More than Manipulation

Its important that educators and youth workers move beyond the notion of doing their work for students, and instead move towards doing everything with students. Recently I was reading a blog post that posed the question of how teachers can teacher for student voice. The author got a few convenient answers before someone wrote in and said that its not student voice, but student action. But I would offer that its still one step further.

Paulo Freire challenged that idea of student action. In Pedagogy of the Oppressed he asked us to consider that,

“The leaders [should not] treat the oppressed as mere activists to be denied the opportunity of reflection and allowed merely the illusion of acting, whereas in fact they would continue to be manipulated – and in this case by the presumed foes of the manipulation.”

From my work in schools – over the last five years up through two days ago, I have seen that even the most well-intended student voice programs tend to do exactly what Freire saw: Teachers often use student voice to forward their own interests, without building the capacity that students have to flex their knowledge and skills in actual, real change work. Worst still, they manipulate students to reinforce their own self-centered concerns about schools. This is inherently disingenuous because students need more than to be treated as empty vessels waiting to be filled with teachers’ knowledge. Students need more than manipulation.

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