As young people learn about citizenship there need to be practical opportunities for them to experience the responsibilities and rights of citizenship. Youth and student rights in schools are practically inseparable. Without the ability to choose whether or not to attend school, enjoy free speech, or determine how, what, and why they learn what they do, the idea of growing up in a democracy can seem obtuse and irrelevant. Luckily, there are young people and adults who are working to change that.
Students do not shed their constitutional rights… at the schoolhouse gate. — Supreme Court of the United States in Tinker v. Des Moines
Types of Action
Youth as Advocates — Regularly sitting in classroom conversations and hallway debates about student rights, there are youth who have organized their classmates to protest the absence or demeaning of student rights. Engaged youth as advocates can picket, rally, petition and advocate against challenges to student rights. They can also organize communities, present at school board meetings, and draw media attention to their struggle.
Participatory Action Research — As the people most affected by challenges to student rights, youth can conduct research and studies from perspectives adults cannot see. Designing research, implementing studies and assessing outcomes are the initial steps of participatory action research; taking action in response to their findings is the most important step.
Students Teaching Teachers — As youth build their knowledge about student rights, they can become essential facilitators of professional development for educators and school leaders. With student voice at the center of their efforts, students teaching teachers can be the most effective, empowering and engaging way to present laws, policies, strategies and opportunities for adults to respect student rights, and to advocate for student rights.
Tools for Change
Education — Teaching youth about student rights can be a key to transforming educational experiences. Through knowledge-sharing and skill-building, youth can advocate for themselves and others, and teach adults. It is important that student rights are taught in non-biased ways that are non-adultist.
Internet — Building community among youth and establishing solid campaigns among youth and adults are just two outcomes of using the Internet to change the world. Other ways the Internet is a tool include providing young people with inspiration, research, and other information that can build and sustain student rights.
Mentorship — Developing mutually beneficial youth/adult partnerships can foster mentorships where youth mentor adults, and adults mentor youth in powerful ways. Training and reflection can be essential to ensuring mentorships are authentic, sustained and mutually beneficial.
Other tools are out there, too – share your thoughts in the comments below! For more information about how The Freechild Project can support youth engagement in student rights in school in your community or organization, contact us.