gives students a chance to express the way they learn best, prepare them for college and give them a chance to use their education to pursue their interests.

Although there are seven different ways to learn, usually only two of them are used in schools. Those two styles are visual and logical. Visual learners are usually people who do well in language arts and excel at remembering faces, images and written phrases. On the other hand, logical learners usually excel in math and enjoy learning by using reasoning and calculations. These may be the styles of teaching that are the most commonly taught, but it doesn’t mean they are the most common form of learning. In fact, according to a university study, though visual learning styles represented about 41.7% of students, the second most common learning style was not logical, but kinesthetic. Logical wasn’t even in the top three. Thus, it would seem reasonable to incorporate learning styles that address the majority of students, rather than only a small minority. That requires having students express themselves on what their learning style is and giving them an opportunity to speak up.

While school’s purpose is to provide every child an education, it is also about preparing them for the real world. Giving students a say in their school environment will prepare them for when they are an adult and they have to make decisions for themselves. When a student is out of school and living in the real world, they aren’t going to be able to just look at a textbook to know what to do. A San Francisco survey taken among high school students showed that only “45 percent of students feel confident about their college and career readiness.” That isn’t even half of the school. A way that students are being prepared for the real world is having opportunities that allow them to express their views and opinions in an educational and confident way. This is significant because, if kids had more of a voice in their school they would learn to feel more confident in their decisions. If students have more power in what occurs in the school, the statistics will improve and more students will be more confident.

A teacher provided a survey to his students, and this helped the teacher to change his teaching method and improve the students scores. “The survey took about five to ten minutes for students to fill out during class...He got the information back, changed how he taught, and changed how he tutored," says Dr. Janice Lombardi, Trinidad Garza principal. “It changed and informed his instruction. As a result, last year, his students' physics scores phenomenally increased. We decided this might be one of our best practices.” This shows that when students are given an opportunity to speak out and say their opinion, they will be more confident and score well on their assessments. Even if students aren’t comfortable speaking in public, there are other ways that they can have a voice and contribute to the school.

A great way to get students involved in having a voice and letting the school know what they feel needs to change is through the website, StuRights. StuRights is a non-profit organization that allows students to say what they feel needs to change in their school. They have an online student’s bill of rights where students can click on the rights that they feel need to be established in their school. Once a school signs up, they can see the percentage of what needs to change and try to put it into action. If students are aware of a way to speak up and they do, it will give them a chance to make decisions and prepare them for the life outside of school. Letting students speak up and have a voice will allow them to be more prepared and confident for a career and for college.

Giving students a say will also help them pursue their interests as part of their education. Schools focus so much on the core subjects of math, science, history, and English, but they don’t focus on the careers that kids want to pursue that don’t involve the core subjects. Arts Education Partnership is an organization that wants to get the arts more involved in the education system. Director Sandra Ruppert of AEP says, “children who had no music and art classes in the 1970s and 1980s may not appreciate their value now. "We have a whole generation of teachers and parents who have not had the advantage of arts in their own education.” She’s right, most schools did not include the arts in their curriculum. However, it's not just teachers’ fault. Since 2008, schools have been experiencing significant budget cuts and cut the arts and music programs without talking to their students. If students had a voice, maybe the decisions would have been different. A democratic education would allow students to vote and collaborate with the teachers to find alternatives to certain classes. If students have more of a say, teachers will be more aware of the subjects that are important to students.

The way that schools currently function provides students little voice. As discussed, there aren't any ways for them to express themselves. In a survey from Indiana's national high school it was reported that, “73 percent said, "I didn't like the school. 61 percent said, I didn't like the teachers. 60 percent said, "I didn't see the value in the work I was being asked to do. About 25 percent said, “No adults in the school cared about me." The fact that this many students are expressing that they feel this way about school is concerning. Every student should be able to feel that the work they are doing in the school is valuable and that their teachers believe in them. schools should be more democratic and give students a voice. If students have a voice, they will be learning in a way they understand best, become more confident and prepared for college, and have a chance to pursue interests related to their career goals.

When students are given a chance to speak up, they will take it seriously. When students are given opportunities to express themselves and have a say in their childhood it gives them a sense of confidence growing up. So that when they are in the real world, they are able to confidently speak their mind and help benefit our society. Our society will benefit from this as it will have more people contributing to ideas that will help make our world better. Giving students a say in school sets them on a a path where they believe that their ideas matter and that they should share them. That way our society will hear brilliant ideas we would have never heard if that one person wasn’t confident enough to speak up. Schools need to give students a chance to have their voices be heard so that they are getting what they need to succeed. Schools should be more of a democratic setting where the students get a chance to decide what happens with their education and their world.

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