Sunday, August 15, 2010

Why don't kids' opinions matter?

It is almost as though children are a different species of being -- one that has strong opinions, but none that should be at all regarded, noted, entered into any serious discussion. Schools can seem like battle grounds between teachers and kids. Teachers generally win, backed as they are by books, principals, demerits, detentions, retentions, and good old fashioned discipline. In a battle of wills between teachers and students, teachers might have the power position and therefore win, but something is lost. Something big.

The needs and desires of kids is so completely disregarded that I give myself this thought experiment: what would happen if the feelings of kids was to be elevated above adults? Who has the more uncorrupted mind?

An eight-year-old does not know the complexities of many situations, and therefore must defer to parents, I grant you. But he or she always knows what he likes, dislikes and hates. So do six-year-olds, and so do ten-year-olds. Kids may not always be able to articulate their feelings, or may not always take the risk of saying how they feel because they think they might "get in trouble" for it, but they always know how they feel, and those feelings are just as strong as an adult's.

Our school systems have been built on the adult's conception of what is good for children. Teachers and school administrators will always make a case for their understanding of what children need; but I would ask: How much of this understanding comes from books written by adults, conversations between parents and other teachers, or even great conferences dedicated to what children need -- and how much from talking to children?

Children are so used to their feelings being disregarded that they may not even know how to respond to a direct query: how do you feel about school? What would you want school to look like if you did it the way you wanted? I've asked a few kids this question and they either give me a funny look, shrug, say, "Ahdunno," or quip, "I'd fire all the teachers!"

What we have now is an institutional disregard for what children really want. Kids know perfectly well that in big issues, they have no say. We deny that, as adults; we defend ourselves, saying that all we do is for kids' own good! And yet we can't seem to rearrange the schedule at the middle school so that kids have more time to talk to each other, laugh, let off steam, maybe even run after a football. Why? Oh, all sorts of reasons. Because the literacy numbers are so bad that we have to add a class in Literacy, on top of the Language Arts class. Because the school did not make AYP last year and we have to use that time to cover material. All good reasons, real-life, adult problems. But kids really couldn't care less -- and they are the ones it is happening to. And when we make decisions because of outside forces like the need for Federal money, we need to be aware when it's running directly against what children want.

Children are born with a joyous desire to learn; it takes 12 years of public school for adults to beat it out of them.

When I ask people why we shouldn't lower the voting age to 12, often the reaction is laughter, a wrinkled brow, or a wave of the hand: that's just ridiculous. Kids don't have the emotional or intellectual maturity to vote. There it is again: kids do not count. Adults are the ones that manage the world, and they are the ones that make the rules. Kids can get all sentimental about stuff like endangered species, but they don't understand about jobs and the economy and the march of progress.

Could it be that the shorter the time you have lived, the fewer the complications that you've experienced, the more we should listen?

Someone is going to bring up Lord of the Flies, here. Obviously, kids can't run their own society without reference to adults. But....I never suggested they should. I am suggesting that when it comes to institutions dedicated to them, at least, that we sit and listen while they talk. Maybe even take notes. And at the first opportunity, change something about that institution, just because kids wanted it that way.

To get respect, you have to give respect.

Here is Sir Ken Robinson on kids' creativity. It's a funny speech and ties into the above post really well.


  1. bravo again Lisa.

    we have been listening to kids. this is where we've landed because of them, their dreams, their voice.

    so exhilarating - following their lead .. how could you not go there?

  2. Thanks! I've been talking about "passion-based learning" a lot lately. I like what you say on your blog about "choice..." it's what I've been chanting for years now.

  3. Thanks. Really. Someone just told me that my opinion doesn't matter because I'm twelve. I thought it was rude. I mean, it was only a YouTube comment, but it hit home. I can relate to this post. Some adults demand respect but don't give it to anyone under eighteen. I agree--we shouldn't run the world, but our opinions shouldn't be dismissed. It's mind boggling how some adults are unable to see things from someone else's point of view. In this case, age is a number. So what if you're thirty? What makes you more important? I know that, as a kid, my opinion is subject to change tomorrow. That doesn't make it less important. I still respect adults, don't get me wrong. But there are some adults that, while they want respect, make it hard for kids to respect them. So, thank you for this post.

    1. Alizaye, I am sorry I haven't checked the comments section until now! Thanks so much for sharing your views, which are, IMHO, spot-on!


  4. I loved reading this. Every single kid hates school. So why are we doing something we hate? We were given life to love it, not hate it. I believe learning is about traveling around the world experiencing different cultures and seeing different nature sites. Laerning is about connecting with other people, touching other lives. Learning is not 7 hour day sessions cramming useless junk into kids heads. I think we should learn by traveling. Adults believe they can boss kids around because they know whats best. School kills me, all these teachers yelling and being rude to us. So if teachers are rude to kids, that makes it ok for me to be rude to adults. Age doesnt matter. We are all human.

    1. Marissa, great response, thanks for your thoughts on this.

  5. You are all whiny ass gripers. YOU are the reason kids and young people can't hack it in the real world... Kids opinions DONT matter!!!

    1. And thus, we have an excellent example of the kind of adult that would take 12 years to beat the love of learning out of a child. Your obscene language and complete disregard apostrophes brings shame to all speakers of the English language. And while on the subject of English what exactly is "hacking it"? It certainly seems, sir or madame, that due to your obviously uneducated status for your implied age of legal adulthood or above, that it is your opinion that does not matter. Postscript: I am fourteen. Please stop and consider that fact, and all implied insults.

  6. I agree I'm 13 and whenever I voice my opinion my dad says IM 49 and your 13 so I know better than you

  7. hello, I read this story, it changed my world. I never felt like I mattered enough when I was a kid, when I think of childhood, I think of he time when I was wrong. now I realize it was because people told me I was wrong. My I ideas are and were dismissed as unimportant because I am a child, I do not understand life. give me a chance, give us a chance. stop shooting down our dreams, the reason you adults feel like you don't get enough respect is because all of you have too big egos and cant see around them. so say good-bye to your egos and see the light.
    So thank you. this story hit home.
    and to all whom may it concern, I am twelve. Think about that for a moment...moment over. We kids matter too, I see that now. After all, we are your future.(dramatic ending)Thank you once again.(to be polite)