In the middle of Meaningful Student Involvement is a picture of empowered students who are fully capable of transforming schools and the entirety of the education system through Student/Adult Partnerships. This is an important concept that illustrates the purpose of schools.
The purpose of schools is to support generation after generation of democratic culture in order to foster whole people, healthy society and a peaceful world. Meaningful Student Involvement is a step in that direction.
However, schools can go even further than meaningfulness.
Further Than Meaningfulness
When adults continuously sustain Student/Adult Partnerships in a classroom and throughout a school building, more happens, including student progression and evolution. As more people throughout the education system increasingly harbor realistic yet growing ambitions for students, it becomes vital for educators to embrace those ambitions in order to successfully facilitate new roles for all students. The goal of schools should be to harbor lifelong learner by graduating self-actualized learners into the world beyond the school building. That can happen at any age.
Recognizing the goal of self-actualized learners enables schools to see the full value of Meaningful Student Involvement creating opportunities for education to be highly successful, and rather than threatening schools, self-actualized learners should be treated as assets to the education system, inspiring others along the way.
In an era of increasingly unfettered technological access, the number of students who are actively choosing to transform their own educational experiences is growing every day. More than ever, students are getting on the Internet and zooming towards any information whenever they want it. Using devices and apps, they are collaborating and debating and pontificating and sharing with their peers in a co-driven experience focused on mutual benefit. Supported by parents who are intensely desiring a better life for their kids, many students today are literally reaching for the stars and beyond. They are calling all of society to be better, do better and become more than what we have ever imagined.
That reality is for the betterment of all of us. Despite the implications for democracy, these self-actualized learners are going beyond any boundaries that were established in the eons before they were born. They are seeing past the limitations and plainly ignoring the barriers previous generations stumbled towards and sometimes over. Students today are not doing this without fault, and they make mistakes. There is no romanticization here. There is, however, pure admiration of the evolving capacities of succeeding generations of students.
Beyond of these evolving capacities, we are witnessing the emergence of purely student-driven, student-led activities throughout education today. Generally speaking, they are not happening within the confines of the education system. However, students are still learning, teaching and leading change throughout education with their actions.
For instance, there are an increasing number of student-driven, student-led student voice advocacy groups around the world today. These are groups of students who are clearly informed by research and literature, but rather than citing it and building projects responsive to research findings, they are creating new pathways to change that do not involve laboring over philosophy and instead focus on action.
When student learning embodies, experiences and engages in the social and political underpinnings of their education, they are more than meaningfully involved.
- Students understand their own selfhood, its uniqueness and its abilities
- Students engage in the socio-political construction of their own selfhood
- Students’ own their class location and self-construction in relationship to their class
- Students deliberately engage with their class placement, self-driving their view of the world, the purpose of school, other students, their educators, their families and communities.
There are students who are working on their own to improve schools. One example is from Nikhil Goyal, a student-philosopher who wrote a book about school change when he was still in high school. His book, One Size Does Not Fit All, was published in 2012 and offer his prescription for school improvement. As a high school student, Goyal interviewed Howard Gardner, Seth Godin, Noam Chomsky, Diane Ravitch, and others, summarizing and expanding on their perceptions with his own call to reimagine school. Goyal is an self-actualized learner who is leading his peers and adults throughout society in new conversations about education reform.
The self-actualized learner is a student-philosopher. They shine a spotlight on the roles of students throughout the education system by passionately, actively moving them from being the passive recipients of adult-driven schools towards become passionately engaged and culturally relevant critical allies of the system. In his book, Goyal does not simply lob bombs into the foyer of the school building. Instead, he conscientiously dismantles the building brick by brick, and then systematically rebuilds it according to his own vision for learning, teaching and leadership. Surely, this demonstrates intellectual depth and courage on his part, particularly since he was still in high school when he did it. More importantly, though, Goyal opened portal for other students to do the same. His specific case cannot be said to quite constitute an example of Meaningful Student Involvement because he deliberately operated outside the confines of Student/Adult Partnerships, and completely outside of the formal structure of the education system. However, it does make him a prime candidate as a self-actualized learner, which in turn makes the role he is fulfilling central to Meaningful Student Involvement.
