Should Kids Have the Power to Hire and Fire Their Teachers?
Sep 15, 2008 Other 2579 Views
I think kids should have the power to hire and fire their teachers. Students are the ultimate customers. That being said, I don't think a student should be able to get pissed off at a teacher and say, "You're fired!" There has to be a trustworthy process like the election system used by the Sudbury Valley School of Framingham, Massachusetts. Each year, students vote on how well a staff member is serving the community and on if they would like to see that staff member return. The majority rules.
These elections are real! There are times when staff members who have children attending the school are still voted out. It's rare, but it happens. Having THIS much power makes a huge impact. Even considering their wide range of personalities, these kids generally tend to be a little more sensitive and compassionate than most because they've experienced the good and bad consequences of having meaningful community power. They live the impact of their votes, the emotional aftermath, and it shapes them.
Another way to look at this is: why should a teacher be in a classroom if the kids don't want that person there? How much learning will take place when teachers don't have the respect of their students? Voting a teacher in gives them confidence to lead, and voting them out gives the kids another chance with an adult who might inspire them.
There's a stagnant quality to traditional education, and a "voting for staff" policy like they have at Sudbury Valley would loosen things up. It also fulfills President Bush's stated goals about greater accountability in schools. Instead of his plan, though, which basically says, "Make tests all-important so that the budget is funded relative to scores," Sudbury's sort of accountability comes from a person positively influencing kids and asking them, "Do you want this person in your community? Vote yes or no." To me, that's accountability. You have the teachers grading the kids; why wouldn't you have the kids grading the teachers?
Let's look further at the flip side. Why would you not have kids involved in the process of who's teaching them? I think the main theory is adults know better because they have more experience. However, children know if they're getting value out of somebody. They feel happy, sad, scared, or angry during interactions with adults, and they let those feelings guide them. Again, I'm not talking about giving all the power to one particular kid. This isn't the tyranny of youth; it's majority rule, and I have high regard for a group of thirty people at any age. The majority gets things right the majority of the time.
A community where teachers and students are equals empowers everybody. Learning goes on between student and teacher that's very different from traditional education. At Sudbury Valley, they learn as much about life from the adults eating next to them at lunch as they do during a more formal lesson. Ultimately, this empowerment goes back to what schools are about: making children great citizens by simply giving them experiences of getting along together and solving conflicts inclusively.
I think becoming a great citizen happens far better in communities where adults are not saying, "We're bigger and smarter, so we're going to make the rules. We don't trust you to contribute on issues that matter." Adults who genuinely welcome the ideas and values of children are powerful role models. It's rich for kids to be around people with that level of self-confidence, especially in an informal setting where they're really, in a sense, just hanging out, learning by osmosis. Because at the base of it is this: we are all equal, with our own gifts of experience or age or talent. The better a community can tap into the resources of its individuals, the stronger the community and its members will be. If we can offer kids the chance to be fully involved in their school communities, the future of our society will be in the hands of people with much more experience and compassion than in any generation that has come before.
(c) 2008, Brooks Elms All rights reserved. Reprint rights granted so long as article and by-line are published intact and with all links made live.