Trusting Adults

A few years ago I started a pilot project called the SoundOut Student Forums. Its a lengthy process for schools that are committed to meaningfully involving students in the systematic school improvement process. The Forums involve training adults in the school, training student facilitators, students facilitating peer forums, students sorting the information (data) gathered during those forums, and then students working with adult allies to construct action plans based on the data from students.

From the outset of the project, I immediately saw an inherent dilemma: I have to trust other adults. This is a difficult thing, after years of watching adults in and out of school mess with young people – deliberately and unconsciously. That’s tough. So I go into these schools and push students to trust the adults they’re working with by sharing their deepest and most honest feelings they can mine about schools. For sixth, seventh, and eighth graders that’s a tough thing to do.

I’m asking students to trust people I don’t necessarily trust myself. In a sense, I’m forced to. I honestly believe that young people can- and do- impact school change. The SoundOut School Forum is simply intended to harness that energy intentionally and with some impact beyond coincidence or accident. But at the end of the day, adults always run the school. That means they are responsible for grades, for punishment, for hiring & firing, for everything that happens in that building. Like I’ve heard, “If something happens, it’s my butt on the line.” And that’s true.

But I guess the fault here lies in the casual dismissal inherent in that response, and the attitudes and cultural behind that response. Adults can be brutal and rude sometimes, and fully disrespectful to young people. It doesn’t matter if we’re in school, at home, in a community center, or at church- adults can be brutal. Period.

However, in the case of school this brutality takes a special form, in the sense that students are a captive audience for any decisions adults make. Its hard to trust that, isn’t it? My own history in schools isn’t sunshiny; rather, its kind of depressing. That plays into my trust, as well.

Here’s to the future – I’ll keep on working. Next time I want to think out loud about hope.

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