Be Careful What You Wish For
Student perspectives are often inconvenient
On Tuesday, Oct. 11, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Board of Education considered a proposal to add a student as an official member of the school board.
The proposal, which passed on a 7-2 vote, outlines the creation of the Superintendent’s Student Advisory Council. Every high school will elect one student – a junior or senior – as their representative to the council, and then those representatives will vote on a single member of the council to also serve as a member of the Board of Education.
Many students showed up to speak in favor of adding a student representative to the board but in opposition to what they saw as an exclusionary and unfair process. Once all public comments had been heard, school board members Paul Bailey (District 6) and Rhonda Lennon (District 1) both offered some very pointed responses to these student concerns.
“The most unfair thing in the world is politics,” Bailey remarked. He went on to say, “It doesn’t feel good, but it is what it is.”
Lennon spoke more to the notion that students didn’t feel like their voices would be adequately represented: “If nine of us can represent the million people that live in Mecklenburg County, I feel like 26 students can represent the 147,000 students. It’s called representative government for a reason.”
They both bring up fair points.
And, admittedly, while students were lamenting over the process being nothing more than “a popularity contest” or, perhaps, who is liked most by school administration, I couldn’t help but think – yeah, but, isn’t that sort of the nature of politics?
We certainly don’t always elect the most qualified or deserving candidate, and you also don’t get too far in politics without making the right connections with the right people. Not to mention the fact that an election is, well, kind of just a glorified popularity contest.
So, I was glad to see school board members pointing out the fairly obvious parallels and encouraging these students to look at the bigger picture and to see the civics lesson in the whole ordeal. It’s a good lesson to learn.
There’s also something to be said for encouraging students to influence the way their schools drum up “popularity” for a certain candidate—to influence what people are paying attention to when making the decision—which Bailey brought up, as well.
On the other hand, Vice Chair Elyse Dashew, who serves in an at-large seat, pointed out a few “flaws” that she saw in the current proposal and advocated for tweaking the selection process going forward to allow for a broader pool of students from which to choose—one that doesn’t include just the “usual suspects” for student leadership.
Dashew closed her remarks on the issue by noting another concern: “We asked for student perspective on this, and it’s sort of ironic that we’ve dismissed almost everything that they proposed in this particular situation.”
Also a very fair point.
Students don’t always know nearly as much as they think they do, which makes it easy for us as adults to gloss over their views as naïve, ill-informed, or superficial; however, their voices often have power – and wisdom! – because of their untrained perspectives, unencumbered by the baggage of routine paradigms.
And their feedback is often inconvenient and unpredictable, as a result.
But one thing you can certainly expect is for students to challenge the status quo in meaningful, and sometimes frustrating, ways.
By adding a student member to the school board, we are authenticating the value of the student perspective, but it will require a conscious effort, continuous reflection, and a healthy amount of patience to preserve the authenticity of that value.