What in the World is Slave-Tag?


Thursday Student Voice convened a group of students from around the city of Philadelphia in a Student Voice Convention to launch a national tour. We didn't choose the city by accident--Philadelphia was the birthplace of our nation. It was here, 227 years ago that another convention created an American government for the people and by the people and it is here in 2016 that students discussed how to make an education system for the students and by the students.

We began the day with Philadelphia's superintendent, Dr. William Hite. He spoke about the importance of having your voice heard, especially in the conversations about the current problems facing the city.

The problems are many. The city is facing massive budget cuts that are threatening to shut schools down; students are acutely aware and ready to fight for their schools. And many of those schools are decrepit and falling apart. We heard from Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym about an exploding school boiler which lit an employee on fire.

In conversation with students, we heard about a "game" played in an African-American History class:


In an attempt to teach slavery, one Philadelphia teacher created an activity where he designated certain students in the class as slaves and certain students as slave owners. The goal: catch the slaves.

Philadelphia's school system may need many improvements, but one thing was made absolutely clear: the students have a passion and dedication to their schools and communities that is inspiring. It didn't take long for students to determine that there was something more than a little bit wrong with "slave-tag," and they spoke out.

In Philadelphia high schools, protests are a common occurrence. Students from all walks of life are aware of how policies at the state and district level affect their ability to learn.

Students are supportive. One student explained how her school had their student council taken away. The other students in the room were shocked such a thing could happen. During the rest of the summit, other students helped the girl brainstorm how to make the case to adults in her school to get the student council back.

Young people help started this country in Philadelphia; young people here today are active change agents in their communities.

Throughout the tour I will write these little posts. They will be done on the fly, whenever I can catch a minute to breathe. Don't expect prolific manuscripts, but do look for student stories. Don't expect complicated prose, but do look for a perspective that maybe you hadn't considered before.

This tour is about confronting norms. It's normal for students to sit in a classroom taking direction from a teacher; today they designed their own conversations by voting on the Student Bill of Rights. It's normal for students to be passive consumers of their education; today they were active co-designers. It is normal for students to be voiceless; today we ran out of time because the conversations were too rich.

Today, we helped raise the consciousness of Philadelphia teenagers from over a half dozen schools about the role they can play in improving education. This weekend we head to Iowa where presidential candidates are gearing up to make the case as to why their vision for America is the right one. Let's see how many of them talk about education.

Be on the look-out for more stories from Philadelphia students as part of our Students of America campaign on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. And follow us on Snapchat and Periscope, @Stuvoice, to get a look at each stop.

The movement is live. #StuVoice