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Nikhil Goyal

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Will the Real Students Please Stand Up?

Posted: 03/27/2012 9:02 am

This post was originally published on Education Nation's The Learning Curve blog.

In the education reform conversation, we have heard from educators, parents, administrators, and policymakers, but we are missing the most authentic, indispensable voice -- the student. It troubles me that the people most affected by the actions made by policymakers have absolutely no say in the decision-making process.

The last thing you can do is ignore students. We know what's wrong with the education system. We know how to fix it. You have questions, we have answers.

Policymakers have artificially promoted the youth voice. The first culprit is New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo.

Cuomo declared in his State of the State address this year, "I learned that everyone in public education has his or her own lobbyist. Superintendents have lobbyists. Principals have lobbyists. Teachers have lobbyists. School boards have lobbyists. Maintenance personnel have lobbyists. Bus drivers have lobbyists. The only group without a lobbyist? The students. This year, I will take a second job -- consider me the lobbyist for the students."

No, Mr. Cuomo! We beg of you -- don't be our lobbyist. Pretty please, with a cherry on top! Your corporate ideologies of more charter schools and standardized testing will not change the way we learn. Let us speak!

The second culprit is Michelle Rhee, former chancellor of the D.C. Public Schools. Last year, she appeared on the Oprah Show to promote her "feel good" organization StudentsFirst.

Rhee noted, "We absolutely must look at education through a new prism. We must put students first."

But American Thinker was right on the ball with its headline, "Students, Michelle Rhee's Really Not That Into You." It's true!

Without addressing her nutty objectives, let's point out two things. First, there's not even one student on her staff, let alone an area where students can get information on how to get engaged in education. Second, in the StudentsFirst agenda, nowhere does it mention giving students the power to shape their education.

Thus, it may be more accurate for Rhee to change the name of the organization from StudentsFirst to "StudentsLast."

This top-down approach to education has not and will never work. In parallel, Dov Seidman, the CEO of LRN and author of the book How put it best, "The days of leading countries or companies via a one-way conversation are over. The old system of 'command and control' -- using carrots and sticks -- to exert power over people is fast being replaced by 'connect and collaborate' -- to generate power through people."

Education is a two-way street. It comes from the bottom up.

When students feel ownership of their school experience, when they learn things that matter to them and when they learn together, they demonstrate phenomenal feats of growth and achievement. Give them some power, sit back, and watch the show!

As Dale Stephens, founder of UnCollege, likes to say, "Students who hack their education will change the world. Life is a field trip and you don't even need a permission slip."

We will continue to get burned by the system year after year after year if we sit back and do nothing. It was the great education reformer, Paulo Freire, who perceptively noted, "If the structure does not permit dialogue, the structure must be changed."

In education reform, we have tried implementing the same "silver bullets" over and over again with the expectation of different results. This is insanity at its finest. The 21st-century education system screams for a revolution, not tweaks.

Bring on the learning revolution!

Nikhil Goyal is a junior at Syosset High School in Syosset, N.Y. He is currently writing a book on education reform.