Handbook Teaching

Meaningful Student Involvement Does NOT Filter Students

There are many aims of Meaningful Student Involvement. The eighth aim is to avoid filtering student perspectives, experiences or knowledge with adult interpretations.

Aim 8: Do NOT Filter Students

When considering students as allies to educators, adults may be tempted to act as translators for student voice. Concerned that students are not capable of speaking “education-ese”, these well-meaning administrators, researchers, advocates and teachers reword students’ ideas, interpret them, or otherwise differentiate between what students actually said and what adults believe they meant. Adults do this because we do not believe that the raw data represented by student voice has actual value in the space of education policymaking, classroom teaching, building leadership, or school improvement. We do that because we do not trust students at face value; without extracting what we think students are actually saying, without reframing it into concepts, ideas, or beliefs we share, we think student voice is foreign, alien, or juvenile.

Authentic Student Voice

The challenge here is not that students do not have valuable things to add to the conversation, but that adults do not have the ability to solicit the perspectives, experiences, knowledge and wisdom of students without filtering, analyzing, or otherwise destabilizing their expressions. We have to accept that responsibility and build our capacity to to do this important work. We have to stop bastardizing student voice.

I do not use that word lightly. To bastardize student voice, adults take it away from its author or speaker. In reality, we routinely corrupt how students share their voices, however it is expressed. Sometimes inadvertently, sometimes intentionally, adults debase students by adding new elements, their own ideas, moving their own agendas and forcing their own beliefs through the actions, ideas, experiences, and wisdom of students. Bastardizing student voice this way is not necessary, appropriate, or relevant to Meaningful Student Involvement.

All Adults Everywhere

All adults throughout the education system need to learn that all students of all ages have the capacity and the ability to speak for themselves, albeit to different extents. Often this capacity may be undermined by the disbelief of otherwise good-hearted adults who honestly believe they know what students think. Meaningful Student Involvement creates appropriate platforms for students’ experience, ideas and knowledge of schools, without filtering those words through adult lenses. Students can learn about the schools they attend, the topics they should learn, the methods being tested on them, the roles of educators and administrators, and much more.

Questions to Ask

  • How do you interpret student voice right now?
  • Does the idea of adults bastardizing student voice offend you? Why or why not?
  • Where can you practice simply listening to student voice today, without interpreting or bastardizing it?


« Aim Seven | Aims of Meaningful Student Involvement | Aim Nine »

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