ASCD Whole Child Bloggers

Is Bullying a Form of Student Voice?

Post submitted by guest blogger Adam Fletcher, student voice expert and author of Frameworks for Meaningful Student Involvement. Follow Adam on Twitter.

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?

Comments (7)

Is Bullying a Form of Student Voice? « Whole Child

September 17, 2010

[...] Is Bullying a Form of Student Voice? « Whole Child Blog – Whole Child Education Filed under: education — coopmike48 @ 2:27 pm   Is Bullying a Form of Student Voice? « Whole Child Blog – Whole Child Education. [...]

Michael Tomlin-Brenner

September 20, 2010

Of course it is a form of student voice, and it should be recognized.  However, one must take care that listening carefully and responding appropriately doesn’t turn in to the classic “liberal” response illustrated so well in “Officer Krupke.” The student voice is certainly telling us something, but it may be something we have little control over in school.  Holding a student accountable for behavior and helping them through life’s travails requires listening, courage, and a tough skin.

Adam Fletcher

September 20, 2010

Michael, I agree with you, those are absolutely traits we need to effectively work with students who bully. And I agree with the problem of romanticizing student voice - it happens all too often. Part of the reason why I took the angle I did for this post was to reveal what you address as obvious: bullying is an expression, and student voice isn’t always exactly what we want it to be. Unfortunately, rather than see that, there are educators and administrators who would sooner continue to repress, ignore, or otherwise deny these students’ voices rather than find the strength within themselves you prescribe.

Judge Tom

September 20, 2010

Bullying and cyberbullying is speech and a voice of our youth. However, like free speech, it is not absolute and protected at all times. After 23 years in juvenile court, I learned that teenagers often learn from the experiences of their peers, not just from being lectured by those in authority. Consequently, “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” was published in January, 2010. Endorsed by Dr. Phil on April 8, 2010 [“Bullied to Death” show] TCI presents real cases of teens in trouble over their online and cell phone activities. Civil & criminal sanctions have been imposed on teens over their emails, blogs, text and IM messages, Facebook entries and more. TCI is interactive and promotes education & awareness so that our youth will begin to “Think B4 U Click.” Thanks for looking at “Teen Cyberbullying Investigated” on http://www.freespirit.com [publisher] or on http://www.askthejudge.info [a free website for & about teens and the law].
Regards, -Judge Tom.

James MacShane

September 20, 2010

There is an aspect of adult denial in the bully dynamics. Benevolent dictatorship is a natural bullying process that all children experience no matter what our intent may be. In the self-creation process that takes place in the birth to 8 1/2 t0 10 year age span each child makes positive and negative survival choices that are psychologically built upon. Scientifically educators need to understand this process in order to provide the natural positive human intellectual development environment. Bully = Bully

Creating Cultures of Peace Starting with Schools —

September 22, 2010

[...] Is Bullying a Form of Student Voice? [...]

Hesus Fish

September 23, 2010

As one that went thru the experience , I think bullying is like belonging to a gang , I do not have the exact words to decribe it but is is a form of belonging to something where failure , fear and belonging to something or some sense of group comes together.There are also a power factor involved by bullying you exercise control, power over the other individuals which in tern gives satisfaction,, my two cents.

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