Another gadfly-gem yesterday from Clay Burell, commenting about the frustrating lack of real collaborative connections in the edublogosphere between adults and students. And everywhere else.

It makes me wonder if we educators don’t know how to function as
true community leaders. Our connections with our students terminate at
the end of each school year. If that’s true, then all the networking in
the world is going to be fairly impotent, in terms of affecting our
youths.

It’s ironic that the edublogger network maintains its relations with
adults across the years. Students, though? Garbage in, garbage out?
August to June, then bye-bye? Makes me want to get me to a nunnery
(*grimace*) where I can educate students as people, not as
institutionally defined objects on institutionally defined terms. . . .

But, but, but: I still maintain this – the glaring absence of
independent student voices in the blogosphere is symptomatic of a
radical disconnect between educators and youths. We’re all still
addicted, judging by what’s seen as opposed to what’s read, to being
educator/teacher-centered "sages on the stage."

It’s early days yet for the edublogosphere. The lure of celebrity,
the valid joys of communicating with other educators, the infinite
possibilities of the "school 2.0" idea – all of these will surely, at
some point in a future I hope is near, not far, wane to make room for
the student element so obviously missing right now.

My response was. . . let’s just say. . . on the tepid end of the inspiration scale—the rhetorical equivalent of a shoulder shrug:

I couldn’t agree more with your observations about the adult-centric
nature of our slice of the blogosphere. Lots of good conversation
happening stratum by stratum, but not much fence-hopping exchange out
there between teachers and students. We settle comfortably in our like
niches. . . .

Not sure what the panacea will turn out to be. Can you invent a
metaphorical pogostick that will help us cross strata? Maybe a
generational babelfish translator to bridge the gap between adult and
student worlds?

But after a long walk and a good night’s sleep, I’ve circled back to take another, hopefully more constructive, crack at it. I see that Clay has, too. Karl Fisch, Scott McLeod, and Sylvia Martinez have started a (Sisyphian?) ball rolling by asking about the paucity of student voices at NECC and other conferences. Sure, it’s important to move beyond the patronizing trot-’em-out-and-pat-’em-on-the-head paradigm of including student voices—Sylvia’s comment is priceless: "It’s crazy, logistically impossible, and insanely rewarding." But, as Clay points out, there may be even bigger fish to fry, namely helping students achieve credibility and voice in the adult-heavy edublogosphere.

I’m tempted to tinker with the mechanics of Clay’s assertion that the blogosphere is the playing field we should aim to level. I’m not convinced that blogging, narrowly defined, is where kids want to spend their time. For reflective, discursive writing, yes. But privileging the relative formality of blogging to the exclusion of more immediate, micro-expressions like Twitter seems like falling into the adulthood trap all over again—legitimizing what we’re most comfortable with. Broadening the definition feels closer to the mark. But, overall, Clay’s thesis—that we’re needlessly infantilizing our youth, to our detriment —carries considerable weight.

Central to all of this is the idea that educators have much to learn from students, and that we start by listening to what students have to say. Accept this premise, and then comes the straightforward task of creating spaces for speaking, listening, and dialogue; and after that the infinitely more complex task of figuring out what to do with what we’ve learned.

So, what examples and models are out there for elevating student voices? For inviting them into our own ongoing conversations and reinforcing their engagement? Some simple ones come to mind right away:

  • Profiling and plugging "new voices"—if it’s good for adults, it’s probably good for kids, too.
  • Comment genuinely and profusely on a student blog near you. Heck, even add it to your reader.
  • Add to the Individual Student Bloggers category  on  Support Blogging. While you’re there, check out the Classroom Blogs section.
  • Initiate 1:1 mentoring relationships between adult and student edubloggers. Or even a looser group mentoring relationship between networks of students and adults. Again, Clay already put a version of this idea out there back in May: "What would happen if we educators encouraged volunteer students to create a niche of learner edubloggers?" What would happen? What about inviting those articulate, gifted learner edubloggers to contribute to a group blog along the lines of Scott McLeod’s LeaderTalk? LearnerTalk. . . a panel of must-hear student voices that would be a mandatory touchstone for any conversation in the edublogosphere. Any takers? I’ll host, but could use some pointers from Scott.
  • Let’s get higher ed and professional development practice into the picture. How about a "Student Perspective" Ning group where professional developers and teacher ed folks and their educator-students can meet up with groups of students for frank dialogue about specific issues of theory and practice. And if the educator-students are the bridge, the common connector, shining their own students’ perspective on their own professional growth, how authentic and transparent is that? What better way to model lifelong learning, learning in community, and professional responsibility?
  • Sometimes the best ideas are found closest to home. Encourage and participate in forums like Students Speak Out, a Ning-powered project by Minnesota’s Citizens League that brings together youth and adult voices to address education-related issues—on a level playing field.
  • Your ideas?

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