While I will say much more about how we can best prepare children to support our public schools and democracy in chapters eight and nine, it’s important to say a few words here about how students themselves can be responsible to our public schools and to democracy. In the previous sections, I have noted the importance of engaging in deliberations about public schools concerning their struggles, changes, and goals. Children, too, can engage in these deliberations. Deliberations and publics are not the privilege of only adults, nor should children’s participation in them be held off until they have reached voting age. While their contributions may not be as complex or sophisticated as those of adults, children’s participation can be an important way to develop skills of dialogue and public work, and participation can boost student agency and voice. Children should be invited to share their firsthand experiences of their schools, including their reflections on what they like, their experiences with testing and other accountability initiatives, what seems to work best to help them learn, and more. These insights may help others better understand life in schools today and the impacts of educational reforms. And, direct interaction with children may help child-free adults understand their responsibility to ensuring the wellbeing of our developing citizens, appreciate the urgency of educational issues, and motivate them to act on behalf of children as developing citizens.
Schools and school leaders might institute more formal outlets for students to share their experiences, ideas, and solutions. These might include having leadership councils where a few students represent the student body in regularly scheduled discussions with teachers, school leaders, and citizens. Or, teachers might craft action-research projects for students that help them learn not only course content but also better understand related school problems and work to solve them.
Students might also be encouraged to participate in organizations dedicated to public school enhancement, such as the Philadelphia Student Union. This organization gathers students from across the city in conversations about school successes and struggles and then initiates community actions and activities to support public schools. These include employing traditional and nontraditional media outlets to share student views, showcase school success, and call for school improvement, as well as coordinated events such as the statehouse to enable students to share their views with elected officials. In organizations like these, children learn how to enact responsibility as forward- driven care for others, as they learn about struggles across their city and seek to work alongside their peers to solve them. And because they directly tackle issues related to privatization and for-profit charters impacting their community, these organizations can enable children to better understand counterdemocratic forces and their impacts. They can also offer opportunities for informed dissent, where children are empowered to speak out in disagreement if they find that their educational experiences are unjust or undemocratic.