A couple of weeks ago I got into it with a colleague at another small progressive high school. He was suggesting that one of the unintended consequences for students at schools with "progressive" administrators is that they (the students) have gotten too soft.
"They have nothing to protest against because we're all so damn reasonable," he exclaimed. He recalled, with nostalgia, his days in high school when a boy's hair couldn't be longer than his ears. He remembered staging protests and writing editorials for his high school newspaper, pointing out the flaws of his overly bureaucratic system.
When students at City High complain about things they feel are unfair, we invite them to the Community Advisory Council or to meet with the Dean of Students. They don't always walk away happy, but they know there is a channel through which they may express their concerns. I shared these thoughts with my colleague.
"That's no fun!" he said, "You're not giving them anything to butt up against. They aren't learning how to demonstrate in order to get what they want because they don't have to." He viewed this as a serious problem that would harm our democratic process in the long run.
I left our conversation disturbed. Was I destroying the fabric of our democracy by being a fair and sensible principal? Will the kids would grow up to assume that most decisions made by adults were equally fair and sensible? YIKES!
Last week, on a single page of the New York Times, ran two stories covering the following:
•Thousands of Tibetan students in western China had been protesting all week against proposals to eliminate the use of Tibetan language in local schools.
•Hundreds of high school students in Paris were protesting against a plan to raise the minimum retirement age.
These student, as do ours, have serious issues to demonstrate against. Their cultures and qualities of life are on the line and they are in the streets, alongside parents, teachers, and elected officials, making an awful lot of noise. They don't need some phony, arbitrary school rules to teach them about the democratic process; they simply need to open the daily paper.
And so do our kids.
They don't need silly rules and lousy lunches to teach them to speak out about something that matters deeply. They don't need to simulate engaged citizenship, they need to be engaged citizens. Right now.
We have no shortage of unfair and unreasonable legislation in our state and country. It is up to us, as educators, to help students make direct connections between those issues and their own lives so that they have a compelling reason to direct their incredible passions and energies toward the democratic process of effecting real change in the real world.