Youth workers and teachers are often guilty of the same thing: They call on the kids who raise their hands. You know who I’m talking about, because just like me you’ve done it before. She’s the bright and articulate leader who knows the answer. He’s the quick and deft analyzer of information who holds the key to the activity. I think that inside of that dynamic there is a tension in a lot of youth voice activities that is rarely acknowledged.
Michael Fielding calls out this tension best in his Framework for Assessing Student Voice. He asks several simple questions. The next time you go marching into a youth voice activity you are facilitating I want you to ask yourself the following:
- Who is allowed to speak?
- To whom are they allowed to speak?
- What are they allowed to speak about?
- What language is encouraged / allowed?
- Who decides the answer to these questions?
- How are those decisions made?
- How, when, where, to whom and how often are those decisions communicated?
I am beginning to think that we must do whatever it takes to engage those young people whose voices rarely get heard. If that means that youth-serving orgs give up a wall of the building specifically for graffiti then so be it – those voices must be heard. If that means that a committee meeting is spent surfing the web with students and adults looking for quality curriculum resources, then so be it – those voices must be heard. Music in the hallways, geocaching for community resources and skateboarding for peace must all be seen as options, because at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter what the specific activity was: its the experience of learning that comes from it that matters. We have to teach young people by demonstrating to young people that we value their voices equally to our own. Whatever it takes to do that, let’s get it done.