The challenge of the student-philosopher is related to the heart of Meaningful Student Involvement as well. Devoid the accountability necessitated by democratic interaction, the student-philosopher may feel free to lambast people who are accountable to democratic controls in ways that they, student-philosophers, are not. However, this is also the nature of democratic discourse, and something every student should have explicit and substantive exposure to and opportunities to participate in.
Student-Led High Schools
As shared throughout this website, there are stories emerging across the United States and Canada regarding students leading their high schools through Meaningful Student Involvement.
One of the stories was about Alternatives in Action High School, a charter founded in Oakland, California, by students.
Another is the Independent Project at Monument Mountain Regional High School in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
The challenge of student-led high schools is that, if not facilitated appropriately, they may assume student interest and ability in places where there is none. If this occurs and the attempt at Meaningful Student Involvement does not produce the results adults want to see or are comfortable with, this approach may actually enable adults to justly abandon all forms of student involvement. They tried it, it did not work and they move onto something else.
As more students emerge from the haze of adult-led learning, there is a growing urgency for responsive, empowering learning opportunities that meet the needs of learners where they are, instead of insisting they go to where adults want them to be. Since the advent of computers, many technologists have sought to put learning and teaching directly in the hands of young people specifically. Today, that is is becoming reality more and more.
First emphasized for recreation purposes, Internet-enabled devices are now being marketed explicitly for their learning possibilities and connectivity. Students are being encouraged by websites, nonprofits, and private businesses to engage in their own learning as leaders by exploring their interests, abilities and passions, and to use technology to learn far more than any school or teacher could possibly teacher them. In a time when everyone is more connected than ever before, it is no wonder why marketers are selling new devices to students.
More importantly, they are appealing to young people on the premise of learning. Meaningful Student Involvement aligns on this form of the self-actualized learner because both challenge the apparent irrelevance of schooling by situating students as the drivers of learning, teaching and leadership.
Meaningful Student Involvement can be challenged by online learning in a variety of ways. If this approach happens without community building and a commitment to the larger education system, the form of student empowerment and engagement that happens through online learning may serve to encourage self-centeredness and ultimately, narcissism. This can be rectified through Meaningful Student Involvement though, as students deliberately engage in the world beyond the Internet as well as learning through the Internet.
Student-Led Education Activism
Across North America and around the world student activists are calling for substantive and meaningful policy changes in ways unseen before. They are using sophisticated campaign-building techniques, leading community organizing efforts, and driving education leadership to rethink the absence of student voice throughout school decision-making apparatuses on every level of school and in each layer of the education system. These student-led efforts focus on everything highlighted throughout this book and more, sometimes partnering with adults and other times leaving adults out of the equation entirely. This approach aligns well with Meaningful Student Involvement because of its high place on the Ladder of Student Involvement and the significant ways students address the public mechanisms of the public school system.
In the United States, one example of student-led education activism comes from an organization I greatly admire called the Seattle Young Peoples Project, or SYPP.
One potential challenge of this approach to Meaningful Student Involvement is that it happens outside the parameters of formal learning and teaching in schools. Meaningful Student Involvement is not activism for the sake of action. Instead, it ensures that there is a purpose beyond this immediate moment. Engaging students in schools in the work of critiquing, improving, sustaining improvements and critiquing schools again is absolutely vital to the purpose of securing democracy and social justice for all students in every school all of the time.
Schools should always reflect that, and if student-led work of any kind does not reflect that, it is not meaningful.
That said, without the active engagement and ongoing allyship of adults within schools, the purpose of schools is failed. Meaningful Student Involvement of any kind becomes vital in order to ensure that the purpose can be realized. Many of the specific approaches advocated throughout this website are absolutely indebted to this purpose of schools.