Listening and decisions

Well, my last post has created some good discussion, I always like discussion. One thing that seemed to generate some good discussion revolved around listening to students.  As mrsdurff commented 

“Producing future workers in the economies of our countries who are able to think critically is the point. This cannot be accomplished without the use of the tools. There are many who are concerned about the widening digital divide, or as I like to say the wrinkles.” 

I won’t completely disagree with this although I wonder if school should be focused on producing future workers. If that is what schools are to do, then tools we use need to be much more than just the tech tools because our economies are being driven by more than technology. In my area of the world, we cannot find people who work in the trades – carpenters, plumbers, electricians and such, nor can we find enough people for the service sector to work in restaurants, hotels and other such places. These are the areas where we need people to work and it has been that way for a number of years. 

As for the “widening digital divide”, I’m seeing it kind of like the discussion of the 21st Century Skills discussion that has been making the rounds. From my perspective, we need to teach the youth much more about dealing with people and worry less about them learning to use the tools – they’re already doing it and will grow into using these tools in their chosen area of employment. They’re youth, they will experiment and learn then take what they need for their employment. The divide, from my perspective, is more about socio-economic conditions than about using tools. If we can work on dealing with the human factor, maybe the divide won’t be such a problem. But as long as we continue to feed the narcissism of the youth, getting them to see other’s plight will be that much more difficult. 

Now, we need to listen to the youth most definitely. As one of my new acquaintances points out:

“I think we have to listen to kids….I think we have to listen a LOT. They shouldn’t be totally empowered, but they should be heard. Thinking that the teacher has all the answers is misguided. In fact, some of my best teaching has been a result of asking the right questions and listening.”

Again, I’m not going to disagree because what is said is correct. However, listening to them doesn’t mean you give them all they want. My comments come from the point of view that there are many discussions where I see youth putting their points out and then, when an adult disagrees with them or doesn’t side with them, they are angry, upset, rude and disrespectful. As an administrator I get to see more than my share of this and it isn’t getting any better. When we elevate youth to equal adults, we create problems that go far beyond just the age difference. We create a peer situation that is, basically, wrong. Adults and youth are not peers. Yes we can learn from listening to youth just like we can learn from listening to those older than us or people in different situations than us or listening to someone of the opposite sex or…. the key is learning through listening. However, there is a point where we need to make it clear that although a youth may appear to be wise beyond their years, they are still a youth and guidance from those older than them is required. Yes, I know all about those youth who are like that, I live with a few of them. But they are still youth and need the guidance of parents and adults and need to respect those adults. It is a life skill that will serve them well in their lives!  To invite a youth into a situation where they are discussing as a peer with adults creates a situation that, frankly, I wouldn’t want to be involved and I sit and discuss with youth about various things on various levels. Input, ideas, opinions and the rest are important but cannot be confused with being given the responsibility to make decisions about areas that are not within the realm of the youth. And, if the adults don’t make it absolutely clear that all the youth are providing is input, ideas and the like, then that is misleading. To qualify, I’ve seen what happens when youth are led to believe they will be given the ability to change policy or have ideas implemented and then find out that it’s not so.

This whole area is a bit of a contentious one since educators work so closely with youth and can see that their input and ideas are crucial to the whole educational context but because they do not have all the bigger picture pieces nor some of the life experiences that the adults have, there is just a difference that cannot be ignored. Call me what you will, but I believe that my time here on the planet, my education and my abilities give me an advantage about certain situations in relation to a youth. 

Okay, now here’s another thing that I don’t get. Since when haven’t youth been disconnecting and powering down when they went to school? I don’t get this. Maybe I hung with a different crowd or was abnormal but, for the most part, what we did in school was almost completely disconnected from our lives and we powered down and disconnected at school only to reconnect after. We couldn’t do it via texting or msn so we actually had to plan and get together f2f or talk on a landline, but we were connected quite a bit. We played video games, hung out at each other’s homes, drove around finding places to get away from adults and be, well, kids. We didn’t videotape the time we hung out (for that I am so thankful!!) and post it online and we had to drive to a meeting place. The tools have changed but the fact that youth have been disconnecting from school isn’t new. (See earlier post and reference to Socrates!) The youth finally have the ability to get their message out in a persuasive manner and for some reason it’s bothering adults! 

