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Learning at its Best, Student Voices

Not Ready to Listen? (Guest Post by Adora Svitak)

Originally posted at Adora’s Blog

 “The customer knows best.” It’s an adage seemingly old as time (for us young’uns, anyway). While it’s not always the case (as anyone who has worked an intense over-the-phone customer service job before may know), it’s certainly always valuable for businesses to listen to what clients are saying–whether surveys, market research, or feedback cards, many businesses have some structure in place to listen to their customers. And public feedback can have an important impact–Bank of America cancelled its $5-a-month debit card fee before it even began due to customer backlash.

In almost every area of the private and public sectors (think of representatives meeting with constituents or city hall meetings), there are ways for “customers”–those receiving the services or being represented–to make their voices heard. So why should education be any different?

Education? you might think. Surely there are those school board meetings or PTAs? But a crucial voice is missing in education: that of the student’s. How often do classroom teachers ask students to provide them with feedback on how their teaching could be improved so students learn better? When was the last time administrators sat down with students and gave them decision-making power or at least input–no, not just over the theme of the Homecoming Dance or how to decorate the school for the holidays, but important issues like curriculum, required courses, or assessment?

I’m asking these questions because of an email from a prestigious education membership organization that my mom recently received in response to talks about a potential book I was hoping to write (that would bring issues of student voice, reciprocal learning, and education technology to the forefront). It said that based on their research, the education community “is not yet ready to receive the message from a student.”

If the education community is unable or unwilling to receive a message about education from a student, I think we have problems. We’d find it unacceptable if our representatives suddenly started refusing to meet with constituents or if companies like Bank of America kept on charging ridiculous fees despite public uproar. Yet we accept that education doesn’t want to hear from students? We are the “customers” of our nation’s schools. It’s in our interest to learn in the best way we can–many of my fellow students have plenty of wise insights that I think could help change education for the better–but that simply won’t happen if the adults in the room are covering their ears.


A prolific short story writer and blogger since age seven, Adora Svitak (now 14) speaks around the United States to adults and children as an advocate for literacy and education transformation! Adora just started The Student Union  a group she started to bring student voices to education reform. She believes “Students + education leaders = positive change 🙂 If you’re a student with insights to share about your education or education leader (teacher, policy maker, educational service district administrator, librarian, media specialist, whoever can have an impact on kids’ education), ask to join”



12 thoughts on “Not Ready to Listen? (Guest Post by Adora Svitak)

  1. Wow Adora, I assume you’re talking about ASCD, and frankly this doesn’t surprise me a bit. It’s pretty bald though–and relates to the discussion raised by Jabreel over in his last post (and the pushback it received).

    How would it be for you if you released some of the contents of your book in posts here, and we as a community spread the word?

    I am assuming that you will take this message as incitement, rather than discouragement, to proceed.

    Go go. You will inspire others to be braver and truer as you venture forth.



    Posted by Kirsten | January 23, 2012, 8:29 am
    • Thanks Kirsten! I don’t have the book written out yet (the email was referencing more tentative steps), but I will definitely continue to write about student voice in education and some of the things I’m learning from the discussion forming around how students can change education. Thanks for your support!

      Posted by Adora Svitak | January 27, 2012, 5:57 pm
  2. I am very interested in the research referenced in Adora’s post

    It said that based on their research, the education community “is not yet ready to receive the message from a student.”

    Can anyone share the who, what, where, when and how about it? That will be a fascinating read

    Posted by timmcclung | January 23, 2012, 12:51 pm
  3. Our unreadiness is a better sign of our need to listen to kids than our readiness would be. I wholeheartedly second Kirsten’s invitation to post your work on “student voice, reciprocal learning, and education technology” here.

    Where would you suggest a teacher should go to learn more from students about these topics right now?


    Posted by Chad Sansing | January 25, 2012, 9:17 am
    • Thank you! I would highly recommend teachers join “The Student Union” group on Facebook (to view what students are saying and listen to suggestions about how education can be improved). I’ve also written and spoken widely on different youth voice topics, and there are some great youth activists (like Jabreel, Nikhil Goyal, Line Dalile, etc.) who all have points of view to share.

      Posted by Adora Svitak | January 27, 2012, 5:56 pm


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