Reading Nicholas J’s blog makes me think of how entirely oblivious I was, throughout my own time in school, to the fact that there are different ways to think about educating people—that the school system is the product of a series of choices, and that other choices are possible. I don’t think anyone wanted us to think about that, though it strikes me as something that could only be good for one’s education.
Anyone who reads this blog knows that I think education would benefit from an infusion of democracy in many different forms. From top to bottom, our educational system seems to be pervaded by a fear and distrust of democracy, and a general sense that people cannot be trusted to make good decisions and must instead be dictated to from above.
One small way to buck that trend: Why not let high school students vote in local school board elections?
This is not a very revolutionary idea. It’s not as if it would change anything overnight. For one thing, state and federal control over education have left school boards with relatively little decision-making power. Students would probably not turn out in large numbers for school board elections—why should they be any different than the rest of us?—and would be unlikely to vote as a bloc. They would be unlikely to tip the scales in any election, and could do so only if the election were close anyway.
But I think it could change the dynamic in ways that would matter. For one thing, candidates naturally seek votes wherever they can find them. Board candidates would have a new set of voters to solicit, and would have to think about those voters’ interests in a different way. There would suddenly be an incentive for school officials to see students as more than just the passive objects of their attention, and to “respect” them in a way they’ve never had to before. Now there would be people inviting the students to think about their own education, and about how it might be improved. Wouldn’t that be desirable under virtually any theory of learning?
Enfranchising high school students, even in this limited way, would also present those students with a very different model of governance, one much more consistent with the traditional ideals of a democracy. Currently schools are little totalitarian states, geared toward producing obedient subjects, not active participants in a democracy. Yet these students are on the verge of turning eighteen and becoming fully enfranchised. Wouldn’t it make sense to offer them a little practice first?