Saturday, May 11, 2013

A Student Bill of Rights

This first pass at a "Student Bill of Rights" was inspired by: 1) "A Bill of Rights and Principles for Learning in the Digital Age" that Audrey Watters and I were able to discuss at length in a podcast, and that I felt was unimaginative and particularly reflected an institutional perspective; 2) my interviews at; and 3) the project.

As you will see, my student bill of rights below focuses on learning as a way of building individual opportunities and potential, and not on using education as a tool for directing social or cultural outcomes. I recognize that while this is supported by much of the language we use to describe education as a process that liberates or reflects freedom (as in the "liberal arts"), it is much less supported by much of our actual practice--which more often uses education to proscribe and/or prescribe behavior and ideas, and to control others (both explicitly and also implicitly through the threat of high-stakes valuations).

While my proposed bill of rights may, at first appearance, seem radical in it's focus on student decision-making, I suggest that this perception is largely because of the degree to which our current culture infantalizes and does seek to control our youth, particularly teenagers. This was perhaps consciously a way of dealing with immigration and work-related issues a century ago, but perhaps in more recent decades has been less consciously a way of perpetuating a less-rebellious, consumer-oriented youth culture--one that brings financial and other forms of compliant support to existing institutions. Many societies and cultures have recognized transitions to adulthood in early teen years, whereas current U.S. culture, at least, seems to be pushing this into the mid-twenties. Our current highly-controlling treatment of youth demonstrates the unfortunate truth that control invites the very behaviors it seeks to avoid. I hope I can encourage readers to consider that the opposite is true as well: supporting self-direction invites capability (a lesson many of us parents have had to learn through trial and error).

I do believe that learning is of fundamental importance both to the individual and to society, and helping to facilitate that learning is the primary means of protecting personal and democratic freedoms. And I believe that self-directed, independent-thinking, competent adults will also help create both financial and intellectual prosperity in a way that social or political efforts cannot mandate or achieve. If we wish to unleash the energy and potential of our youth to help solve the many problems we are currently leaving them as our legacy, we must give them the freedom to do so.

It is important to also note that while I believe we can create this and other student bills of rights, and organizations that reflect them, I also believe that we also must accept that they are secondary to the rights of families. The relationship of the student to a learning organization can reflect fundamental tenants that we believe are healthy ways of implement student agency; however to believe that any educational system trumps the rights of parents, no matter how much we may disagree with particular parental decisions, puts education on the slippery slope of social control. I believe that parents and families have primary responsibility for their children, and appropriate influence cannot be through mandates but must be through example. If we wish to help families, we must model the good we hope they will see.

Our current schooling system sends a strong message, to a significant portion of the students, teachers, and parents involved, that they are failures. No culture or institution can claim to honor the dignity and self-worth of all people, and help youth to become successful adults, while continuing to to run schools that resemble prisons more than democracies. Therefore, I believe that...

Students have the right to:
  • direct their own learning;
  • follow their own interests;
  • think independently;
  • make mistakes;
  • decide when, where, with whom, and how they will participate in formalized learning;
  • choose the teachers, mentors, coaches, and other adults who participate in their learning lives;
  • find real work or participation in their fields of interest;
  • choose if, when, and how they will be assessed;
  • control the privacy of any data about themselves.
I also believe that students have the right to expect teachers, mentors, coaches, and adults involved in their learning who:
  • believe in the dignity, worth, and potential of every individual;
  • model lives of learning;
  • let students direct their own learning;
  • help students learn how to learn;
  • see the end goals of education as independence, self-direction, and competence;
  • know the individual interests and talents of all students they work with;
  • look for and support the abilities and potential of all students at all levels, and especially support learners facing difficulties;
  • create opportunities and access for students to expand or deepen their learning interests;
  • help students challenge themselves and their thinking;
  • help students develop skills to be successful in their learning and their lives;
  • help students build relationships with adults, peers, and others to further student learning;
  • support the primary role of the family in students' lives and decision-making;
  • build community support for student activities;
  • help students learn to represent their competences and abilities in ways that others can see;
  • help students find ways to use their learning in productive work;
  • build learning environments that model and teach democratic, community, and participative decision-making;
  • never depend on control or compliance;
  • do not allow financial, political, or other non-student-centered motives to direct learning activities.
Please comment, critique, or write your own bill of rights at, or in the Student Bill of Rights discussion area of the Education Revolution Google+ Community.