The important thing is to find a balance between listening to what youth are saying and continuing to realize that some of what they are saying has been said before and is part of being a youth. To frame this as a new problem of youth discounts the past, which has much to teach us. What will be interesting will be what happens when these youth are no longer youth. How will their tune change?


  1. Reply

    You have some interesting points here. First, you talked about the fact that we need more than just tech to prepare students for the future. I agree wholeheartedly. But I do not think we should be preparing students for a trade. I think we should be preparing them for a future where they will have to make decisions, work with others, create, think “outside of the box”, etc. What they do with these skills might be to develop an amazing plumbing business. But it might not. If they choose to learn plumbing (or any other trade) they can do that after high school. I shudder over tracking students into trades. Maybe things are different today but…

    Second, you talked about listening to students. You said, “My comments come from the point of view that there are many discussions where I see youth putting their points out and then, when an adult disagrees with them or doesn’t side with them, they are angry, upset, rude and disrespectful.” I totally agree with this statement. Regardless of how intelligent, how tech saavy, how innovative these students are, they are still young and in need of guidance. And isn’t that where we should step in? I think we have too often treated youth as if they were our peers. This really needs to stop so THEY will learn to listen as they get older.

    And, last, you talked about the disconnect from school always being there. I agree that I too felt school had no connection to my real life. But I hated school, hated going, and never learned to enjoy learning until I started as an adult. I want better for my students. And I love when they are so involved in school it becomes the place they want to be more than any other.

    I apologize for the length of my comment. But you wrote such a fabulous post I couldn’t help myself. 🙂

  2. Reply

    Lisa thanks for the response. Your comments about the need for students to be creative problems solvers is bang on. I guess I was vague when I was talking about the trades. I don’t think we should stream students or inhibit them in any way. Having said that, we have to help them in all areas of development and sometimes I feel that when we discuss technology, we forget about that. We should be helping them see the possibilities and “think outside the box” but that happens in so many ways and the different technological tools are just a part of students need to be able to get outside the box. In fact, if we limit by focusing too much on technologies, we’re just creating another box. With the way that students are able to use and adjust to new technologies, they sometimes need to see that things can be done in different ways so they have a great set of experiences and knowledge from which to draw and use.
    As for the disconnect from school, I think it is something that happens as they get older and enter the pre-teen and teen years. It’s not “school” but in fact many other things that are going on. I enjoy all the learning that I do and have continued my education in a number of ways but, in each instance, there was disconnect from my work life and other parts of my life. I’ve learned to draw the two together but that comes from experience and knowing how to bridge the two, using my past knowledge to make those connections with what I am learning and then being able to “see” how it fits with what I am doing outside the learning. With technology, I tend to use it in many different ways outside of my work and when teaching, I draw on these experiences to try to use the technology if it’s the best tool for what I am doing. I’ve also learned to move away from it when it’s not meeting the needs of the students at the time.
    Again, thanks for the comments. Your insights and knowledge of teaching and learning are ones that I often look as I do my own learning.

  3. Reply

    1. I feel that narrative is so important in any discussion of vocational prep. When I say narrative, I mean the over-arching purpose and movement into which education fits. A society whose main goal is to beat other countries in the financial reports will quickly lose that competition and be eliminated from the next round. Financial success must be a means to another end. Narrative provides us with that purpose, and we must develop leaders who are masters at articulating that narrative. Training students to be workers produces a society of workers, but few leaders. Without leaders, a society crumbles.

    2. Jim Collins describes technology as an accelerator. It will deliver us wherever we’re going faster than we might get there without it. Technology is therefore only beneficial if education is directed toward something meaningful, substantial, purposeful. If we’re going nowhere, technology will take us there very quickly.

    3. Teachers must listen to students in the name of assessment, but not for the purpose pedagogical decision-making. Certainly, student feedback plays a role, but if I want to know how I can improve as a teacher, I’m going to ask a master teacher long before I ask a student.

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