Students as Barriers

After years of being treated as less-than-humans, or told, “it’s better to be seen and not heard,” it’s no wonder why students may be reluctant to be meaningfully involved in schools.

Three Types of Resistance

Kohn notes that there are three primary types of student resistance. The first is simply refusing: “That’s your job to decide,” students may protest. The second is testing: Offering outrageous suggestions or responses to see if the teacher is really serious about the invitation to participate. The third is parroting: Repeating what adults have said or guessing what this adult probably wants to hear. A fifth-grader asked to suggest a guideline for class conduct may recite, “We should keep our hands and feet to ourselves.” Added up together and taken individually, these can be substantial barriers to Meaningful Student Involvement. (Kohn, 1993)

These barriers can happen when students feel that they are being pushed to be involved. Rather than “meeting the challenge,” they offer resistance as outlined above, and Meaningful Student Involvement cannot happen. This can be addressed by integrating Meaningful Student Involvement into regular school activities. This gives students the opportunity to experience learning without additional commitment, and can ease a student into a new experience of meaningfulness in their educational experience.

Conditioning Students

It can also happen when students are highly conditioned to accept adult authority and dominance. There are spoken and unspoken ways of behaving, speaking and interacting among students that are reinforced by the structure and culture of schools. Oftentimes, control, domination, exploitation and subordination ensure students behave the ways other students find acceptable. (Alcoff, 1992)

When students are inhibited by other students or adults who are involved in discussions, it can seem like a barrier to Meaningful Student Involvement. This can be addressed by the facilitators who intentionally create a “safe space” for an open discussion. This must begin with a frank conversation about stereotypes that adults and students have of each other, and addressing those stereotypes deliberately. Throughout the discussion continue to have check-ins that allow students and adults to share their honest thoughts with one another.

Common Barriers

Other ways that students themselves are barriers come through in traditional studies about student leadership in schools and other avenues. One study (Boccia, 1997) found:

  • Students are busy and their days and years in school are limited no matter what their age, so time to develop and practice leadership is short.
  • Students have no knowledge base about many school issues and have no real training to take leadership roles even if the knowledge were provided.
  • Students can be cynical about leadership activities, calling those who are involved “narcs”, “brown-nosers”, or other derogatory names.

There is truth to these typical challenges; however, as schools continue to evolve and the cultures of both general society and specific schools continue to evolve, all of these can be countered as being outdated. If they apply to a current environment though, it is important to address them.

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