Student Voice, Bravery, And Social Media

Today started like most days for me: tooling around in the backyard, filling the bird feeders, water the flowers, checking for new growth on my plants, and then heading to Dunkin Donuts for the morning coffee. The day was unexceptional until I picked up the morning paper and saw a picture of some of my students sitting in a classroom having a discussion with me. The headline read Down with Homework.  

My first thought?  ““How do I look?”

My second?  “I better take a picture and send it to my mom.” We all know moms are always their son’s biggest fans and Barb is no exception.

Then I got a little nervous because I was on the cover of the newspaper talking with my students about a topic as controversial as homework. I frantically read through the piece, making sure I didn’t say anything dumb, that the article was an honest reflection of what we doing, and that our kids were painted in a positive light.

After the first read, I was able to breathe a bit easier and give it a second, more thorough read; and this time I smiled. I smiled because the students in our District were brave enough to put themselves out there, brave enough to create a petition, solicit signatures from other 5th graders, and present the petition to a guy in a suit that they hoped would take them seriously.  

That’s why, later in the day, when I saw a Facebook post that said North Rockland should be ashamed of themselves for entertaining 5th graders, I felt shock, then anger, and then just pity. No matter where you stand on homework or any other pedagogical issue, to say that we should be ashamed for listening to students, well, that is just wrong. If I ever become jaded enough to think that it is an embarrassment to listen to students,  I hope I will have the good sense to get out of the field I love so much. I feel sad for the person who said that today’s kids are “soft” because they don’t want to do homework. I disagree, maybe they just don’t want to do “our” generation’s homework. Maybe they understand that the assembly line jobs that we were prepared for no longer exist, that doing worksheets does not create the innovative thinking that they will need to be successful in today and tomorrow’s world.

We were tougher because we suffered through meaningless homework?  We were tougher because it was ok for teachers to insult us and use sarcasm back then?

Times have changed, kids have changed and, yes, they do spend too much time on their screens, but that doesn’t mean they don’t have passion, they don’t have important things to say, and/or they aren’t strong. Sure, we had those scary drills preparing us for a nuclear war, but I am pretty sure we weren’t worried about someone coming and shooting up our schools, an unfortunate, but real fear for students today. Kids will often tell us what we want to hear, what they think they are supposed to say to play our game, but what if we asked them and we truly listened?

Then we may have a better understanding about how things really are, and how we can actually make them better.  Why is it so easy for adults to discount what children have to say? It is that big of a shock to us that we don’t see a real glimpse into their world?  Especially when students who are brave enough to speak out and be heard are later bashed by the social media stars who call them soft? It seems outrageous that some think it’s a disgrace to give students a voice in how they are schooled.  

It didn’t take me long to get over the social media buzz, among the comments were intelligent posts and people who debated the polarizing topic of homework.  As my day wore on, the homework story picked up steam(covered by several TV stations) as did I, fueled by caffeine and the smiles of Chris and Nico as their fame continued to grow. I almost forgave the ills of social media, realizing that it has helped to increase communication, keep people in touch, expand audience, and spread good ideas.

I say “almost” because after a whirlwind of a day, I sat on the couch and played around on my phone.  Please don’t judge me, but, yes, like our students, I spend too much time on the screen. That’s when I saw it on the community page of the school my son attends.

A group of parents started a thread bashing the election process for school president. I try not to waste too much time reading these things, knowing that often people just want to show how clever they are, but this time it was personal as my son was one of the candidates running. Their comments, veiled in a passive but certainly aggressive tone, proved to me once again what I have known for a while; it doesn’t matter your age, your income, or what school you went to, sometimes kids are smarter, more thoughtful, and have a more important message then we do as adults.

This was confirmed when I wanted to reply in anger and my son simply said “I have campaigned on social media; they are entitled to their opinion and entitled to express it on social media. Leave it alone.” I am proud of my students, I am proud of my teachers, but nothing compares to the pride you feel as a parent when you realize your child is smarter, kinder, and more level-headed than you are.  

Kids have a lot to say and we have a responsibility to listen. Kids today are not soft; all you have to do is look to Parkland, Florida. Watch Emma Gonzalez speak and not speak and tell me today’s students are soft.    Bravery, resilience, grit, determination are not defined by homework, by conformity, by clever social media posts. Bravery is standing up for what you believe in, putting yourself out there, and by being kind when being kind is hard.  

Are kids today soft ? They are most definitely not; it’s just that maybe the adults aren’t always listening hard enough.