Youth As Equals

For young people to flourish, the relationships they have with others of all ages are crucial. They need to be non-coercive and based on equality. The following quote by Queensland Aboriginal Activists in 1970 creates a vision of how they look.

If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

The quote suggests a RUNG 9 for Roger Hart’s Ladder of Participation where no reference to age exists. Hart presented his version of the ladder in an essay titled Children’s Participation: From tokenism to citizenship published by UNICEF in 1992.

In the 30 years since Hart’s essay was published, little has changed in how students are treated in publicly funded schools. The idea of communities of learners where everyone is a learner and a teacher has been all but ignored by those in charge of publicly funded education. These are rights respecting learning environments that cultivate democratic citizenship and empower young people by creating the conditions that they are responsible for their own learning.

According to Larry Rosenstock of High Tech High, as reported in Beyond Measure, the single greatest impediment to educational innovation is the formally scheduled school day, the practice of age-segregating students and marching them to the bells. By simply eliminating it, the opportunities to establish the kinds of relationships that promote learning abound. The CHIP Program is one example that gives a window into what happens when students are free of the bells.

Why it is that the educational establishment has not explored in earnest the potential in eliminating formal scheduling with methodical, scientific studies is open to speculation, but until it happens, the structure of school will stand in the way of young people’s rights being fully respected.

Students and teachers do not need to wait for the structure of school to change to progress towards classrooms that more reflect the Aboriginal quote above. In Another Way Is Possible: Becoming a Democratic Teacher in a State School, Derry Hannam describes relationships of equality with his 11 year old students.

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