What is our role, the students' role, in our society?
As it stands now we are the constant object of the education discussion sentence. My English teacher told me (and mind you, this was last year... in my junior year of high school) that a simple sentence contains three parts: the subject or actor, the verb or action, and the object or that which is acted upon.
As in: "The Department of Education (that's the subject) puts (the verb) children (the object) first (I guess that's an adjective)."
In the American education debate, we are acted upon by many subjects: The Department of Education, which treats us like products, numbers that need to be manipulated so that it can look good; the city, which treats us as criminals who need to be babysat by the NYPD for a couple of hours a day; and our teachers, whom people assume can snap their fingers and turn us into brilliant astrophysicists ready to herald in a new age of American economic glory.
In debates about the issues, class size for example, we always hear about how current conditions make teaching impossible. What about learning? Do you think it's any easier to learn in a class of 34 than it is to teach? Since when has learning become a passive action? Just because it contains no plosive sounds and seems to flow off the tongue a bit easier doesn't mean it's any smoother of a process. Learning is not an exact science. It takes hard work, intense concentration and in today's schools, quite a bit of luck.
If our education systems are truly trying to put "Children First," then it is time for us to become the subject of our education. People like Joel Klein need to stop asking, "Are our teachers teaching?" and instead ask, in the words of the Bard, "Is our children learning?"
To refocus this picture, we students need to take a more active role in our schools. That is the key mission of the New York City Student Union, a citywide, student-founded, student-run organization. Since its creation in 2006, the union's goals have been to act as a powerful collective voice for New York City's students, to give students a say in the decisions made about them, and to provide communication between students from all over the City.
Each Monday, these students from small schools, impact schools, specialized schools and others, meet to examine the problems in our city's schools and come up with student-generated solutions to them. For example, we've advocated the need for smaller classes to the governor and other state officials. We testified before the New York City Council against the cell phone ban, and most recently we've lobbied the Department of Education on improving its new progress reports and student surveys.
Additionally we work on student empowerment projects such as our Student Government Project, in which we are researching the state of student governments around the city and look to develop an effective student government model so that students can have a greater say in their individual schools, and the NYC Students Blog, the first-ever student-run blog about the NYC education system, which features the voices of seven student bloggers, representing every borough, giving their take on education issues.
I believe that the only way to make students the subject of the education debate is for us to take a more active role in larger education politics and the goings on of our own schools. We must remember that we are the learners. That is an honorable position to be in. We are not products or tools or criminals. We are potential incarnate.
Cross-posted on the NYC Students Blog