How much do schools really value pupils' views?
Time for a story? When I was a school pupil I worked all six years of secondary school on the school magazine, the Pupils' View. The name of the magazine was the title, the mission, the raison d'être of the whole thing. It made life easy. And it made life difficult, too.
When I was editor we sold up to 700 copies of it four times a year at 25pence (50c) in a school with just over 1000 students. As Editor I faced my fair share of tense meetings with the Head Teacher, attempts, in vain, to stop us publishing certain stories which might not fit the PR the school would have liked.
My crowning moments were, at the age of 13, writing a story about the unhealthy options costing half the price of the healthy options in the school canteen - the chief of catering resigned from her post as a result. I also wrote a special edition outing what I saw as a 16 year old, as an abuse of power, when a visiting clergyman suggested that homosexuality was nothing but a disease that could be cured. That hit the national press.
In fairness, despite some stressful and probably unfair moments on both sides, the Head Teacher of the school let us publish and be damned. He's still there. He's a good bean.
What I left Dunoon Grammar School with aged 17 was a sense of what is right and what is wrong, and a faintly arrogant, maybe immature view that the student voice is the most important voice - bar none - in the school.
I just think that most schools, conferences on education, Education Authorities still pay lip service to student voice. Is this ungrounded? No. The vast majority of education authorities the world over still block and filter social media sites like Bebo and YouTube where students can post their views, without making any attempt to educate youngsters on how to express their views. Yet this is the main point of communication for today's teens and tweens. Pupil Councils with hand picked 'good students' held in musty rooms at school are not where the real democracy in today's schools should be taking place.
Yet the UK's Professional Association of Teachers, currently having their national conference, is thumping down the line of "all social networks - especially YouTube - should be banned". The call is coming from its Scottish leader, which makes me wonder if I'm doing my job correctly. It's the same group that called for wifi to be banned. You get the picture. All evil in the world is because of The Devil's Machines.
To say I'm disappointed would be a lie. I'm just amazed at the continued ignorance of large swathes of the profession who concurrently use their influential positions to give misinformed, half-baked analysis of the current situation. I don't see any desire or inclination to spend a little time trying to understand the positive pedagogical changes that these tools can bring.
How far do you go? How much do you care?
Which brings me to the kind of citizen art I would love to see adorning our schools but which, after a week of news like the stuff above, I think wouldn't make it to any school common area soon. Post-it notes displayed in 'To Do' fashion [above], with an open invitation to passers-by to leave their 'To Dos' [below]. It's the kind of thing which is unpredictable, unmonitorable, unchangeable (until it's too late). It's a risk, which is often the way people see my desire for insertion of more social media to organisations and the education system.
What would the kids in your school say? Is it publishable? Or would you be damned?
[Pics via Swiss Miss]