Should We Let Kids Decide Educational Policy?

First, let me state unequivocally that I care what students think about education. We should ask them frequently, and incorporate that feedback. Diane Ravitch, in a recent blog post, seemed to advocate though that we should allow students to actively make decisions about intricate elements of educational practice and policy independently.

More specifically, she praised a 3rd grader for, independently, opting out of state testing. She trusted his professional opinion about which elements of education to take part in. It’s not hard to see where I’m going with this.

Ravitch supporters have supported her historically by claiming that she using hyperbole to drive home messages. My critiques of her less-than-professional use of hyperbole aside, it’s hard to make a case that this falls into that category. She’s straight out suggesting that if a 3rd grader doesn’t like something, he shouldn’t have to do it.

So, start rolling your eyes – here’s where I state the obvious. Sammy is allowed to opt out of state tests, what about guided reading groups? Science lab? School discipline practices? Special education? Physical Education?

Clearly, again stating the obvious here, a 3rd grader doesn’t have the skills, experience, or cognitive maturity to understand the complexity of state tests. Say what you will, stand on whichever side of the line you prefer, but it isn’t simple enough for a 3rd grader to understand thoroughly.

Again, returning to my first point – I thoroughly believe in listening to students, even when it comes to things like state tests. But, under no circumstances should a a 3rd grader be given the power to make big-time educational decisions he can’t possibly understand.

The better question here is why Diane Ravitch could possibly think this is a good idea? Truthfully, I don’t think she probably does. She’s a smart woman – I’m sure she sees the logic in what I’m saying here. My best guess is that this makes for good press, and what is clear is that she’ll stop at nothing to get her message out and gain readers – after all, she recently blogged about her success with gaining 21 million page views.. This is fine, but not if you start publishing nonsense to get a reaction.

The problem, not just with this blog post, is that people will eventually catch on to your methods and stop taking you seriously. Most of her followers seems to die-hard pro-teacher-at-any-cost supporters who refuse to acknowledge a single valid point that is not their own. They refuse to acknowledge complexity or nuance of arguments, perspectives, or educational policy. Anything suggested by the Gates foundation must be wrong, anything ever accomplished by a non-non-profit or school must have a secret agenda.

I’ll end by saying what I’ve said plenty of times before – I’m probably more on Diane’s side of the argument more than I’m not. She has some good things to say, but doesn’t generally find a good way of saying them. I continue to hope she finds a more mature position from which to advocate for our shared positions, because I believe kids would benefit more if she did.

Until then….