Is Bullying a Form of Student Voice?
Roaring waves of hopeful obligation have rumbled into schools across the country, crashing learners into desk chairs for another year of education. Standing on the shores of learning adventures, many educators look out and see oceans of hope and possibilities, but seasoned sailors know the sea is a friend that can turn enemy. Among the waves are storms and shipwrecks, and the lull may be the calm before the storm. However, rather than ending the journey before it begins, classroom ships venture onto the high seas of learning, knowing that while there are perils ahead there are great rewards, too. Bullying is one of those perils. Student voice is a beacon in the water that can help educators see what is coming.
After working with hundreds of K–12 schools across the United States and Canada over the last 10 years, I have come to define student voice as any expression learners make about education, schools, or learning, including their ideas, wisdom, and actions. Student voice addresses learning, teaching, and leadership in schools every day. Central to any conversation about student voice and bullying, I have come found that student voice comes in two primary forms in schools:
- Convenient student voice does what adults want, when we want it, how we want it, and in ways we want it to. Examples of this form of student voice include the school newspaper and student government, voting on classroom rules, and completing teacher evaluation forms.
- Inconvenient student voice does not do want adults want. This comes from the student whose graffiti declares “School SUX!” on the bathroom wall, the kids swapping test answers via text messages, and the student protest outside the cafeteria.
It is that second form of student voice that shows how bullying affects learning as it reveals bullying to be a form of repressed expression. That expression is student voice—albeit, one of the most perverse forms. Rather than passively waving red flags on the sidelines of the classroom, bullying paradoxically challenges educators by actively screaming for attention and smoldering quietly in the recesses of the learning environment.
Framing bullying as a type of student voice can allow schools to address the problem in a more effective way by showing the roots of bullying. This allows educators to redirect the energy and emotion of perpetuators towards learning, teaching, and leadership in schools. This requires schools to reposition students from being the problem to becoming the solution. Framing bullying as student voice also shows how it affects both students and adults in schools and clearly shows it’s affect on learning. By providing opportunities for students to share their ideas, wisdom, and actions to improve their educational experiences, educators can redirect and transform inconvenient student voice into a learning device, thereby making it convenient student voice.
I will address the question of how this happens in another post; for a preview, visit www.soundout.org to see examples of how schools across the country are engaging student voice through powerful and purposeful forms of meaningful student involvement.
Tell us what you think about framing bullying as a type of student voice to more effectively address the root of the problem. Ideas, comments, concerns?