There’s a special place where students are placed in stark contrast to their roles in our daily lives. Typically, students of all ages are segregated from adults, compelled to follow rules and laws they didn’t make, and shown what to do with themselves through advertising, education, family life, and community norms. Nowhere along the way are they treated as full humans, capable of contributing to the larger world around them for their benefit and the benefit of others.
Until they get to that special place of being Students On A Pedestal.
From there, students are allowed to step above and beyond their peers. They can glimpse out across the lands and see the places where adults see. Their access grows and they become able to see where their age group peers stand, as well as some adults.
With an increased amount of education and opportunity, these students can grow still more powerful, acting as little adults who are controllers of their fates and masters of their domains.
In this strange upside down kingdom, these students can boss around and manipulate adults to get what they want. They drive conversations, control situations, and seemingly move mountains compared to their peers. With experiences as top performing students, athletes, musicians, scholars, performers, and more, they seem mighty.
Looking up at them isn’t a particularly pleasant experience for all their peers. Sure, some friends hold up the pedestal, putting their backs and hands to the column to ensure their friends’ security. Others step back and stare up in awe, wondering how that kid got that power, while others still throw rocks from the distance and try to knock that student off their pedestal.
The challenge for Meaningful Student Involvement activities is not to build pedestals for students. This is also called romanticizing student voice. It happens by positioning students as speakers at adult conferences; putting students in charge of the school board for a day; making some students shine while others throttle, stuck in gear without the resources and attention they need to move forward. Well-meaning educators perpetuate this by making formal student leadership opportunities distinctly for so-called Student Leaders. These students often already have a lot of access to the adult work, and are merely gaining more as their pedestals are made taller.
Solving the crisis of student pedestalling is going to take more than this article. Its going to take a commitment by every educator to stop assuming students need to be held up high above their peers. Instead, we must create opportunities for all students of all grades and all abilities to experience having the spotlight shine on them for who they are, rather than simply how we want them to be.
The real root cause of student pedestalling is adultism. We, as adults, have distinct ideas about who we want to be around and how we want them to behave, every single one of us. The students who shine through the morass of segregation and demonstrate their effectiveness at being adult-like are generally the ones we place on pedestals. The inverse is true, too: The students who don’t behave how we want them to become disengaged.
How do you treat students you particularly like or get along with? Do they stand equal to their peers and adults, or do they stand above everyone else? Putting students on a pedestal does no favors for them, and ultimately undermines your best intentions. Is that what you really want?