Students Should Lead Our Educations

The education system is meant to serve students, so why don't we have a voice in the decisions that affect us?

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A high school junior from La Canada, California. An avid reader and writer for most of her life, she's always found both solace and empowerment in the act of creating and sharing her work. Growing up in a small, mostly privileged town and observing the disparities between different racial and socioeconomic groups, she seeks to remedy those consequential gaps in the educational system, as well as uplift the overlooked voices of minority groups within her community through her storytelling. When she’s not absorbed in literature or furiously typing away on her computer, she can be found drawing, trying to teach herself a new language, taking strolls around her neighborhood, or just chatting away with friends and family.

(Source: La Canada High School Assistant Student Body)

The education system is one for students. It encompasses social dynamics like engaging with peers, promotes awareness about current affairs and is a climate where students learn and grow. So, students should be the ones directing their educational experience. Yet, within my school, there have been many instances that reveal a disconnect between the decisions and policies of the administration and the student body.

Recently, most schools have taken to distanced learning. My school has adopted a completely online school year, a decision announced last May that everyone seemed to agree with. When the bell schedule was announced, however, it took most of the students by surprise — 40 minute periods, 30-minute office hours and “connect groups” for almost two hours every day.

Not once were students asked their opinions as to what we thought would be the most efficient organization of class time. The past couple of weeks of school have convinced me that 40 minute periods are too short — teachers end up assigning additional material to do on our own that take hours. Everyone I’ve talked to has agreed, and most of my teachers have complained about having to rush or skip material because there just isn’t enough time. If the school had incorporated student opinion into their decision, an equitable compromise and understanding could have been reached.

As for the connect groups, there was an overall confusion and lack of clarity as to what they were. Ultimately, it took a teacher to speak up, saying that nobody honestly understood these groups, to get the administration to cancel it. The dozens of students I’ve spoken to held the same opinion — yet, why were we never asked about it? Why didn’t the administration consider our opinions? Why did it take a teacher to speak for the students?

Other instances reveal a similar disconnect. Recently, my district started implementing efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity among students. The only reason I know is because, during homeroom one day, a woman came in and asked us questions about what we thought of the school, how we wanted things to change, what we thought the school did well, in order to gauge our opinions.

While I appreciate the effort to promote such values, I was left wondering why it took a specialized counselor to make the school realize all the flaws students saw within it. A face-to-face conversation or discussion between the administration and the student body would have been a more direct and impactful way to communicate. There is a pattern of disconnect, a sense of mistrust between the administration and the students.

Furthermore, last November, when the Saugus High School shooting occurred, leaving the students at my school shaken due to our close proximity and relationship with Saugus High, students created a banner with the words “We Love Saugus” in hopes of extending support to the grieving community.

The principal requested our school newspaper staff to report on the act, and I ended up being assigned the article. I expressed my thoughts on it — that despite our intentions, a mere banner just had not been enough if we truly empathized with the students of Saugus. Though the gesture was kind, it was just that — a gesture — and I felt that as a school, we could have done much more to actually address the issue of school shootings. For example: hold meaningful discussions or organize protests. My honest thoughts triggered a flux of debates on whether my article was appropriate or not, and ultimately, I was forced to edit my opinion out.

Though my voice is just one of many, if I, an opinion writer in the school’s newspaper, wasn’t allowed to express my honest thoughts, then who could? Given their response to my article, I found myself questioning the school’s receptiveness to student voices and opinions, especially if it criticized them. However, students need to be given a platform to speak up about their thoughts, and schools should not limit our right to do so.

Although my school makes the attempt to promote ideals like inclusion, diversity and leadership, the discrepancies between its policies and the student body’s opinions are still far too vast. There needs to be more student involvement in the administrations’ decisions, whether that means including more student representatives on boards or actively interacting and conversing with us. Students are the leaders of the future, and if we are not given a voice in the current environment we are in, then we don’t have hope to influence other areas of society with our voices.