Would it really hurt to listen to the kids?

Imagine, it’s 9:00 AM Monday morning. You’re in your office waiting for a visit from a software rep who said he could solve all your problems through his manufacturing productivity software solution. You came in early just to put together a list a questions. The last thing you want is to waste an hour first on Monday morning. Not the way to start ou the week … behind the proverbial eight-ball.

He here is, finally. It’s 9:15 AM, fifteen minutes late. “That traffic was terrible,” a predictable response. It’s Los Angeles, traffic is always terrible! Well let’s get on with it.

Not two minutes into the meeting, (If you want to call it that. A meeting assumes a dialogue.) I felt the flood gates open. It was a relentless barrage of features, platitudes and assumptions. As I tried to get a word in edge-wise, and maybe, just maybe ask a question … I was repeatedly interrupted. His product would solve everything, no matter what. After all this was the edict from above, his boss’s boss. It might as well have come from the Pope pontificating from his perch.

The above recount seems like an absurd way to do business. After all, doesn’t business suppose to adjust itself to the needs of its customers and prospective customers. If they don’t … they won’t be in business long. You can’t ramrod your  wares down someone’s throat and expect to succeed.

While that strategy doesn’t work in business, the world of education hasn’t seem to have gotten the message. Day-in and day-out, our children, the future of our country are subjected to a relentless bombardment of facts and figures presented in a way where only fleeting success is likely. Seldom is the connection made between the material they are force-fed and its application in the real world, the world they are expected to succeed in after they are released from the imprisoned walls of the high school they are mandated to attend.

And even if the material is relevant – the technics used, often decreed by school administrators and boards, take no account of their effectiveness. What matters is that the teachers and students walk in “lock step” abiding to the whims of the “higher-ups” in their ivory towers. God help someone who dares step out of line.

Last week, thirty miles from where I live, in the town of Park City, Montana; the community is in upheaval. Much to the vocal opposition of scores of parents and students, six popular and effective high school teachers were either let go or forced to resign. Accolades poured in from past and present students. “I developed an interested in math I would have never thought was possible, said one student. “I learned how to write, I mean really write!” claimed a past student. “My son actually likes school,” came from a mom. This “gang of six” obviously bucked the system. They didn’t conform to the edicts of the new superintendent and his subservient school board. No matter what the kids had to say, I made no difference. After all, they’re only kids. What do they know.

Little attention is paid in school to student individuality. Everyone is supposed to absorb the material and learn it the same way. If they don’t respond to the prescribed method developed in a vacuum by the administration, then the student be damned. And with a new pursuit of common-core standards, our federal government led by Education Secretary Arnie, “we’ll test you till your fingers bleed” Duncan, assumes knowledge requirements for a student long-term success in South Los Angeles are the same as those in North Dakota. Granted, America is one country. But it’s also more diverse than most continents are. Education should reflect that. And the students can tell you that. They just want to learn things that will help them.

Relevance = engagement = learning!

Students also want a voice in the people who will ultimately determine the future of their learning, the higher-ups!

Last year Billings, Montana, my closest city, appointed a new school superintendent. A group of six high achieving student leaders were invited to interview the five candidates and submit their opinions. After three days of interviews, they assembled, the made their recommendation. They ranked the candidates in order of one to five according to their criteria; past successes, communication skills, vision for the future and potential empathy for the student body. The school board picked the one the students had ranked … LAST! So much for input.

Our future leaders
Our future leaders

If you’re not eighteen, an adult – you’re a second class citizen. You don’t count. For all purposes, you’re just a possession of your parents … not a lot different from your dog laying on the couch. Your opinions, your views, your ideas are routinely dismissed because they don’t “jell” with the real world. After all, “what could you know – you don’t have any experience.” And since you’re not eighteen, you can’t vote. And since you can’t vote, feel lucky we throw any crumbs your way.

Our nation’s elders, our leaders, well …. they don’t seem to doing a very good job leading. Or for that matter, even following.

Our beloved elected officials in Washington and state house nationwide (aka. “the clowns”) more resemble a group of uncompromising six-year-olds than a body of lawmakers. Congress’s productivity has fallen to levels not seen … ever!

Special interest groups, corporate lobbyists and outright “bad” people are trying to role back environmental laws to levels not seen in decades in their efforts to rape and pillage everything in their path. Their actions are not unlike that of Sherman’s “March to the Sea.”

Fueled by the extreme disdain of Barak Obama, hate group participation has increased a seven-fold since 2008. The “if you don’t look or think exactly like I do – I hate you” movement has spun relentlessly out of control. But this phenomena mainly resides with the older generations, those adults our young are supposed to look up to … to be like.

The state of our public education system resembles that of Rome in the days of a fiddling Nero on the eve it burned to the ground. Education reformists seem to have lost sight that reform’s purpose is improvement, not just useless activity and change for the change’s sake. And the ugly specter of standardized testing aims to displace all actual learning in its way – all in the name of accountability.

In contrast, today’s youth, the Millennial generation doesn’t view the world and the future through their parents jaded lenses. They value cooperation and collaboration over confrontation and rigidity. They look at the environment not as just another resource to exploit, but as an inseparable part of the whole of life. Most Millennials believe in acceptance and embrace for all regardless of what they look like or what their views are. And today’s young want to view school as place to learn, to prepare for the future; not just a testing lab giving adults ammunition for support for their “half-baked” reforms.

“Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” ~ Albert Einstein

Whether it’s teaching methods, or just overall matters of importance in our country, things don’t seem to be going to well. Would it hurt so much to open our minds to a perspective not jaded with cynicism. Imagine if optimism reigned rather than pessimism.

Would it really hurt that much to listen to the kids. Who knows, we may learn something.

Those that create the problems … will NOT be the ones that solve them!

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You can find me on Twitter at @clayforsberg and Google+

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2 thoughts on “Would it really hurt to listen to the kids?

  1. Your blog has addressed several key issues in American education. One size fits all should have been obsolete years ago, but core curriculum has brought it back. We need to listen to the students because they can tell us what they will invest in, and we may be surprised that it is the same sort of subject that we want to teach. Hmmm. Worked for Montessori.

  2. I absolutely agree with you. It’s shocking how people do not value the students’ voice, and I don’t think it ends with just 18-year-olds. If you’re a college student, even, the administration can treat you like a statistic (and not a very important one at that). What needs to change are school leaders – the superintendents that don’t value students or the teachers that students truly appreciate. Thanks for sharing!

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