There is convenient student voice and inconvenient student voice, depending on how adults judge students.
Student Voice is being thrown around these days as something special, unique, and never wrong.
The simple fact is that while all children and youth in schools are powerful beyond measure and important beyond words, Student Voice is nothing that should be romanticized or put on a pedestal. It should be integrated, normalized, and mainstreamed, but not worshiped or seen as infallible, because that’s simply not true.
Student Voice is any expression by any learner anywhere in any school about anything, for any purpose. Many well-meaning adults in school who advocate for Student Voice are often talking about what is convenient for us as adults.
Convenient Student Voice happens whenever adults know who is going to speak, what is going to be said, where its going to be shared, when its going to happen, and what the outcomes are going to be. Adults might not have written the script, but what is said is no surprise to us. This can include the young person speaking to the school board, the student advisory council, and the student researcher program. It can also include the traditional student leaders in your school or education program, the debate club, or the action learning program in class.
Inconvenient Student Voice is when young people express themselves at school in ways that aren’t predictable. They share ideas, shout out thoughts, take action, reflect harshly, or critique severely. They write, draw, graffiti, paint, play, sing, protest, research, build, deconstruct, rebuild, examine, and do things that adults don’t know, understand, approve of, or otherwise predict. Inconvenient Student Voice can be students graffitting on lockers at school, bullying, texting test answers back and forth, joining gangs, or protesting teacher firings and bad cafeteria food.
The difference between these two approaches depends on location, position, and circumstance.
As UK researcher Michael Fielding showed, there are numerous considerations that determine whether Student Voice is deliberately embraced within schools. Race, socio-economic status, gender, sexual orientation, educational attainment, or other identities frequently determines whether or not Student Voice is heard, engaged, interacted with, approved of, or denied, ignored, or penalized.
My work with SoundOut has taught me that there is much more Student Voice happening than adults ever approve of- Inconvenient Student Voice is all over. Its a matter of whether adults actually want to hear it. I built the SoundOut website after conducting an international scan of Student Voice in the early 2000s. My booklet Stories of Meaningful Student Involvement shares some of what I found.
What do you think? Where does Student Voice have a role in your school, convenient or otherwise? Is there anything you can do to embrace Inconvenient Student Voice? Are there times when Student Voice might be inconvenient for you, but convenient for other adults?