Listen To The Kids


The New York Times recently published a report on two studies showing that young Americans are “anxious about their lives, disillusioned about the direction of the country and pessimistic about their futures”.

Which is hardly surprising considering the behavior exhibited by most of their national “leaders”. As well as much of the news media.

On the latter point, take this article. To interpret the data, the writers quoted half a dozen adult “experts”, including W’s Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings.1

They just didn’t bother including the voices of any of the kids themselves.

While the piece spends a lot of space on the political implications of the attitudes expressed in the polls (because everything must be related back to the horserace in the Times), one of the most important points gets a casual mention in the middle. 

An issue of prime importance to teenagers across surveys is education.

More than half of teenagers said public K-12 schools were doing a fair or poor job. Just 8 percent said they were doing an excellent job.

When Gallup asked teenagers for the three words that best described how they felt in school, the most common answers were bored, tired, and pressured.

Maybe the topic of creating better schools, ones that better serve the needs of students, is one the Times and other media could dig into more deeply. Instead of assigning three reporters to write yet another piece about standardized testing data and “learning loss”.

Which, as I said last time, doesn’t exist.

For a start, they might want to read a post in The 74 by Robin Lake, executive director of the Center on Reinventing Public Education. She suggests going back to Theodore Sizer’s final book, The New American High School for a framework to build a better education system.

Rather than sort students into tracks or marshaling all of them toward a single objective, it would provide every student adult guidance and technological support to understand their own conception of a good life, and provide them with the support, connections, knowledge, and skills to pursue that life—and to change course where necessary.

Rather than focus on a centuries-old curriculum and memorization, it would recognize the transformative forces of AI technology, climate change, and geopolitics and prepare students to thrive, collaborate, and innovate in a rapidly changing world. Yes, students would still study Sophocles, Shakespeare, and Newton, but in a more relevant, contemporary context.

All of that is certainly an excellent starting point.

However, before attempting any reinvention of school, we need to place young people, those recently graduated as well as current students, at the center of the planning process.

School is supposed to be about their future. The kids should have a lot more input into the education that will help them get there.

They deserve better than more polling data interpreted by adults.

The photo shows a bicyclist on the grounds of the Kennedy Center’s The Reach on a sunny mid-December day.

1. The person responsible in large part for the standardized testing disaster that was No Child Left Behind. Twenty years later, current students are still feeling the impact of that mess.

2 Comments Listen To The Kids

    1. tim

      Thanks, Mark. I suspect many of our education leaders are more afraid of the kids they serve than willing to listen to them. But we keep trying…


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