Student voice from the inside and outside: The positioning of challengers

  • Mitra D
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Before youth can be accepted as important players in school decision making, the concept of student voice must gain acceptance among powerful stakeholders in the school. Using social movement theory as a lens, this article examines the consequences of positioning a student voice effort inside or outside of school walls. Positioning influences the legitimacy, sustain-ability, and scope of changes that a student voice initiative can pursue. Student voice focuses on the many ways in which youth can actively participate in school decisions that will shape their lives and the lives of their peers (Fielding 2001, Levin 2000). By adding students to the 'who' of school decision making, the concept broadens the scope of 'distributed leadership' (Elmore 2000, Lashway 2003) to include students as well as teachers. While previous student power movements in the 1960s and 1970s asserted the rights of high school students to participate in decision making, student voice largely vanished in the mid-1970s and did not reappear until the new millennium (Levin 2000). 1 The current conception of student voice focuses instead on the role of students in school-based reform initiatives, site-based decision making, and changes in classroom instruction and pedagogy. When put into practice, student voice at the most basic level can consist of youth sharing their opinions of problems and potential solutions on the most basic level. Partnering with students to identify school problems and possible solutions reminds teachers and administrators that students possess unique knowledge and perspectives about their schools that adults cannot fully replicate. Student voice can go further to entail young people substan-tially participating in the change process by collaborating with adults to address the problems in their schools and in the broader policy environment. Some of these student voice efforts have served as a catalyst for change in school policies, including helping to improve instruction, curriculum, assessment, teacher training, and teacher-student relationships (Kushman 1997, Rudduck, Day and Wallace 1997, Mitra 2001, 2004). Before students are accepted as key players in school reform and decision making, however, the concept of student voice must gain legitimacy among powerful stakeholders in the school. Student voice advocates must

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  • Dana L. Mitra

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