• lkbostrom

Why ask for authenticity when we already plan to discredit the response?

Some important context about the survey that is the subject of this post - I asked a colleague to have her mentor group class and workshop class respond to it - in total about 40 students between the two classes. Some of the students who responded might have been in my mentor group class last year, some might have had me as their science teacher, and some might not even know who I am. There was no incentive for students to respond, they weren’t graded or required to participate and I will not follow up with them about their responses in a meaningful way. Additionally, you can read the student responses in the PDF attached at the end of this post if you're interested.


Here are the questions I asked on the survey:

  1. When you read the word perspective what do you think of, or how do you understand it as a word?

  2. What is your perspective of schooling and/or education?

  3. Is there a person or experience that helped to shape your perspective of schooling and/or education? Explain a bit about how that person or experience shaped your perspective.

  4. What is the best part of schooling and/or education from your perspective?

  5. If you could change one thing about schooling and/or education: what would you change and how would you change it?

  6. Has your perspective of schooling and/or education changed as you have gained experience in schools? Explain a bit about how it has change or why you think it has stayed the same.

Before I started reading the responses I remember anticipating whether the survey would be helpful. And as completed surveys started rolling in, I paid attention to how long students spent writing their responses, and the rough word count for each question. I began making judgements about the ‘validity’ of the survey immediately. I wondered how this would connect to our project, or if I had wasted their time, my colleague’s time, and my own time. Students continued to submit the survey even after I knew the class had moved on to the next activity, two students submitted their responses Wednesday evening. Roughly 50% of students from the class filled out the survey.


When I took the time to sit down and read through all 22 responses there were some common themes. Several students noted that the best part of schooling/education was the social component: getting to see friends, meet new people, and learn from each other. One student expanded on the this by saying,


the best part of schooling in my perspective is how you can see other peoples opinions, ideas, trials, and errors in the idea o trying to find there place in life in order to shape your own.


The mental health of students was a focus of conversations about reopening schools to in person learning during the 2020-2021 school year, however, racism, hate, and bullying are also common features of school environments and culture. Another student touched on this tension when they wrote,


Its ok, not really but i guess everyone deals with it, there should be more moral stuff as at some homes some people have very skewed sights of people or things in general.


More themes appeared in the responses to the question “If you could change one thing about schooling and/or education: what would you change and how would you change it?” Multiple students mentioned changing grade systems, elaborating to note how much stress grades put on students and in turn families. In a similar vein, multiple students mentioned they would change homework and tests, as well as the topics and subjects that they are required to study.


To me, these responses speak to the lived experiences that students have every day in schools and the ways in which they are imagining that education could suit them better, prepare them better, and help them lead flourishing lives.


It is interesting to ground these students’ responses in how a philosopher like Brighouse might answer to their questions and challenges.Would Brighouse respond by saying that students don’t know what topics or courses will help them flourish? I worry that he would, that his justification of paternalism, and more specifically parental obligation, would extend to permit adults to always set the expectations and requirements. Perhaps I am nitpicking at Brighouse’s language too much, but when he writes


If I feel uncomfortable with the role of facilitating a child to lead a flourishing life, or making judgements about what a flourishing life will be for her, then I should feel equally uncomfortable …forcing her to attend a building for seven hours a day…and forcing her to interact with numerous other coerced detainees with whom she has no natural affinity. (Brighouse, 53)


I am inclined to think he would undermine these students and the real challenges they face. Perhaps this sentiment expressed by Brighouse is meant to be tongue-in-cheek, and after all this is just one person’s perspective, but I am missing the step where adults moved from facilitating children to lead a flourishing life to forcing children into ways of living and life experiences. Additionally, if this society places high value on schooling and education why do we speak about it, and let schools function, in restrictive and jail-like ways? I’m not saying that students aren’t “coerced detainees” or that they don’t feel like they are “coerced detainees” - Why are we allowing a system that creates that experience and perception to continue?


In his introduction, Brighouse speaks about how schools are now filling new roles, making up for other societal failures, and expected to succeed. He writes,


We expect schools to educate everyone…we expect them to do this despite keeping high proportions of children in poverty … we expect them to deal with the emotional consequences of fractured - and ever more complex - family arrangements. (Brighouse 1)


I find this interesting because poverty, level of parental education (which I cut out of the quote but is there in the book), and fractured/complex family arrangements are not children’s fault - they are the result of adults making decisions (for themselves or on behalf of other adults) - and yet he goes on to argue that adults are in the best place to make decisions on behalf of children? Make it make sense.


This rant about Brighouse is just to set up this statement - children can, and do, make statements about their own flourishing, adults just aren’t always interested. To support this statement I will return to the survey, where I found several responses that I present as evidence of students wanting to flourish, first is this response:


I would chance grades. I would make it something completely different because its rough. Students who fall behind at the beginning are stuck if their assignments lock, students who spent their school life keeping up a 4.0 could have that entire track record destroyed by one teacher, and grades are a huge leading conflict between parents and students.


A better system would have something that would track growth, rather than temporarily memorizing information, dumping on a test, and forgetting it after.


This student identified multiple dimensions of grading policies and the challenges they present to students and families and proposes using growth as a measure of student success and achievement. A second response that I think shows evidence to flourishing is:


in middle school i used to really like tests and all the homework i got. to me it was always really nice to see those high grades, and i always got praise for it. but since I've been in a highschool that avoids tests and homework as much as possible, I realized that i wasn't getting as quality of an education while only caring about that immediate turn out.


This student recognized how the structure of school and classes affected their perception of what it meant to be successful, or what it meant to be a good student, and when given an alternative approach to schooling was able to recognize how different structures to assessing understanding created a better environment for this student.


These are just a few examples, the rest of the responses cover a range of topics, a range of perspectives and ideas about education, but they are all valid evidence of student voice, they all provide reliable perspectives and they are all thoughtful. Why does it matter if only 50% of students responded? That doesn’t make their responses any less valid, sure, it changes the “full picture” and not every voice is represented - but why should that have any impact on what the students who did submit responses say? Teenagers can be standoffish, but most humans really like to talk about themselves - so why don’t students fill out surveys that explicitly are asking for their perspective? Is it because adults typically don’t ask? Don’t care? Don’t do anything with the information gathered? Ridicule the responses or write them off as “young” or “ill-considered”?


I wasn’t certain what would come out of this survey, in large part because multiple articles I have read this quarter have had authors express reservations about the ‘authenticity’ of student responses when they utilized student voice as primary source data. On some level I understand, as a student I would not have provided completely accurate accounts of my identity, life, perspective, or probably anything, to any adult. And as a teacher I have had students blow off assignments, never submit assignments, and even explain to me why the assignment was stupid and not worth their time. More often, however, though least remembered, I have had students think deeply and share their understanding with me, I have had students ask questions and get clarification, and I have had students go above and beyond what I was asking them to do. Faced with all those possibilities, why should that mean that any, if not all, of the responses high school students do share are any less authentic? Or are any less reliable than evidence provided by adults? Is there an age when an individual becomes able to provide reliable evidence? Maybe in our legal system…but even then reliability is tied to so many other aspects of identity and life experience.


I am going to end this post with something that may seem unrelated. Early in this quarter one of my classes talked about the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness surrounding work done towards education equity. This last week, in the same class, we talked about how hard it is to reimagine policy and systems to create affirming educational spaces, one person noted that school trains us to not imagine. I can’t help but see the connection between losing our imagination and assuming positions in society where we decide what flourishing means for the next generation - and I also see that current students are still imagining and I hope that they don’t have it trained out of them.


Perspective of School_Education - Student Survey
.pdf
Download PDF • 105KB


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