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Education Under Attack

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My high school in Chicago’s northwest suburbs has pink-slipped 363 of its teachers and administrators for the 2011-12 school year. The students walked out, spoke out, and the board is attempting to silence them through enforcement of a “comment policy” during meetings.  The policy has been on the books, but they are making a special effort to enforce it only now. Why? Because the students are starting to talk.

“The district’s policy states that minors will not be heard by the board of education unless accompanied by a parent or guardian.” (Daily Herald) One of the fallacies that our education system operates on is that education serves the students. That is whom it should serve, but in reality, it really serves its administrators, teachers, and parents who can silence students at a moment’s notice.

Until minors hit the age of 18 they do not get much say in their own education. The truth is, kids know who the good teachers are and they know who the bad ones are. (Is it our fault they openly admit they took the job because they want summers off and good benefits?) Age discrimination is generally a term applied to those over 40 and in employment situations, but I would like to make the argument that it operates at the other end of the spectrum as well.

It is easy to shut down an argument with an individual under the age of 18 for the pure and simple reason that they are under 18. This tactic is employed as a last attempt at silencing. First, only royalty had a say. Then, property owners could have opinions about decisions that affected them. Then, all white men could too. You see where this is headed.

I am of the opinion that this type of policy subverts the whole point of education. If an individual who happens to be under the age of 18 shows up at a board meeting, has something to say, and is not being disruptive or rude in any way, they should speak. Whether the board agrees with what they are saying is irrelevant. We are not speaking about toddlers, we are speaking about high school students. Isn’t part of high school to prepare you to be an independent, functioning, autonomous entity from your parent/guardian? And, if so, why are require them to attend with a guardian?

Frankly, people should be a little more concerned that more walkouts and student protests are not taking place across the country. We have a system that allows administrators to get rich through adding on graduate degrees that they do not need for their jobs; meanwhile there are budget deficits. There are many people who work in education who don’t even want their job; meanwhile we have many hopeful teachers who can’t find work.

I would like to emphasize the fact that students are not dumb. When “adults” give reasoning like this: “We need to follow the policies because they exist and we want to make sure we are consistent with it” (Daily Herald), is it any wonder they’re annoyed? If you cannot honestly explain why a policy exists then how can you honestly expect anyone to follow it? Students have the analytic ability to recognize when you are feeding them bullshit.

“I don’t think we would run into trouble on an individual basis, per se. But if it is a policy we should follow it so that someone doesn’t takes offense if we don’t follow the policy on something else in the future.” (Daily Herald) In other words, you need to be consistent because you don’t care when there are one or two students, who are clearly outnumbered, but you do care when there are hundreds of angry, loud, opinionated ones demanding that they have teachers, and extra-curricular activities, and opportunities. Horror of all horrors!

All voices in education need to be heard, and that, I’m afraid (take note, school boards and administrators across the country), includes the students.

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About Amy L. Schaaf