A footnote to my previous “Design for Student Leadership”: Student Voice and School Design

Working on my never-ending doctorate (I’m on year 7, I note sheepishly), I recently re-examined one of my absolute favorite school design texts, Peter Senge’s Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education (Senge, Cambron-Mcabe, Lucas, Smith, Dutton, and Kliener, 2000).

Recently I wrote about student leadership and what I believe to be the profound educative value of leadership experience. Then, while reading Schools that Learn, I stumbled across the following:

One last comment on why schools seem remarkably difficult institutions to change and where particular leverage may lie. Industrial-age schools have a structural blind spot unlike almost any other contemporary institution……This blind spot arises because the only person who could in fact reflect on how the system as a whole is functioning is the one person who has no voice in the system, nopower to provide meaningful feedback that could produce change. This person is the student. (p. 58)

I throw in the following, just because I love the organizational design analogy:

Imagine that we enforced a rule on a company’s workers: Under no circumstances are you to talk to customers. We would not expect that company to survive for long. Similarly, to the extent that they silence the voice of the student, schools are designed not to innovate. (p. 58)

If we don’t take how our students experience school seriously, how can we expect to make school work for them? No matter what goals we set for our youth, we can not get them there unless they buy in. Why would they buy in when the educational system routinely fails to work for them and no one helps them ask the hard questions that might help that system change?


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