I wish this was more of an argument and less of a confused ramble. Always in process.
I read a piece this morning from 2014, published in the Post, written by Sam Levin, a student: “Students don’t need a ‘voice.’ Here’s what they really need.” It’s one of many in this style. I’ve written one for EdSurge. Follow KQED’s student voice tag. You’ll see the trend. There’s plenty of good student voices pushing ‘Student Voices’ while also challenging the assumptions of it – the limitations of Student Voice as a sort of brand for change.
“Voice” – giving voice – “agency” – giving agency. It’s almost boring, trendy, buzzy, devoid of meaning.
Levin seems to agree – he claims that voice tends to mean adding students to a school board (voteless) or asking them what they think of a new hire. This style of voice-giving is reminiscent of a splendid tweet rising out of Audrey Watter’s twitter yesterday:
"Personalized learning" is like Burger King's slogan "have it your way." "Hold the onions" does not radically transform your fast food meal
— Audrey Watters (@audreywatters) April 28, 2016
Replace “Personalized learning” with “Student Voice” and you have what Levin seems to be chasing down. Student Councils, Senate Committees, Trustee presentations – they don’t transform the structure. They’re onions at burger king.
It reminds me of sitting quietly and passively in a class, in a row, learning about Marxism by someone really fricken radical. Who preaches about “the dialectic” while standing in the front of a room, with butts in seats, who are working for the test. Which, dear friends, feels ironic. You’re not breaking out of the fundamental problem. Like “Half Nelson” – that creepy gosling movie where change just can’t happen cause we’re all stuck in it:
So Levin pushed for action in his local school. He helped create a semester long experience where a cohort of 8 students guided their own learning, asking questions, pursuing answers. Independent. It’s a splendid high school experiment. There’s many of them. But it’s action. It’s action working in oscillation with voice. Escalations of voice working in concert with action. Voice as the prompt for action. Conversation turning to experimentation, prototyping. Public chats turned into models.
Watch a bit of their documentary here…
I think what I’m trying to say. And trying to apply to Higher Ed. Is that “student voice” is almost an embarrassing phrase because it often feels pitifully unactioned. It’s something people say that gives the pretense of ‘radical’ but… is missing that thing that makes it relevant.
It doesn’t often feel like the late 60’s, where ed felt subversive in voice and deed – where radical experiments cropped up everywhere. Student voice as it sits almost feels sad, like we’re fighting the battle lost decades ago when the radical experiments shut down and tightened belts. Even if that video two paragraphs up feels so hopeful and full of life.
So once again, how might change occur? Who has the power to make change happen? How does it happen? Don’t give voice. Don’t ‘give’ anything really. Avoid language filled with passive transactions. But work with. Trust process. Be present and alongside. Encourage questions. Experiment. Be biased towards action. Frightening action.
Humanize. Humanize. Humanize. Here’s Freire in Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
Men and women rarely admit their fear of freedom openly, however, tending rather to camouflage it— sometimes unconsciously— by presenting themselves as defenders of freedom.
I’d like to make sure that my personal passion for “student voice” isn’t just freedom anxiety, isn’t just reifying the structure it pretends to challenge.
Oh – and it challenges the idea that blogging is the best route for ‘student voice’. My blog over the next few months has to exist in parallel to public experimentation. Because successful blogging tends to involve a lot of criticism (which is necessary), but as a route for change… It sponsors a great many “what ifs.” Organizing students to create policy proposals – alternative course structures – to propose the change they wish to participate in.
Hm. All in the context of a message I got from a friend a few days back.
Blog posts are great, and I think they are super important. But I think it would be cool if you conducted some sort of study on your student voices project. I think it would have to be primarily qualitative in nature, but it could be a grounds of moving past the ‘I wonder if…’ and saying here are the real tangible benefits of amplifying student voices in higher ed
Which is so real. What next. What next.