I met Andrew Pawluch 8 years ago when, as President of the Ontario Student Trustees Association (OSTA), he was asked to co-chair an important consultation with students about the idea of a Student Voice Initiative. Since then, Andrew has continued to make important contributions including assisting in the creation of a kit for Student Councils, Students as Researchers efforts, the design and delivery of provincial presentations challenging assumptions about student voice. Andrew’s creative efforts have motivated many cohorts of the Minister’s Student Advisory Council to work for change. Thank you, Andrew, for sharing this OpEd with the Student Voice Practitioners. ______________________
Amidst the hullabaloo of attention towards the American presidential election, it is worth drawing a share of the focus to a systemic, but nonetheless spicy political issue, one that involves positions of power, outsiders, and serious stakes- student governments. The positions of power are student councils and student trustees, the political outsiders are, self-evidently, students themselves, and the stakes are the potential for dramatically improved educational outcomes. I admire the work of past and current student leaders, but the similarity in the roles, mandates, and activities is precisely the point: where is the student voice? Organizing fundraisers and social functions doubtless provide a valuable service, but this can be considered as extra-curricular. The political practice we should be talking about is precisely that student government, with changes in teaching and learning, as well as technology, can justifiably and viably have voice in the broader administration of the school, to the mutual benefit of teachers, administers and pupil. When students are able to be directly involved in decisions surrounding not just playtime, but policy, democracy will seem exciting for the best reasons.
The legitimacy of student voice, which means a role beyond tokenism, it is worth remembering Ontario has already legislated that each school board has student trustees. We must wonder, what resources are afforded, but more importantly, how are these resources actually used in the current practice of student government at school, board, and provincial levels? How are all voices being included? What is the evidence of return on investment? What is being done in civics classes to energize this student voice? There are best practices, and these must be made known. From voting on issues, not people, to choosing course offerings, building improvements, and co-op programs, students have incredible ideas. We must foster their untainted wisdom, for the laboratory of democracy that are student councils and senates, in the authentic representation of all students, ought to be, through the practice of civic engagement, the most exciting incubator of student potential. Talk of revolution is often cheap, but small obvious reforms can have revolutionary benefits. So the real trump card, naturally, is that future leaders, all students, experience the benefits of an inclusive democratic process in their schools–It’s about time we used it.