Updated: Sep 4
The story begins with a discontent young girl. In her world, her voice puts her center stage. She's curious, determined, and pushes past the limitations set forth by those in charge. Every moment she spends in her current predicament leaves her languishing for something new, something more. When she can no longer tolerate the compliance demanded of her by her elders and teachers, she ventures to someone who would be willing. This teacher promised to give her access to the things her heart desired. The future she wanted would finally be within her grasp. The caveat: she would need to surrender her voice to gain access.
While this example comes from story of the Little Mermaid, it is on repeat in many schools across America. There are far too many 'Ursulas' who require the voice of their students in exchange for teacher effort. Students are continually being asked to sacrifice their voice on the altar of America's school system. These sacrifices aren't as pronounced as one would think. Student voice is stolen incrementally. The enforcement of dress code, silent transitions, discipline, forms of classroom management, and the like work together to put our students' voices on mute.
"Student voice is rarely empowered in education. It is either controlled or constricted."
.Educators might employ different silencing strategies. Honestly consider the following questions:
Are you prone to leverage domination tactics to enforce compliance?
Are you skeptical of the knowledge students possess?
How do you respond when the student voices are preventing moving according to your plan?
Do you delegitimize students or their voices?
Are you rigid in your point of view, demanding to have the last word?
How quickly do you shut down debate or conversation when you fear losing control?
The question that we don't ask in these moments is, "what will it cost?" Is 'compliance' today worth the sacrifice? Do your classroom practices help empower the voices we all will need or just to silence them for the convenience of the lesson? The voices we silence today will be the ones we look for tomorrow - but by that time, they would have learned that their voices don't matter.