Democracy is at the heart of Meaningful Student Involvement. The goal of public schools should always focus on the primary role of anyone in society, which is that of citizen. First and foremost, if you live in a society and contribute to it, you are a citizen of that society, whether that is acknowledged or not.
Students do not have to wait until they are 18 to become citizens, and people from other countries do not have to wait until the government acknowledges their citizenship. Instead, everyone who contributes is a citizen right now, no matter who acknowledges that.
As a citizen, everyone should be able to participate as fully as they can with as few obstacles as possible. Student voice is one avenue for participation.
When they enter the door to schools, students are participating as citizens in society. Their purpose in schools is more than to simply become adults or workers. Instead, it is what W.E.B. DuBois challenged when he wrote, “The ideals of education, whether men [sic] are taught to teach or plow, to weave or to write, must not be allowed to sink into sordid utilitarianism. Education must keep broad ideals before it, and never forget that it is dealing with Souls and not with Dollars.”
Meaningful Student Involvement narrows the broad ideals of student voice and targets students on democracy building in education. Some of the democratic purposes of education include:
- Discovering—Exploring one’s own abilities and desires, and determining what their abilities are to fulfill their desires.
- Learning—Deliberately setting about expanding, critiquing and transforming one’s abilities to fulfill their desires according to their own discovery and assessment.
- Belonging—Joining a larger community of learners, students have powerful opportunities to self-identify who they are, who they aren’t and how they fit into the society they are part of.
- Purpose—Through discovery and learning, students can also identify what they stand for and what they stand against, what matters to them and what doesn’t, and so forth.
There are many other purposes of education in general, but when it comes to democracy its vital to recognize the powerful, positive potential of Meaningful Student Involvement in schools.